Meet Pierre Beteille –
a Photographer With a Creative Mind
TV and musical producer, art director, brilliant photographer and a very modest man – please welcome Pierre Beteille!
Pierre’s work has been recognized by countless articles and magazines world wide. Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles where Pierre has been a featured photographer at 2011 describes him as the one to have ‘unbridled humor and wit’ and his digital creations being ‘highly original, each image functioning as both a punchline and an act of rebellion’.
Photigy Interview with Pierre Beteille
Pierre, could you introduce yourself a little bit? Tell us about your background. Have you received any format education in art or photography?
After I graduated from high school I spend three years studying fine arts and also got a Masters degree of Sociology.I worked as a radio host, author and a producer, then as a TV producer for various programs for major French television channels, was a musician and a producer for musical productions.
7 years ago I started as a freelance art director and a photographer. Now i’m only doing photography.
I have never formally studied photography or image editing – I’m totally self-taught.
As far as I remember I have always been interested in photography, but not only in photography. In fact I’ve always been interested in the image in all its forms: painting, graphics, photography… even TV and film. When I was a little boy I’ve been drawing all the time. I also took pictures with my father’s camera. Later I studied fine art, drawing and painting. There have always been pictures and images in my life, but not only limited to photography.
You are probably most known for your self portrait series. Such a series is a rather unusual idea. How did you come up with it?
Creating self-portraits was not really a choice! What I’m most interested in photography are portraits but as a beginner I was not very good at it and so I did not dare to ask people to pose for me, I didn’t want to annoy people with my experiments. That’s why I decided to be my own model.
I didn’t make my self-portraits for narcissistic reasons and I didn’t plan to make a series of self-portraits – I just wanted to learn and improve my technique.
I really just started doing it for fun, trying to test a lot of things, different ways of shooting, lights and image editing.
You are making extremely interesting and creative commercial shots. Can you tell us a little bit about your commercial work? What was your first assignment? What was most challenging about it? How did you get it?
My first commissioned work was for “La cité de l’espace”. This place is a sort of mix between a space museum and an amusement park. They were looking for a local photographer who could take photos a little different from the usual commercial shots. Rather than showing pictures of their attractions, they wanted portraits of visitors in action.
The most challenging part of the job was to photograph real visitors and try to capture real “natural” attitudes while using studio lights.
They contacted me after doing a search on Flickr.
When you are shooting for a client, do they typically know exactly what they want or do they let you come up with creative ideas?
Most of the time, they don’t know. They contact me because they consider that my work is original (that’s what they say) or uncommon, or sometimes funny. They expect me to bring ideas.
When you shoot other people, what do you find most challenging working with models?
The most challenging is to get the models to do exactly what I want. Most of them think they know what is expected from a model. Thus they tend to adopt stereotyped attitudes and expressions. I have to persuade them the don’t have to be “beautiful” or at their best but that they have to express something.
You say you like making portraits the most. Do you enjoy any other type of photography?
I’m not particularly interested by photography itself. I love images – whether it is paintings, drawings or photography – but in any case I prefer portraits.
You seem to like reading a lot. What is your favorite genre and who is your favorite author? Besides your famous ‘books series’ – how do books affect your photography?
I only read novels but among these novels I do not have a favorite genre. However I almost only read American or English writers, very few French.
I am quite unable to quote a favorite writer. But there are some writers which I read all the books. Graham Greene, William Boyd, John Irving, TC Boyle, Michael Connely, James Lee Burke, Larry Mc Murtry… I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of them.
So, do books affect my photography? Of course, like everything I see and do. My inspiration is the human being. Its absurdity, its irrationality, its pettiness in everyday’s life. Inspiration can come therefore from politics or religion, life and death, as well as food, television, books and all our daily behaviors.
What is your hobby? What do you like doing the most?
My main hobby is photography. When I don’t work for clients, I consider my “work” as a hobby. I really do it for pleasure.
When I don’t make photos, I like to go to the restaurant and drink good wine. I do this at least 3 or 4 times a week. But my favorite pastime is traveling. Unfortunately I can’t do it all the time.
You say that when you come to the studio for a shot you already have the exact picture in your head. How do ideas crystalize in your mind? Is it an iterative process where you start with a rather vague idea or does it just come to you in its final shape and form? What moments do you have your ideas most often? May be when you are taking a walk, in a shower in a dream – something like that?
Coming up with an idea is obviously the most difficult part of my job. A photo shoot can take up to one day, retouching an image can last 2 or 3 days, but finding a good idea can take weeks or months.
I usually choose a topic that interests me, something I have read in the newspapers, heard on the radio or seen on TV. Then I try to find the best way to deal with this topic without being too obvious, preachy, boring, or banal. I write all the ideas that come to my mind in a notebook and throughout the day I think about it, write new ideas, sometimes I also make sketches…
All this can last for weeks until I finally think that I have the right idea.I then have to find the best way to achieve it without involving complicated sets or hard to find accessories.
What’s your favorite part in creating an image? Coming up with an interesting idea, work in studio, post production
Coming up with an idea is long and tedious. Editing images most of the time is boring. Except when there is a challenge of making something new that I don’t know how to do. So studio work is of course the most enjoyable part of the job. Playing with lights and directing models is a real pleasure for me.
What studio equipment do you prefer and why? Do you use continuos light, flashes or strobes? What are your favorite light modifiers? What cameras and lenses do you prefer?
As I often shoot on location I have chosen lightweight equipment. I mainly use two Quadra Hybrid RX with a deep octa softbox and a strip Softbox (50×130 cm). I also use a simple Flash with a beauty dish.
My camera is a Canon 5D Mark II and I have two main lenses, a 24-105mm and a 16-35mm. I also like to use a 85mm for portraits.
Your post production/retouching work is really impressive. What are your favorite tools, order in which you like doing things, how long it typically takes, what takes you most of the time in your post production?
I always start making some corrections on exposure, contrast and colors in “lightroom”. After that I always use “photoshop” and this can last from 4 hours and up to 20 or 30 hours. I don’t use any other software.
It’s impossible to tell what takes most of my time in my post production. This can be totally different depending on the photos I’m working on. For example, Changing the background of an image can be extremely time consuming and complicated on some images and very simple for others.
If I try to remember the works that have been the most difficult and took me the longest time, I think it was composite images using many different images sources.
We typically end our interviews asking people for their words of inspiration and wisdom for those who are just starting, finding their passion and seeking their style. Being a very modest man you don’t seem to like questions like that. So – let me ask you a different one: if you now had a chance to give yourself some advice going back 10-20-30 years – what would it be?
20 or 30 years ago I would not give me any advice. I am actually quite happy with what I have lived at this time.
Maybe if I went back 10 or 15 years, I would give myself advice to devote exclusively to the photo earlier