Phlearn Interviews Eolo Perfido
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Eolo Perfido is a professional photographer who was born in France in a small town called Cognac. He currently lives in Rome and works all over the world. Over the years he has worked for several international agencies and clients such as Pepsi Cola, The New York Times, Gatorade, Kraft, Samnsung and many more. He has been honoured to assist field photographers like Steve McCurry, Elliott Erwitt and James Natchwey in several of their shootings in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.
Read this amazing interview with Eolo Perfido where he goes in depth about his passion for photography, he shows us lighting diagrams, behind the scenes photos, his workstation and his gear list. Also, he gives advice as to how to go from amateur photographer to professional.
After finishing high school, I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I had a lot of interests so I moved my first steps into the world of work experimenting with various jobs, each one very different form the last. At the time, I was naturally drawn towards everything that had to do with images, especially comics and graphic novels. The fact that I was not really talented at drawing turned out to be quite frustrating, so I decided to help out friends who were drawing comics by working more on the narrative part.
At 28 I followed a friend who had the passion for photography during one of his photoshoots. The whole experience fascinated me to the point where I decided to try it out myself. My first few photoshoots, where I was tas taking photos of friends and relatives, really surprised me. I was feeling completely at ease with a camera in my hands and I could get some nice , well composed pictures even if I was lacking in experience.
It was love at first sight: from that moment on, all I could think about was photography and for the following two years I used all of my free time for my personal formation in that field.
My love for graphic novels helped me develop a strong narratve instict. I wanted to describe characters, situations and create stories.
Creative photography became, naturally, the perfect meeting point between my favorite passions.
Since I was working at the time ( I was a freelance web designer) I couldn’t afford going to a school, so I decided to learn on my own by shooting as much as possible, doing any possible kind of test and experiment.
Since then my love for photography hasn’t changed a single bit, even now where, being it my job, I developed a more rational and concrete attitude towards it.
Today photography is something present in so many aspects of my life. It’s not just about creating images anymore. To me, it means meeting people, travel. It’s also family to me, since I have a lot of dear people in my studio, and it’s something I hope I can keep on doing forever.
From start to finish, on average, how long does it take to do a photo? (coming up with an idea, shooting, editing)
It’s really hard to define what’s the “standard time” for a photo. If I take a look at my portfolio images, every single one of them required a different attention.
Speaking about my personal body of work, some of the images were left in my head for months before I would actually want to make them.
Once I make up my mind, usually I draw some sketches where I define the general composition and the location setup.
I clearly remember how difficult it was at first to create what I had envisioned, and just with experience I learned how to “imagine” things in a concrete way that would be possible for me to actually pull off.
The photoshoot can last about an hour or the whole day, depending on how complex the image is, but i’m usually a very quick photographer. If I manage to wrap it up early, I take the liberty of shooting some extra photos, mostly portraits or small variations on the theme that I sometimes end up liking even more than the original project. These photos, in case they don’t make the cut for my portfolio, end up in my archive and quite often they eneded up being used for magazine or book covers.
The editing process starts right after the photoshoot most of the times, while drinking a coffee I light up my pipe and start going through all the pictures taken looking for my favorite shots.
I like to use a little help from the guys at my studio during this part, a fresh external point of view can somethimes be very helpful to find interesting details that may get lost in the first review.
After the selection I usually end up with 10 good images and, in case the photoshoot went particularly well, a couple of perfect ones.
I tend to post process myself all of my personal work, and for the commercial and advertising works I have Luca and Lorenzo helping me, two great photoshop experts whom I have been working with for some years now.
In your photography you do portrait, fashion, advertising, street, editorial, and you also do your own personal projects. What type of photography do you enjoy the most?
I developed a strong attraction towards different photographic styles and I find very difficult to say I prefer one over the others.
One thing is for sure, I enjoy the most the photographic genres where taking pictures of people is key.
Needless to say, I find my own personal projects very interesting and I focus a lot of my free time on them.
In regards to work assignments I often think of them more like an interesting challenge: they in fact put me in the position to face problems that otherwise I probably wouldn’t have thought of and therefore helping me to develop even more my skills and abilities.
Last but not least, Street Photography. It enables me to just detach from everything. Walking around with the camera around my neck simply relaxes me. The rythm of everything slows down, the relationship with subjects becomes a journey again. Not to forget that, after spending so many hours in front of the computer, taking a walk is also healthy.
How did you get into doing advertising and editorial photography?
It was a slow process. It wasn’t that easy to transform what started out as a passion into a job. The big step was made when my agency, Sudest 57 in Milan, got in touch with me for an interview. Biba and Giuseppe had seen some of my work, found it interesting and wanted to meet me. The first year I was “under observation”, working on some simple assignments.
