Roméo Balancourt had originally decided to become an architect. He even went to architecture school. But then one day he was asked to photograph a couple of buildings. It was the first time he had held a professional camera, and the experience was overwhelming.
“It was like magic,” says Roméo. “I instantly knew that this was what I really wanted to do.”
So Roméo changed the blueprints for a camera, subscribed to a number of photographic magazines and started to learn the craft.
“I devoured all of the beautiful images that I could find, and practiced and practiced, over and over again. My time in architecture school had taught me a lot about composition and symmetry, but I had a long way to go to find my own style and aesthetic.”
Fast-forward a couple of years, and Roméo is working in Paris at the prestigious Studio Harcourt, famous for its cinematic black-and-white portraits of the rich and famous. He spent days and nights at the studio, learning as much as he possibly could.
“It was during this time that I developed a passion for light,” says Roméo. “I was fascinated by how you can use it to sculpture faces and highlight the feelings in them.”
Today, Roméo runs his own studio. He is frequently hired by French artists, actors, athletes, chefs and politicians, who all want to be immortalized in his signature style. Roméo’s portrait of French actress Élizabeth Bourgine is a great example of this style. It is a black-and-white portrait on a pitch black background. The actress is illuminated by five D1 monolights with different Light Shaping Tools. The key light is a D1 with a Softbox Square, mounted on a boom. There are two more D1 units with Silver Umbrellas below, for fill light. Finally, there are another two D1 units with Softbox StripLights and grids behind the actress. These are aimed at her back, detaching her from the dark background.
It is a quite complex setting, and still, Roméo managed to do it in a crowded hotel room in Hotel le Bristol in Paris, so he obviously knows a thing or two about light shaping. But what about the less technical aspects of portrait photography? What is the most important thing that he has learned?
“The relationship,” says Roméo. “A photographer has to be something of a psychiatrist. You have to be able to figure out who the other person is, and what kind of portrait suits them. I never tell anyone what to do or how to stand. I just focus on the conversation, trying to get to know them. While we talk, an image starts to take form in my head. And as soon as it’s complete, I just set the lights where I want them and start shooting.”
Written by Fredrik Franzén
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