iLHP is always on the look out to bring the best and exclusive content as you already know. We’ve interviewed lately the Zeiss managers at PhotoPlus Expo in New York. But our purpose is also to promote the work of great photographers, amateurs and professionals in different fields like fashion, macro, wildlife and architecture but this time is a little bit more exclusive and rare. iLHP met with Alex Pixelle, a professional photographer in the very exclusive industry of film making and TV shows! Her style is obviously outstanding. Alex was kind enough to make herself available in her very busy schedule and meet with us around a cup of coffee to talk about her photography world.
“To me photographing an actor/artist, is above all, bringing the best out of him/her and sublimate their charisma. The complete opposite of the craziness of the paparazzi. You have to respect them. It is pro to pro relationship, that is how they accept you.”
iLHP: Hi Alex, we’re very happy and honored to have you here at iLHP. Photography and videography (movies) are sometimes very close together, however this is the first time we interview a movie and TV set photographer. Can tell us more about you?
Alex: I’m 27 years old. I come from the center of France, the region of the castles (les chateaux de la Loire). I always wanted to be a photographer since I was a teenager, but people tried to discourage me, saying it was not a “real job”. I thought that you have to do what you like, what you are passionate about in life, to accomplish your dreams, so I thought I should work hard on this!
“The Sony A7rII is a little revolution of its own!”
iLHP: When did you turn pro?
Alex: I really started photography when I was 20, 7 years ago, and I’ve been making a living out of this activity for 5 years now. Being a self-made woman, I really started from scratch. Of course, I started to learn how to use the camera first. I immediately started with the manual mode, so that I could see the effects of the adjustments on the camera and the lighting. By the way, that is still how I work because of the kind of light I work with. I then started to create a portfolio, with references, during 2 years, while learning. I discovered “movie photography” randomly. I always loved music (I also photograph concerts professionally) but nature, architecture, wildlife and portraits were also very appealing to me so I sent tons of emails and I then got my first contract as a movie set photographer. First movie sets came in like that, so as concerts contracts as well. I started to have good references and little by little, with word of mouth, I got more and more contracts and I thought I should create my company then.
iLHP: What does photography represents to you?
Alex: That is my passion, my everyday life. I hardly take vacations or even days off because I just love what I do. There’s a saying for that “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life” (Editor’s note: Confusius). It is also for me a way to express myself, I like to share, through a picture, what I see and feel.
iLHP: Being among celebrities and within the show business, isn’t it overwhelming and compelling? Can you talk about your experience being in this very particular world?
Alex: People usually only see the good sides of being part of this industry (meeting famous people, travelling a lot, magical aspects etc.). I work in two very different worlds, movies and concerts. I have to juggle from the movie sets to the backstage of the concerts. They both have their particularities, codes and specific hierarchy. I think you need special skills to adapt yourself to the situations and the people within seconds (movie directors, actors, musicians, different artists…). You need to be discreet, be part of the decor. People must forget about you in order make the best photos.
To me photographing an actor/artist, is above all, bringing the best out of him/her and sublimate their charisma. The complete opposite of the craziness of the paparazzi. You have to respect them. It is pro to pro relationship, that is how they accept you. This is a very big but also very small world so we meet often with the same people. That allows to create recurrent professional relationships and even friendships. It works a lot with the word of mouth. They like how you work, your punctuality, your motivation, your work etc… then they call you back and they recommend your work to others. Having unexpected and wonderful encounters is one of the best things in this job. Learning again and again from these people, from their life experience and evolve in this job is awesome! That might be funny but “my idols” are behind the cameras, be it film directors, artistic directors, chief of operation and of course directors of photography with whom I love hanging around with.
iLHP: Do you do exhibitions? Any awards or publications?
Alex: Yes, I did 30+ exhibitions since 2010. Essentially in my region in France, Paris and some other places like in movie festivals, museums, art galleries, castles or concert halls. Doing exhibitions using the movie/TV set photography theme is something rather new so I like to do that and make people discover this kind of photography. When 80-90 years old grandparents look at my pictures taken on war movies and tell me that it touches them, that really touches me too. Pictures taken on movie sets are essentially used for communication and commercial work. Most of the time, they are the only official pictures of a movie and we do the posters of the movies so that spreads a lot in the Medias.
iLHP: Do you have a source of inspiration? Maybe other photographers?
iLHP: Regarding your equipement, I believe you just witched to the Sony A7RII, especially for its silent shooting mode, right? I figure Movie directors need to have the absolute silence. Can you tell us more about your gear?
