Photographer Mathieu Bitton’s first foray into the visual arts was the creation of a Prince fanzine that he started as a teen, shortly after becoming a Paris-to-Los-Angeles transplant. These days, Grammy-nominated Bitton offers the full gamut of visual services—art direction, design, video, photo and production—and spends his time touring the world with Lenny Kravitz, photographing his shows, making films and designing his artwork. When comedian Dave Chappelle hosted 16 straight nights of shows at Radio City Music Hall earlier this year, Bitton was enlisted as the featured photographer to capture the events ranging from backstage to the exclusive after-parties.
His career has brought him many places for myriad projects, but the one constant that inspires confidence in his collaborators is his discerning eye. After a lifetime of designing and art directing, he admits his eyes are “really annoying,” picking up even the most-subtle of flaws. It’s this visual prowess that ultimately led him to develop a love for Leica’s iconic design esthetic that blossomed into an admitted “slight addiction problem” (he owns Leica M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, M and Monochrom bodies).
Even when Bitton was using DSLRs to shoot live music, he always carried his Leica M Monochrom; it helps him achieve the black-and-white contrasting look of the behind-the-scenes shots he feels he’s known for. But when shooting at parties, clubs and theaters, the conditions are regularly sub-optimal—cramped quarters backstage and poor lighting, to start, and restrictions on where you can shoot the action from—even for VIPs like Bitton.
A career’s worth of tough spots has taught him to value a compact kit, and as Leica’s digital lineup expanded to include the SL, he found himself working the mirrorless system into his live shoots. During Chappelle’s Radio City run, he leaned heavily on his SL system. “There’s a buttery quality to it,” Bitton says, “A crisp beauty.” And when he doesn’t require AF, Bitton is able to push his low-light capabilities to the max with the M-Adapter-L, adapting specialty glass like the f/0.95 Noctilux M lens to practically see in the dark. “Using those M lenses now on the SL is a total game-changer for me,” he says.
And it’s not enough for Bitton’s low-light images to hold up on a computer screen—his work often gets printed large. For a campaign promoting the release of Chappelle’s latest stand-up special on Netflix, the creative team chose an image Bitton made with the SL on a recent trip to Columbia, South Carolina. The photo, which featured Chappelle from behind with his arms spread out, was to be plastered on a billboard with the words “Dave’s Back!” Despite being shot from far away, in low light, with a 50 percent crop, it held up under intense scrutiny.
“I find [the SL] to be a lot less grainy, even when I’m pushing stuff in Lightroom,” Bitton admits. “I used [other DSLRs] a lot…I’m not dogging those. But I feel like I graduated to this.”
Leica is offering a complimentary 24-hour test drive of their SL-System. Visit www.leicacamerausa.com to find a participating dealer.
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