An Inside Look at the Nature of Real Photography - An interview with Felix Belloin
By Ali Redfern
A good technique is always better than hours spent behind a computer screen
My name is Felix Belloin, I am 23 years old and am constantly travelling between London and Paris. When I am not travelling, the Bois de Boulogne in Paris is probably among my favourite locations. It is where I started to understand the basics of photography and how to use them.
Outside my routine photography locations, Iceland is probably my favourite. It has so much to offer. Landscapes, macro, mountains, flat fields, waterfalls, night and underwater photography… It is a truly diverse environment which offers everything any photographer would dream of apart from wildlife. For this very branch, I have to give the award to Alaska, where wildlife is rich and abundant. More specifically, the Denali National Park, which will definitely be on the list of my future travels. I had the opportunity to travel there once, but found myself fairly limited for I was only shooting a compact camera.
What inspires you in your photography?
There are mainly two things that drive my photography: motion and aesthetics. On one hand, the ability to freeze a bird in flight, a droplet in mid-air or to smooth out water and objects with long exposures is part of the magic of this art, which exceeds the human vision.
On the other hand, photography is also a way to show the beauty of the world and its diversity. There are so many amazing places within our grasp and I think it is important to share these locations with those who lost the will to travel. I know how small I feel in front of a mountain, the adrenaline rush I get while scuba diving, the expectation while waiting for a animal to show up, and I try as much as I can to deliver these feelings through my shots so that the viewer not only gets the image but the sensation.
Are there any landscapes in particular that you feel enable you to stretch yourself the most with your photos?
No landscape photography is challenging when you have the right conditions. At the time of digital photography, so many tools are available to go pass the constraints of film. Multiple exposures, editing software, live view, screen review…
The challenge comes from the shooting conditions, especially the weather.
A landscape can completely change in a matter of seconds, from amazing light to a grey overcast sky if you miss the only window of sun on a grey afternoon. Rain droplets can be carried away by wind and end up on your lens, blurring away your subject and dew can completely ruin any shots in a humid environment.
When you are not in control of the elements, that is when the picture becomes challenging, but when you have time and a friendly weather, the only limit is your creativity and technique.
What is the most challenging photo you have ever taken?
Probably a long exposure shot I took from behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland. It was a rather grey day and it was packed with people. I decided to use a neutral density filter (more or less super sunglasses for a camera, which block the light hitting the sensor and increasing the exposure time), which I thought would help me get rid of the tourists and give a silky look to the waterfall. The only problem was that water droplets were in suspension all over the place and ended up on my filter, and on the final picture! Once water gets on the filter it is quite hard to get rid of distortions, but after some editing, I managed to salvage the shot, which is now one of my favourites.
At North South we are always seeking to reach to the next adventure. Would you say photography enables you to release your inner adventurer?
Photography is an amazing driver to release your inner adventurer. You are always tempted to go the extra mile to get this one shot, this one angle that no one has thought of at the exact location you are in. You learn to get down to the ground or climb up peaks to get the most interesting point of view. In a time where mobile phone pictures are flooding the market, it is important to make an extra effort to get the special shot at the special time of the day. Photography is threaten by the overuse of point and shoot cameras, over-saturated pictures on social networks and over-edited shots, it is then really easy to recognize the photographer who pushed their inner adventurer further.
Do you find different landscapes inspire you to shoot in different ways?
Once again, weather is a crucial element. I will be more driven to take a shot with vivid colors when the sky is clear, and monochrome if the weather is dull.
I also have preferences when it comes to focal lengths for different landscapes. If I want to flatten distances and get a greater reach, I would mount a telephoto lens, whereas if I were in a wide area with great distances I would choose a wide-angle lens to emphasize the feeling of vastness.
One important thing to remember is that photography is the art of exclusion; less is more. I would therefore try to compose my shot more than going for the wide-angle solution, but it all depends on the subject and location, there is no rule of thumbs.
What are your tips for beginners without the best gear?
Read, read, and read. That is the first thing to do. Photography is a technical universe and it is easy to get confused at the beginning. Reading articles, reviews and tutorials will help you get beyond the technical difficulties of the art and let you focus on the creative and fun part of it. I remember spending days on photography websites, learning a lot on the basics of composition, exposure, light and editing.
For anyone willing to extend their basic knowledge in both editing and photography technique, I highly recommend:
- Digital Landscape Photography, by Michael Frye
Another crucial point is to learn the limits of your gear, and make sure to reach them before upgrading. It is a common misconception that great photographs are taken only with amazing gear. You will be surprised by the amazing shots some are able to take with relatively cheap gear.
I started photography with the amazing Sony RX 100 II which is now my underwater camera, and only switched to the Canon 6D when my photography ideas exceeded the capacity of the camera I was using. The same goes with lenses.
The very last point to remember is that one should make sure to take the best picture possible on location. Of course you can achieve incredible things with editing software, but never walk away from a place saying: “I’ll fix this picture later”; take the best shot straight out of the camera. A good technique is always better than hours spent behind a computer screen.
What gear are you using?
My main camera is a canon 6D, a great middle range camera that offers amazing results in low light.
Most of the time I use a 70-200mm L f2.8 USM for tightly framed shots and a 16-35mm L F4 IS USM for landscapes and wide-angle shots.
I also invested in third party manufacturers, such as Tamron with their 150-600mm, which is amazing value for money for wildlife, providing extra reach with workable sharpness.
I also use some old pieces of glass, which I inherited from my dad. 4 Leica lenses, which were originally mounted on the Leica R system. They are completely manual but offer unmatched sharpness and provide amazing macro results when coupled to extension tubes.
In terms of support, I use a Manfrotto Tripod, which traveled from Alaska, Utah, Colorado, England, and France to Iceland. It is really light and resilient; the perfect travel companion.
I also use the Vixen Polarie Star tracker which allows me to get longer exposure times when shooting starts. It is a great, fairly price support that allows me to get amazing shots of deep sky objects with long focal lengths.
Last but no least, I use a range of filters which helps my photography greatly.
The one filter every landscape photographer should own is a polarizing filter, which enhances colors and blocks any parasite reflections on your subject. I also recommend neutral density graduated filters which helps to obtain perfect exposures between sky and land without taking several shots and combining them in post. And finally, a great filter to add to your collection is a neutral density filters full stop. I am the proud owner of the Formatt Hitech Firecrest ND 4.8 filter, which blocks a tremendous amount of light, allowing you to reach surreal exposure times and shots you could not achieve without.