I learned that a photographer is not judged solely by the quality of his photos, needless to say a very important requirement, but also by his ability to deal with customers, deadlines and inconveniences. That first year turned out to be very important for my professional growth.
After that, the first big customers started to arrive. The first big campaign I shot was for Pepsi, the first big editorial assignment was for the New York Times.
I can still remember the mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement for those first assignments. Luckily things turned out well and from that moment on, more and more interesting projects kept on coming.
Your photos taken for your personal project are extremely different from the rest of your photos.
Can you tell us how your process differs from your editorial/advertising practice to your personal projects?
My personal projects are born from my narrative needs. I always try to tell stories through single images rich in atmosphere. In case I find the story that I want to tell to be particularly stimulating, I then turn it into a photographic series. For example, Propaganda and Clownville were born in those circumstances.
The differences can be seen not only in the photographic style, but also in the the making procedures behind the photos. The personal work comes from a non-linear realization process. They are extremely influenced by the mood of the day, by my desire of “creating” something and, needless to say, by the inevitable laziness that hits me whenever I don’t have a dealine to meet.
Luckily, I have my assistants to not just help me, but also “recharge” my energies with their ideas and their suggestions. Our is an open-minded studio, and I love to be influenced by others, to the point where sometimes I even changed the very core of a project following some of their precious suggestions.
As you might have understood, my personal work is characterized by a “hand made” feeling.
On the other hand, commercial projects and advertisement campaigns come from a very detailed planning, from dealing with art directors, customers and the people that help me in the making of those photos. Nothing is left to chance and every single moment of the making is timed by a specific expectation.
Advertisement campaigns are defined by moments such as receiving the layouts, discussing with the art director to get a grasp on his vison and a meeting with both the production and the customer to fine tune all the details. When necessary, an important part is also a visit to the location to check the lighting conditions. An example is the Italian Samsung Galaxy S3 campaing we shot this summer with the italian olympic team. We visited all the locations few days before and I took some pictures of my assistant as similar as possible to the final shot.
On the photoshoot day, we arrive early to check if everything is in order and to make sure we’re ready to start.
During the photoshoot, when possible, I connect the camera directly to a monitor, allowing the art director and the customer to see what we’re doing in real time and to decide how to proceed. At first, I was finding this method to be extremely intrusive but with time I realized it’s the best way to get to the end of the photoshoot being sure to have the right photos and avoiding unpleasant surprises in the delivery.
Of course, I don’t allow everybody to intervene during the photoshoot, in that case it would turn out to be out of control. Only the art director, the customer (or whoever is responsible for him) and my assistants can take part in the constructive critique of my photos.
One of your series in your personal projects is the project “Clownville” where you take unconventional portraits of clowns. Where did the inspiration behind this project come from? Also, is there more to come with the series?
I’ve always thought of the Circus as a sort of our own society’s metaphor : an “inter-connected” world in which everybody wants to entertain and be entertained, but that holds also great sadness and loneliness. I think that the people in today’s society are well represented by the weird image of the Clown : funny, but sad at the same time, a mask that is tragic, grotesque and ambiguous at the same time. Fascinated by the whole production of Fellini, with his dreamlike atmospheres (on top of all, the movie Le notti di Cabiria), and freely inspiring myself to some characters of the mute cinema (in particular, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, with their clown-like characteristics due to the heavy make up and the excessive gesture that was necessary in order to broadcast expressions emotions and action), I had been thinking of making a portrait with a clown as the subject for some years now. I ended up liking the making of that photo so much that I turned it into a series that is still in progress. Among the Clowns that posed for me there are not only friends and relatives, but also well knows actors and photographers. I don’t think I’ll ever unveil the name of the subjects since I believe a mask holds its beauty while is on. Furthermore, the subjects have been “transformed” to the point where it’s almost impossible to recognize them.
In your Clownville series I’ve always found the lighting in this photo (see below) extremely interesting.
This photo was shot mixing ambient light and flash.
We shot this on my studio’s balcony.
We waited until we had a very strong natural light (It was around 11 AM) I then put two flashes behind the subject to balance the sun light reflected from the balcony wall on the front of the model. I used two Elinchrome Quadra RX at full power.
The flash on the left of the subject is just outside the frame while the other one is behind his right shoulder. I asked Stefano to smoke a cigarette while moving slowly.
By doing so, I was able to actually shoot in the exact moment when his shoulder was letting some of the flash light to get into the camera creating what I find to be a very interesting flare.
Needless to say, not all of the photos were good, especially when too much light was getting into the caemra. After ten tries or so, we got this shot.
