Christopher Bell, cinematographer for advertising commercials, documentaries and NFL Films. With 25 years, he is based in Seattle, Washington, and 6 years ago during the DSLR-Video craze Bell owned a couple of Canon 5D’s. He attempted to take photos with them but was never impressed with the process. This is when he turned to Leica. Cinematographers are all about their lenses and Leica optics are state of the art. “My first Leica was a Leica M9 and a 35mm Summarit. I could instantly tell this combo captured the emotion of the moment and I was more accustomed to manual focus, aperture and shutter settings (much like my ARRI motion picture camera).” he concludes. Here, he shares his experience with the Leica SL, showcasing the creative opportunities offered by this camera.
Please share the creative approach you had for making this project. Who was the client and objectives?
This was a portfolio piece. The stylists wanted to shoot colorful and modern editorial pieces featuring activewear with lots of textures.
Where were these images taken and what else did the production entailed?
We shot in a local bowling alley in West Seattle. We had scouted the location previously to create a potential shot list. The wardrobe stylist, Gretchen Bell, brought along many clothing and prop options for us to choose from. Angelina Sandoval, the hair and makeup artist, and Gretchen worked together to create each look.
You have a strong background in film making, where the relation of the moving images tell the story as a whole. Now that you have done this project, how do you visualize the story you try to tell through these specific images?
I look for setups that help tell the story. The bowling alley provided ample options to frame our talent. We looked for interesting angles, including being out in the middle of the lane to create a sense of action that was about to happen or being caught during an action.
Please share your experience shooting with the Leica SL in terms of performance and versatility?
The SL’s mirrorless design allows me tremendous versatility. I can mount a SL lens, M lens, R lens and even PL mount motion picture lens to it. I love the look of the sensor and it has fantastic high-ISO performance. I use my SL for personal photo projects as well as work. I’ve even used it on a few motion picture projects as a second camera.
Clearly, having the Leica M Monochrom also offers a wide range of options when it comes to specific projects. How can you compare it with the Leica SL?
The 2 cameras are different tools. The M Monochrom is in a class of its own. The CCD sensor captures light in a way which is unique and it produces the most captivating and emotional images. It’s my choice when I want the discreetness of a M rangefinder and the performance of M lenses… especially my 28mm Elmarit….my favorite when shooting on the street.
The images you share have a similar feel to pop art, almost like from a music video. Why the selection of the bowling alley and lighting choices?
We loved the look of the bowling alley, especially with their darkened lighting scheme which gave the space a great deal of contrast. I used four LightPanel Astra Bi-Color LEDs fixtures. I am more comfortable with motion picture lighting, but this limited me to a 1/160th sec exposure at 1600asa. I used both my 75mm Summicron-M as well as the 24-90 Vario Elmarit SL. The SL sensor performed very well given the somewhat limited shutter speed and the 24-90 image stabilization was also of great help.
The angles you chose to shoot some of the images give the sense of dynamic movement of the model in the space, with a strong lighting focus on the subject herself, is this what you refer to with “a film-making approach”?
Yes, as a cinematographer I am always looking to introduce a sense of movement and story to my photos. I chose to dramatically light the model in a way that fit the setting.
You mention using Adobe Lightroom for processing, did you do any additional post production or retouching?
I used Adobe Lightroom solely to process and grade the photos. It’s a fantastic app and a great company.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers to know, maybe other projects you might be working on?
I have been working on several national tv commercials, as well as work for NFL Films. I travel quite a bit and enjoy wandering unfamiliar streets with my Leica to capture real life as I come across it.