I still remember the names that graced the pages of magazines when I first started purchasing wedding magazines. I remember the names that graced the wedding industry then, and today I am beyond excited to welcome one of them – Marcus Bell and Penny Williams of Brisbane based photography studio Studio Impressions.
Marcus Bell is world renowned for his incredible ability and the lovely Penny works as the Studio Impressions studio manager. The pair also happen to be married, which makes this interview even more of a crack up to read!
Please tell us a little about yourselves. Did you grow up in creative families?
Penny: Marcus did, I didn’t. Marcus’ Dad & Grandfather were both photographers at some point in their lives. But Marcus is no stereotypical “creative type”. When I met him he worked in a Bank & told me he wanted to be a lawyer!
How did you get into photography as a career?
Marcus: I always loved photography. In my early twenties I did a few courses & realised I really loved it. I assisted lots of photographers for free just to learn as much as I could. Penny & I took 6 months off our jobs just to travel & take photos & I just knew I wanted to do this full time – so I quit my job & started Studio Impressions.
Penny: I’m not a photographer but I love photography and what it gives people, so when Marcus decided he wanted to become a professional photographer he had my full support – but I kept my job in human resources and business consulting. Studio Impressions was a dream we had always shared. The business really grew at about the same time we had our children, so it became a natural progression for me to start working in Studio Impressions too.
Penny, what is your role in the business?
Everything other than taking the photos. I get the less glamorous business stuff. We are now a team of 7 who not only work on weddings, but also portraits and on creating software and educational resources for professional photographers. My role is to keep all that running smoothly. Most importantly though, my job is to make sure everything is in place to give our clients the best experience so that they never have to worry about their photography.
Is it difficult not to take your work home and to find a balance between home and work?
That’s one of the reasons we have a Studio that isn’t in our home! In the Studio we talk work, and at home we are mostly running around with our 3 boys and the usual boring house/family stuff. Really, Studio Impressions has been our life for over 10 years now. The boundaries get a little blurred, but we don’t mind too much.
Congratulations Marcus – you’ve recently won the title of Grand Master of Photography at the AIPP 2012 National Photography Awards! Should we now address you as Grand Master Marcus at all times, or……
Penny: Or Grand Master Poobah as our kids like to call him!
To me, your photography has an unexpected ‘look again’ quality. Especially your scenic shots – where you first see the magnificance of the scenery and then see a bride and groom in the distance. Then you start to wonder about the story behind the image. Is story telling at the heart of your photography? How would you describe your style?
Marcus: Telling a story is exactly what I love about photography.
My style – it is distinctive, but hard to describe. Others have called it “weddingscapes” because it fuses landscape and wedding photography, but it’s also documentary.
Penny: Marcus’ photography style? Moody, compelling, sensitive, emotive, romantic, with a touch of unpredictable humour – just like the man himself.
Apart from the technicalities, what makes a ‘good’ photographer – is it curiosity about life, or other subtle qualities?
Marcus: That’s hard. l don’t want to say I’m a “good photographer”. There is so much more to still learn! I guess it’s being open to things, especially feelings. It’s about connections – connecting with your subject & connecting with your viewer and being willing to say something about life with your work – even with wedding photography.
Penny: A good photographer can “see” things that many of us don’t. Marcus & I often joke that when we travel we are on two totally different trips. He sees things that I just didn’t – beauty & humour in things that I missed. Mind you, he can’t see the butter in the fridge or that the washing up needs to be done.…but then I suppose we all have our talents!
Do you plan your wedding shoots to the last detail with the couple, or do you maintain ‘freshness’ by capturing what inspires you on the day?
Marcus: I don’t plan the actual shots to the last detail, but I do plan a lot for the wedding day. I do a lot of preparation to make sure I know the locations, the weather, the expected light, the couple, their family, their wedding day plans, timetable and important elements. When it comes to actually photographing, I take a documentary approach so I prefer to capture things as they happen on the day. I take my inspiration from the couple themselves and from their family & friends and the feel of their wedding.
Do you most like to shoot a wedding when you have been given complete creative freedom?
Marcus: Yes, but I like my photographs to reflect the people in them, and connect with them on a personal level. I want to give them images that mean something to them, so I always get to know them a bit first. The great thing is that most of the couples that book us, choose us for exactly that reason. They trust us, so the creative freedom comes.
Do you like to keep your images natural or do you like the added challenge of post production work?
Post production for me isn’t about changing an image. It’s a tool we use simply to convey a message or feeling. Post production lets us highlight important parts of an image or remove distracting elements, so that the feeling of that moment comes through. It shouldn’t be used to make an image “unnatural”. We apply similar techniques in Photoshop to those that photographers (including me) used to use in the dark room in film days. You need a good base to start with though. If the image itself isn’t good, no amount of post-production is going to turn it into something great.
To be honest, we think that post production is part of what you are paying a professional photographer for. A professional should be presenting you with images that have not only been taken with great composition, creative forethought and technical ability, but they should be spending the time to present you with the best images possible, including a little colour correction if needed or small touch ups that make you look your best. They should be putting thought, love and effort into the final images presented to you.
You’ve written a book, travel the world giving seminars, and produce photographer’s resources – is this a natural progression of your business – the ‘pay it forward’ approach? Is teaching a fulfilling experience?
Marcus: Penny will tell you, I’m not a great teacher. I’m better with pictures than I am with words. But, I learnt from other photographers with more experience than me, so showing people how I do it is kind of my way of giving back to the industry what the photography industry has given me.
Penny: It wasn’t ever a deliberate step we took with our business. It kind of evolved. Now this part of our business also has the added benefit of making us always question what we are doing and look for new and better ways to deliver to our customers.
When you don’t have a camera in your hand, what do you like to do?
As little as possible! We both like to chill out on our deck with some music, a barbeque & some friends, or head to the beach with the kids to chase waves & get sand between our toes. Mostly, we like to laugh a lot & dream some more.
Images by Marcus Bell of Studio Impressions