I used a Canon 7D with a 17-40mm F/4 Canon lenses. The Exif info are:
Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Lens: EF17-40mm f/4L USM
Focal Lenght: 17,0 mm
Exposure: 1/500 sec; f/9; ISO 100
The subject is Stefano Calderano, a very talented italian jazz musician that was king enough to pose for me.
Your photo “The Owl”(see below) is an incredible portrait. Is there a story behind this photo? I’ve always wondered, the look in her eyes is very strong and seems very powerful.
The Owl is one of those photos taken at the end of a photoshoot. We were shooting a fashion editorial with a completely different mood. Once the job was done, I asked my subject to pose for some photos with a different feel.
I asked the make up artists to mess up the make up and the hair. I also had the model to put on a large white shirt used in another photoshoot a few years back. I placed a black backdrop behind her and then a 45° window light made the rest.
In post production, all I did was selectively darken some areas of the image to give it a more dramatic feeling.
When shooting advertising are you usually asked to create a concept from scratch, or are you given a concept?
Most of the times I am given a complete concept directly from the advertisement agency.
After that, I speak with the art director and we go discuss about the idea being possible or not and, if necessary, I give some suggestions that however never revolutionize the initial concept.
How large of a production team is there for your advertising shoots vs. your editorial shoots and your personal shoots?
Whenever I’m shooting advertisement photos I usually have a team of 7 people ( 3 assistans, hair dresser, make up artist, stylist and digital operator). For editorial photoshoots just 2 people (assistant and make up artist). For personal projects, it all depends on what I’m shooting, but usually i have a team of 5 or 6 people.
What is your most memorable photoshoot?
It probably was the photoshoot done for Philip Morris on the Dolomites.
I was tied down in the middle of a overflowing river to take photos of athletes in a canoe or tied outside a helicopter, 3000mt above the ground. Those were 20 unforgettable days.
I also remember with great pleasure a lot of portrait sessions in my studio, where the intimacy developed with the subject created great moments.
Last but not least, the photographic travels. Street photography in cities and cultures so different from mine. Every single walk is right there, in my mind.
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t doing photography?
I probably would have become a game developer, or a writer, or a graphic novels screenwriter. Long story short, a job in which telling stories is the key.
What is your workstation look like? What is your setup for editing photos?
I have a mobile setup and a home setup.
My home setup is made out of a Windows 7 workstation with a Quad Core i7 processor, 16Gb of Ram, a Nvidia GT580 Graphic Card, two SSD (one for the operating system and one acting as a scratch disk for Photoshop) and 12 terabytes of RAID hard disks.
For the post production I use two monitors, a Wacom Cintiq 22UX Pen Display and a huge 40 inches LED TV screen.
My mobile setup is made out of a Mabook PRO 13” with 8Gb of Ram and a super light Samsung external monitor. A portable 2 Terabytes Hard Disk and a Wacom Intuos 5M pen Display.
I use Adobe Software. subscribed to the Creative Cloud and I’m really impressed with it. All the adobe softwares that way stay updated with a very reasonable monthly fee.
And then, as you can see from the photo, my workstation is sorrounded by a Ps3, an XBox360, a Nintendo Wii and hundreds of books and comics.
What’s your equipment list?
I have two Canon camera bodies. A 5D MK II and a 5D MK III
24-70 mm 2.8
17-40 mm 4.0
35 mm 2.0
40 mm 2.8
50 mm 1.8
85 mm 1.8
100 mm 2.8 macro
70-200 mm 4.0
I have a few fixed Nikon AI lenses that I use on the Canon 5D with an adapter whenever we’re shooting video.
I also gave a Fuji X100 that I bring with me during my Street Photography Sessions.
In the studio we have 5 old Elinchrom strobes and a Elinchrome Quadra RX kit for when we’re shooting on location. On top of that, I have 5 small Led lights that I find to be particularly good whenever I’m shooting on location.
How much do you enjoy doing street photography?
As I’ve already told you, I’m seriously in love with Street Photography and I always hope to have time for a some long walks with my camera.
Having the camera around your neck becomes a perfect excuse to get into people’s lives for a moment. In fact, as it’s true to say that a small part of the photos are done by “stealing” moments of life, it’s also true to say that some photos are the result of getting to know someone in a few minutes as much as for some years.
I even met some of my actual friends during some of those walks.
I teach photography in several school and I always encourage my students to try street photography. It’s a very useful technique exercise since it forces you to deal with always changing lights and ambients and also helps to develop a good attitude towards others, a key feature for portrait photographers.
How do you usually go about shooting people in your street photography? How do you ask them, and do you usually get yes as a response?
