ALMOST THREE DECADES OF THE LIFE OF WORLD-RENOWNED WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER MARCUS BELL HAS BEEN SPENT BEHIND THE LENS. YET EVERY DAY HE LEARNS SOMETHING NEW.
To some people a camera is merely a tool in which to record a fleeting moment in time. To Marcus Bell it is the only tangible item he has connecting him to the person he would most have loved to extend his time with – the father he lost while still in his teens.
Marcus, now 45, says he has now spent more years holding a camera than not and continues to discover new joy every time he places one in his hands. “I was 16-years-old when my father passed away with brain cancer and he left me his camera as he was a photographer. It took me a few years to muster up the courage to pick it up, but as soon as I did, I became very connected with it and have never looked back.”
Fortunate to stumble upon a six-week photography course being taught by industry veteran Doug Spowart early in his career, the Brisbane-based snapper has since turned those 42 days into a lifetime of learning. When Spowart introduced the keen amateur to Magnum photography, Marcus says he knew he’d found the right home to express himself creatively.
“I loved how they captured the world, images that had so much emotion, images that were full of life, real life, real people and their real stories. I attended one wedding, I instantly saw everything I studied through the pages of every Magnum Photographer’s books. There it was staring me right in the face. I knew then I wanted to be a wedding photographer, but I didn’t want to capture a wedding how photographers had been capturing it for decades before me.”
Today Marcus is lauded as one of the most in-demand wedding photographers on the planet, named in the Top 10 wedding photographers in the world by American Photo and named Australian Wedding Photographer of the Year three years running. Working out of his Brisbane-based studio, where as well as studio space he also has a full production and editing suite, Marcus has been commissioned to shoot weddings all over the world including Italy, Bali, China, Guam and Russia.
An AIPP Grand Master of Photography, ten years ago his success led to him being invited into the Nikon fold as an ambassador. Previously loyal to a competitor brand, he switched to Nikon about six months after the Nikon D3 was released. The D3 was a complete game changer in the wedding industry, especially from the perspective on his individual take on wedding photography where he works with available light and little flash, Marcus says.
“My senior photographer had always shot Nikon, we always had this healthy banter about [the two brands] in the studio. Then one day we shot an assignment together, I was processing the images and could see a major difference between the two systems. I knew then I had to change. Nikon quickly became family to me.” Since then his go-to equipment includes Nikon D750, Nikon Df, Nikon D810, Nikon D4 and Nikon D3S camera bodies in addition to a variety of lenses including the NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, the NIKKOR AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G and the NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.
As well as being a mentor to many, he is frequently called upon to judge the work of others and recently came back from Tokyo after helping to judge the Nikon Photo Contest as part of the brand’s 100th anniversary commemorations. The contest reminded him of his early days and weeks with a camera as well as the ideal that as a budding photographer “you had the world at your feet and you wanted to share the way you see the world”.
With over 76,000 entries it was incredible to see the huge amount of talent from all corners of the globe and it’s incredible to think how far the wedding photography genre has come since he first hit the scene, Marcus says. “Funny enough when I first started wedding photography it was well regarded in the photography community as the lowest of lows, if you couldn’t do anything else, you became a wedding photographer.
“I believe strongly that it’s all the experiences you have in life that shapes how you see the world, how you feel and what makes you, you. In turn, this then shapes how you photograph it. It took me a while to figure it out, but I know it’s been all the most wonderful moments in life that I have experienced along with the hardest times I have experienced too that has made me the photographer today.”
Marcus says while selecting a genre he enjoyed early on assisted in his success, he believes the biggest challenge facing any photographer – amateur or professional – is remaining true to themselves. His advice: be unafraid to forge your own path.
“My career exploded because I bought an entire new style to wedding photography, that started 20 years ago and is still fresh today, as I’ve learnt to progress and continue to take it to new horizons. Since starting in photography I’ve seen so many fads and styles come and go. It can be easy to be persuaded to jump onto the next big thing. But I quickly realized that you then become part of the crowd, a very big crowd and that it’s hard to stand out. I know there’s been times I thought maybe I should do this, that looks popular, sound familiar, well I learnt my lesson and got back to what I do best, create something new and do it my way.”
What’s in Marcus’ bag:
- “My camera bodies of choice are my Nikon D750, Nikon DF, Nikon D810, Nikon D4 and Nikon D3S.”
- “I also use a variety of lenses including the NIKKOR AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, the NIKKOR AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G and the NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.”
- “As I’m always shooting with two bodies and like to have them each on a shoulder, great camera straps are another essential for me. I want something that doesn’t scream look at me “I’m the photographer” but they need to have a high-quality grip that will stick to my clothing to ensure they don’t slide off.”
[Words by Tracey Porter]