French lifestyle and fashion photographer Jean-Phillipe Lebée brings out the natural beauty of his subjects in images that tell a story. In a villa in a chic area of Marseille, he recently used the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light, to create cinematic moments that evoke the ambiance of the Côte D’Azur of the 1980s.
“I love how photography allows me to tell a story via my images and create something unique,” he says.
Jean-Phillipe’s interest in photography goes back to his childhood, when he was captivated by his father’s photography equipment. “But he would never let me touch it,” he recalls. Seven years ago, he took up photography seriously, and he has been creating images professionally for about five years. Something of a prodigy, he has already created images for global brands.
In his images, Jean-Philippe aims to bring out the inherent beauty of the subject within her own environment. “I want to bring out those aesthetic traits and improve the picture, making it even more beautiful than what I can see with my own eyes, but without ever hiding anything,” he says.
Many of Jean-Philippe’s images contain cinematic elements. “I very much like the aesthetics of video and film,” he says. “I prefer these over the aesthetics of classic photographic images. I think of films like those of Jean-Luc Godard and other famous film directors. They inspire the way I set up my images as well as the colors and the models that I use.”
Natural light predominates
He says that the sun always provides most of the light in his images. “Just as in film, there is normally a big light source,” he explains. “I use artificial light to lighten the dark areas and bring out the colors more. It allows me to correct things, but the sun will always be my main source and tell the main story — the way the sunlight falls on the skin, for example. Also, in my black-and-white images, I use a cinematographic type of lighting, where there is always a warm light source.”
With this approach to lighting, Jean-Philippe was immediately intrigued when we presented him with the idea of making the world his studio with the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light.
“I hadn’t tested the product yet and didn’t know the results it could create in my images,” he recalls. “But work tools in general are evolving constantly, with technology making everything smaller and smaller. Photography is no exception.”
For Jean-Philippe, the first step is always to find the right scene, then choose a model and create a story. To start with, he decided to do the shoot in one of the chic areas on the outskirts of Marseille. “I really like this city due to its rich history,” he says. “It was the first Roman city of France, called Marsilla, and it has very beautiful areas. I almost consider it to be the Paris of the south.”
Remembrance of things past
Jean-Philippe decided to shoot the same way he usually shoots, because he wanted to see how the A1 would change how he worked with light while keeping the same overall aesthetic. In this case, the images tell the story of a young woman in a big villa in the south of France. The environment is joyful and summery, like the Côte D’Azur of the 1980s.
“The woman is remembering when she was younger, enjoying herself in that specific environment,” he says. “Normally, I try to capture people in their natural environment, which we didn’t do here, obviously. But I wanted to make her feel relaxed, as if it were her own home. It was a challenge, so even though we worked with a stylist, we had the model wear her own clothes. We also put on very natural make-up.”
Small size and portability
Right from the start, he found the A1 easier to use than other lights because of its small size and portability. “My first reaction was that the A1 was fantastic because it is the weight and size of a soft drink can, yet it still can give me amazing lighting results,” he says.
Inside the villa, Jean-Philippe combined light from the A1 with natural light streaming through a window.
With his model sitting on a flight of stairs, in a laid-back pose with a casual air about her, Jean-Philippe used the A1 on camera with the Soft Bounce, moving around her to adjust the framing and the angle of the flash. As the world’s smallest studio light, the A1 made it easier for Jean-Philippe to move around and made for a more comfortable, less artificial process for the model.
“I did not say a lot to my model, I just wanted her to be present and natural in the moment in the picture,” he says. “Then I tried to work with framing the scene. Moving with the A1 allowed me to fix shadow areas in the image, especially on the skin. I rarely use flash directly on my subjects.”
Working with contrast and movement
With his model basking in a pool of sunlight on the floor, he let her fingers create shadows on her face from the natural light. “I wanted to create a glamourous image and really liked the effect of the shadows on her face,” he explains. “I just asked her to imagine she was in a scene from a film.”
Meanwhile, his assistant aimed the A1, controlled by an Air Remote on camera, at a reflector as Jean-Philippe worked with contrast and movement. “I like to use natural lighting in my photos, but the A1 allows me to work with contrast, adding it or taking it away, readjusting shadows that are too dark and lighting up the face” he says.
He points out that flash can also accentuate and capture movement within an image. “That one instant of the flash firing can do this, which natural light cannot,” he says, adding, “I like to use 80% natural light and then use 20% of flash to capture this contrast and movement.”
Jean-Philippe adds that the A1’s zoom function is an advantage, because it gives him an additional level of control. “It allows me to focus my light and give more or less direction to it from any distance,” he says. “It’s a major advantage, because even if the flash is on full power, there isn’t any unwanted light in the center of the image.”
In another photo, Jean-Philippe was inspired by the model’s haircut to create an image reminiscent of a 1980s magazine cover.
For the images at poolside, Jean-Philippe used a Profoto Air Remote on camera. His assistant used the A1 off camera again, bouncing the flash against a Depron panel to avoid sending light directly from the flash onto the model.
“It was important there, in full sun, to have enough power to balance the sunlight,” he says. “I added a gel on the panel to give a warmer tone.”
As the afternoon wore on, the temperature dropped, so the small size of the A1 helped Jean-Philippe to move quickly for the sake of his now shivering model. “The A1 saves considerable time,” he says. “I could not work as quickly before. Her legs are like that in the image because she was cold!”
“It is an incredible device”
Jean-Philippe recounts that the A1 was great to use and it gave him the results he wanted. “It is an incredible device, really robust, extremely small and light to carry, which is what we needed to make these kinds of images in all these different parts of the house."
“It also gave me the natural-looking lighting I wanted, keeping my images soft and getting rid of shadows I didn’t want. I can also use it as a modeling light, use it remotely or have my assistant use it to control my lighting needs from a distance. It is really a fantastic tool.”
In the final analysis, Jean-Philippe says he doesn’t think of the A1 as a speedlight at all, but rather sees it as any other Profoto studio light, adding, “This device has completely changed the way I think about artificial lighting when I set up my shoots. It was a bit of a shame that I didn’t get more time with it to experiment even more!”