“In a portrait, emotion is so important,” says Quentin Caffier. Celebrated for his “underground electro-pop” take on portraiture, the French photographer specializes in fashion, beauty and music. Having graduated from the ENS Louis Lumière nearly a decade ago, he has a style that fuses influences from western Japan with David Bowie and traditional fine art to create a fresh, bold, and charming approach to modern-day portraiture.
“In order to create magic and a unique moment with the people I am shooting, I need to master the technical aspect well enough to forget it, and then just focus on the model,” he says. “I’m a control freak; I create and control the perfect conditions technically, and allow random events to happen naturally, like a glance, a smile, a laugh, or a clumsy move.” But even control freaks like Caffier love to step outside of their comfort zone and experiment with new kit.
Caffier chose to team his EOS 5D Mark IV with the new addition to Canon’s L-series range, the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM telephoto lens. He used a variety of backdrops, lighting arrangements, and styling options to create a collection of portraits that portray contrasting moods, while maintaining his distinctive dynamic. “I switched from flash to tungsten, from very natural skin tones to heavy creative make-up – my team and Laura, the model, were very well prepared, changing from one mood to another within a matter of minutes,” he explains of his resulting images – all of which are notable for their vibrancy and delicate skin tones.
“I like to start with the simplest set-up, so one light or natural light only, and move through the set-ups to end with the most complex one. When I’m on each set, I always start with close-ups, so that my model can focus on just their facial expression to begin with, then I widen the frame and work with them on their body expression,” he adds. “I like to talk a lot with my models to help them feel confident and encourage them to express emotion.”
So why the change from his staple performers? “I usually use my EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens, so I was on a familiar ground, but the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM’s autofocus system is brand new. It’s just so much more efficient, and the image stabilisation was a nice surprise. "The lens’s focal length is perfect for headshots; the result is very sharp and every detail of the skin is captured." The wide aperture allows a nice bokeh and smooth depth of field, plus you can shoot in low light without going up in ISO.
“This is a very versatile lens,” concludes Caffier. “It’s ideal for shooting sharp beauty images as well as soft portraits. My advice to fellow portrait photographers when using it is to shoot at the narrowest aperture to find the sharpest point before diffraction, then at the widest to improve their focusing skills. Also, try to lower the shutter speed and see how steady you can get. You may discover your own limits before the lens’s!”
Quentin Caffier’s top tips for portraiture
1. Know your gear enough to forget it.
2. Experiment before and during the shoot.
3. Prepare a few set-ups to be able to switch without breaking the mood.
4. Share your influences and ideas with your model before the shoot.
5. Every time you get new gear, push it beyond its limits.