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Martin Lee : cinematic portraits at their best

by Yvette Depaepe
Published the 5th of June 2023

Martin Lee is a big movie fan.  He doesn't just watch a movie as a spectator but observes everything: emotional expressions and impact, the composition and especially the lighting. He studies how the individual scenes are lit, how they reflect the perfect mood to combine all these elements during a photo shoot.  To Martin, it is essential that the viewer is captivated and sympathizes with the atmosphere he creates.  Let's have a walk in his cinematic world and learn more about this artist through this interview.

 'Family photo'

Dear Martin, first I would like to thank you so much for taking the time to answer this questionnaire! To begin, please introduce yourself shortly and tell us more about you, your hobbies or other projects you are involved in!
My name is Martin Lee and I am from Bruntál, in the Czech Republic. I am 36 years old. My other interests outside of photography are traditional Chinese martial arts and bodybuilding.

When and how did you start your photographic journey?
My photographic journey began somewhere when the first photo-mobiles appeared. I first succumb to this trend and bought a newer and better photo-mobile? Next step was switching from a mobile to a Nikon camera. I'm currently involved in photography for approximately 10 years. I had the Shaolin Centre in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, the Covid measures wiped out this centre financially and I had to close. I had to do find another activity immediately. And as I ever enjoyed taking pictures, I went into commercial photography in 2021.


'Mulan series'

For many of us photography is either a hobby or a way of life. How would you define your relationship with photography?
For me, photography is everything, it is my hobby, my livelihood and most importantly my lifestyle. I look for inspiration at every corner and outside of commissions I regularly take pictures for my own  larger projects. I think that if I only photographed commissions, I would stop enjoying it one day. I combine my photography with my ideas and projects.


'Mulan on the battlefield'


What would be the most important experience so far that has influenced your steps in photography?
I don't really know if any experience was essential to me. There are a lot of small experiences that fit together into a whole, like a puzzle. I encountered problems with light, composition, emotions, atmosphere, weather conditions, and many other obstacles. And when you make a mistake, you learn from it and do it right next time. Currently, my studio is equipped the way that no negative influences can take me by surprise and the way I can influence them enough. But the greatest influence on my work are films, books, series, fairy tales. I am a fan of movies, I love movie lighting, atmosphere, and I try to transfer the same into photography.


'The girl on the balcony'


Describe your overall photographic vision.
I consider photography as Art, just as painting, music, singing, dancing, etc... I don't like flat photos where families take turns as if on a treadmill, 20 minutes for one photo shoot, no atmosphere and the result is poor. My personal opinion is that you have to think about the photo, plan the photo, know what result you expect, prepare a storyboard, etc... I often plan photo shoot months in advance, secure locations, costumes, make-up artists, etc.


'Red Christmas series'


The mood, composition of your fine art portraits are outstanding! What is your secret and why are you so drawn by this photography type?
It's not really a secret (laugh), I'm happy to share this information. As I mentioned above, I'm a movie fan. I'm not watching a movie, just as a spectator. I observe everything in the film, emotional expressions, composition, but especially the lighting. I study how the individual scenes are lit, how they got the necessary mood. Then I combine these elements during the photo shoot. I will never be an actor or a film-maker, so I try to give life to photographs at least in this style (laugh). To me, it is essential in photography, that the viewer feels the atmosphere. Taking photos can basically an experience where you can feel like a star in the spotlight.


'Ave Maria'


What are the main features of a successful portrait photographer in your opinion?
A portrait photographer should know what he's doing; being able to work with light, with composition, but mainly with photo technique. Post-processing is also important for portrait photos.


'Goody Addams'


Can you please tell us something more about your workflow from the idea to the final product?
Of course I can. Ideas usually come by themselves. I see something somewhere and it immediately pops into my head. Sometimes a make-up artist comes up with an idea, sometimes a friend. Now, for example, I am working on the project "Woman as Man", which was suggested by  a friend: the idea is to photograph a woman disguised as a famous man. We have already photographed Charlie Chaplin and John Lennon. Now we are preparing Mozart. Or I watch a movie or a fairy tale, and an idea for a photo pops up. Then I start planning what character I want to photograph, what I want to capture. Accordingly, I then look for models. Once I have the models , I scout the location, if I don't want to shoot in a studio. Subsequently, I ensure the costumes. We have a lot of luxurious dresses, costumes and accessories in the studio. If we don't have a specific costume, I either buy it or go to theatre costume rentals, where I can always get the necessary costume. I work on the storyboard, plan the lighting, angles, poses, etc. When I have everything ready, the photos can be taken. These photo shoots usually take a whole day, sometimes two. I then spend countless days in post-production.