Alex: I recently bought an A7RII along with the Zeiss 55mm f1.8. I thought that for portraits and to get a cinema touch to the stills, this length should fit quite well. Indeed, it’s really good. I was used to shoot with a Canon 5DII (that I still have for some video footage) and then a 5DIII (with a Peleng 8mm, rather nice to have in some cases, a 50mm and a 85mm f1.8 to catch as much light as possible and because I love a lot to have creamy bokeh). The A7rII very different from the 5DIII. First off, it’s light as a feather which is very convenient. I immediately set it to silent mode. I can catch faces, emotions and gestures in action without bothering the sound engineer.
During the shooting of a movie, the sound engineer is very strict and needs absolute silence to ensure the control of the sound captured. Photographers have to use a blimp, it’s a sort of box in which you put the camera in, it is noise canceling. That’s very expensive, heavy, very restrictive regarding the controls and is then annoying to use. The Sony A7RII is a little revolution of its own. It is quite surprising at the beginning and you have to get used to it as you’re not sure to have pushed enough the shutter button. The EVF is also something I have to get used to. The controls are obviously different (ISO, aperture, shutter speed), I have to get used to it, but the rendering is awesome. Last but not least, the ISO performance blew me away! I tried shooting at ISO102400 and it looked like ISO 8000-10000 on my 5DIII! I’m delighted with it, especially as I can have exactly the same look as with my 5DIII in terms of tones. This way I can shoot both at the same time without having tone issues when I post-process the images. I’m eager to know how to fully use it and know its controls on the fingertips. I now have to decide if I will invest in new Zeiss lenses or use a Metabones adapter in order to use my Canon lenses.
iLHP: So welcome to Sony! We are all A7 series shooters at iLHP, that was just for the anecdote. Alright, I know this one is a very difficult question, but is there a photograph in particular that you are the most proud of?
Alex: Very complicated question for a photographer. I cannot think of any right now on top of my head. But I’ll choose one picture that I took during one of my first movie shoot. It was a Bollywood movie, with a great team, great decor. That’s on that set, that I told myself that it is what I definitely want to become a movie set photographer. It is wonderful to be able to be part of projects like this, in unique places, with a particular lighting, decors and life experiences crazy or touching with the possibility to shoot scenes from a bygone era.
iLHP: Can you please tell us about your editing process with your pictures? We’d love to know more about that too!
Alex: The shooting is essential to me. I do very few adjustments in LightRoom while post-processing the image. Basically, I tune my camera with picture styles which will affect the contrast, saturation, tones or even sharpness. My style is most of the times with strong contrast, desaturation and soft tones for the faces in particular. I usually create the picture at 90% on the field while shooting. I only use LightRoom. If I process shots from movie sets, I use only the basic slides to make sure I stick with the atmosphere from the movie. Bright or dark, with blue/green/orange tones for more striking picture or to create a soft and light atmosphere. I consider that if I have to work on the picture more than 2 minutes I delete it. I don’t merge multiple shots, erase or add things or even use masks.
iLHP: Knowing this, it makes your photographs even more beautiful! What are your next photographic projects? Or are there techniques that you want to improve?
Alex: I have some exhibitions that I am looking forward to. A new movie in Belgium, but also a “making of” in the region of the Cathar castles (Editor’s note: French region) and many concerts. I’m tempted to try artistic collaborations with other photographers. I also want to try long exposures, let the movement be, instead of just catching a fraction of time. I’d be interested in trying that with models, landscapes or the milky-way.
iLHP: Which advice could you give to those who would like to have a cinematographic touch to their pictures?
Alex: To me, a face or a landscape, has a cinematographic style when it is exposed without special effects, if we focus on it, then there’s something special with the light and the framing. To my eyes, the simpler or minimalist it is, the more cinematographic it gets.
iLHP: Last one, what do you hate and love the most in photography?
Alex: I love working with the light, portraits, chiaroscuro (low-key), catching a moment of time, nature and wildlife, architecture or just being in one place and waitfor THE picture. I don’t like people who only see the techniques and show off after having read thousands of websites and forums but are lost when it comes to shooting in real. I don’t like these people who do not see the feelings and emotions behind the technique.
iLHP: Well said Alex. Thank you so much for seating with us today, we’re much honored! (Remember to check out her website!
Alex: Thank you Chris and iLHP for this interview and for the translation! It’s always great to be able to share my passion 😉