'Sometimes the power of motherhood is greater than the laws of nature'

Many are of the opinion that the gear is not very important when the passion for photography is strong. However, can you please share with us what gear you use (camera, lenses, lighting, tripod, etc.)?
There are two different sides to this question. It is simply said that equipment is not important to those who already have equipment. However, the practice is different. In the beginning, it was very difficult for me. I had one light, an SLR, and a tiny studio. No way to be creative as when you have professional equipment. So it's not entirely true. Again, it depends on what you want to photograph. My photographs cannot be taken without the necessary equipment. While a landscape photographer only needs a camera and a great eye for composition.
Currently, I already have more equipment, I have a huge photo studio, with built backdrops. A large number of costumes, luxurious dresses, various accessories. I use lighting technology mainly from Fomei. I have 4 large RGB panels, 2 Fresnel, one led mini light that is conveniently portable, a large panel for lighting a larger area, 3 mini RGB leds, with which I complete the possible atmosphere, such as light from the fireplace, imitation of various light bulbs, etc. I also use large Led RGB light. I have two powerful, battery-powered flashes for field work. As you may have noticed, I mostly use permanent lights. And my equipment has grown considerably since the beginning of 2021 when I started photo shooting commercially. I use a Fujifilm GFX 50S II camera. I have 45mm/F2.8, 63mm/F2.8, 110mm/F2, 35-70mm/F4.5-5.6 lenses. Fujifilm has literally grown on my heart and I'm already planning to buy a GFX 100S II.
I also use fog generators and other necessary things to create an atmosphere.


'The girl in the frame'


What would be your favourite photo? Please tell us the story behind it.
My all favourite photo is 'Woman in red dress'. It is my wife on the picture. I think it was taken in 2020. One day, I decided to go take pictures of this lighthouse, which is located in Podersdorf, Austria. My wife agreed, we packed our things, children and went. I forgot my daughter's bag who was two years old at the time, at home. So we had to go to a shopping centre in Hungary and buy her all the clothes and things she needed. (Laugh). Let me explain why in Hungary and not in Austria. Podersdorf is located not far from the Hungarian border. And accommodation in Hungary cost about 20% of the accommodation price compared to Austria. So we stayed in Hungary near the border and went to Austria to take pictures at sunset. Then we took pictures at sunrise the second day. I am aware that this photo is compositionally wrong for some of you, as she is looking out of the photo. But that's just how I felt, and that's how I wanted it. She is a woman who looks into the unknown. The viewer can only guess what she is doing there or why she is there. I love this photo.


'Woman in red dress'


Who are your favourite photographers or mentors whose works have influenced you and your photography?
I like the work of Erik Almas. From the Czech Republic, I like the work of Stanislav Petera and Radovan Bartek. And in my city, I like the work of Jozef Danyi. I also like the black and white documentary work of my friend Martin Kašpar. Basically, I like every excellent image, I can appreciate a beautiful photograph (laugh).


'Woman as man series : Charlie Chaplin'


Now, since we have almost reached the end of this interview, I would kindly ask you to share with us your plans or photographic projects you would like to be involved in.
I am currently preparing a large Marie Antoinette project. I have already arranged the premises, prepared the storyboard, rented costumes. Now the date of the photo shoot is approaching, and of course you will see the photos here in the 1X gallery. I also have a Fallen Angel planned, which is still in early preparations and the costumes are in production.


'Lady in the room'


Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
1x suits me very well. It's a gallery full of beautiful photos. I enjoy browsing through other artists' photos here. I also really like that I can see the popularity of my photos in percentage and what I can do better. Photography is a lifelong learning, just like kung fu, and I am constantly striving to improve.

'I'm a woman'





'The evil Queen'


'A woman in the spotlight'


'Joker series'


'The Mermaid series'


'The little match seller'

Thank you very much for the interview




Good for you Martin. Wonderful.Congrats.
Beautiful Gallery, Martin. Congrats.
So beautifully composed and processed with the artistic vision! Congratulations!
Beautiful images , congratulations Martin
Excelente y envidiable trabajo. Mis felicitaciones.
Very beautiful gallery! All these photos so vivid and full of life, each telling a story or capturing an intriguing moment! Flawless technique! Congratulations, Martin!
Thank you very much Ludmila
For me it was a pleasure to view and comment on these your beautiful images, congratulations for your technique and creativity.
Thank you very much Guiseppe