Every single encounter is unique and I don’t have any particular rule I follow. I attach a shot I recently took. I saw this taxi driver taking a break and smoking a cigarette. I got close and without asking, when I was under a meter away from him, I started shooting a few photos. At the third photo, he change stance and started starring at me with an entertained look. At that moment, I showed him the photo I had just taken and told him I was a street photographer. He kinda had fun and had nothing against it. My girlfriend took some side pictures while i was shooting that i’d love to show with you.
Some other times, I ask people If i can take their picture. You have to develop a certain sensibility to quickly understand what kind of person you have in front of you.
Sometimes I ask in a very polite and calm way, some other times I jump in their lives like a freak tellin them that I absolutely have to take a photo of them otherwise I’ll trow myself in the Tevere (the river here in Rome) . Until now, I was lucky and didn’t have to do so
Can you tell us about the Sky Television Rugby 2011 shooting?
The 1861 United advertising agency contacted my photo agency for a campaign centered around the Rugby World Cup 2011. The briefing was very clear. We had to tell a story in which the Sky’s sporting event in high definition was so compelling that the viewer felt projected within the play action.
To do this we had to develop a very detailed graphic sketch designed by Art Director of the campaign.
The only problem was the time, in fact we only had five days to do it all (casting, location, shooting and post production).
We decided to shoot the athlete in a studio on a real strip of grass. This would have facilitated the post production where the parts in contact with the ground, especially if grassy, are always the hardest bit. We then shot the field in a soccer stadium in Rome and for the audience seats we used some photos of Stock that we cropped and edited to our liking. We then took the subject of the campaign, placed him on a small table making him take a pose which had to be as similar as possible to how the final image was meant to be. Both characters have been photographed under the same lights to facilitate achieveing photorealism in the post production. I am attaching some photos that show the initial layout, the two separate shots and then the final work of post production.
What do you think the difference is from very great photographers and professional photographers?
A great photographer is one who makes images that remain in history. A professional photographer is a photographer who makes photography his profession. A great professional photographer is one who makes photographs that remain in history and makes a living out of them;-)
It’s full of professional photographers who have been taking pictures that should deserve to remain in history. But unfortunately not everyone is so lucky to get recognition of their value. Sometimes I like to spend time on the internet looking for inspiration, looking at the work of colleagues and I’m often puzzled when I see great photographers that should deserve greater visibility.
How would you recommend going from amateur to professional?
It is not that easy to go from simple enthusiasts to professionals. It’s not just a matter of photographic quality. There is a market for each type of photographer and each photographer, regardless of its ability, can find its own place in the market.
Being professional photographers means knowing how to manage every single moment of the production of an image.
It means dealing with the customers, understand their request, be consistent and constant. Being able to anticipate problems and solve the unexpected ones. Being able to meet deadlines.
One should learn to give value to his own body work even when it’s not completely understood. Have the patience and the culture to actually form their customers when they are not able to understand the potential of photography as a mean of expression and marketing.
It means following precise professional ethics, knowing how to manage their assistants and knowing how to plan their careers.
Photography is no different from any other job. It requires a great deal of concentration and ability to focus.
If I were to give any suggestions I would recommend to start with small customers to gain experience. To always give the best you can, even if it’s just a small assignment.To shoot for a small customer like you were shooting for the biggest corporation. To develop a policy of serious and effective networking. To talk with people and even more to have your body of work talk insted of yourself. The quality always pays off in the long run.
And if you live in a place where there are fewer opportunities, and you really want to do this job, be brave and move to another city or country.
When coming up with concepts do you usually sketch them out before you shoot? Could we see a side by side if available?
I tend to draw a lot of sketches, I even kept some of them. Sometimes we even develop some mood boards in order to have some photographic references. I show you something but since i’m not that good at drawing i’m quite shy about them
Recently you assisted an assignment with photographer Elliott Erwitt? How was it working alongside him?
It was a great experience. He’s one of my favorite photographers, and when my agency, that also represents him in Italy, asked me if I wanted to help him in a project I immediately said yes. So I went to New York with my agent, Biba, to help him take some pictures for an important assignment. I admit that I was very excited. It’s a delightful person, very calm, always ironic and, despite his age, still enthusiastic about his work.
I spent a few days with him, having the honor of filming his studio and one of his photoshoots. I also assisted him in the making of a self-portrait for the Lavazza calendar.
Also you’ve worked with Steve McCurry? How was it working alongside him?
I assisted Steve for several years in a variety of assignments around the world. He’s a very strong man, sometimes rude, but if you have the patience to understand the way he works and the large amount of problems that must be solved in any photoshoot in order to always achieve that level of quality, then you can not help yourself but to admire him. He’s a great photographer. He’s able to obtain incredible results in the most complex situations. I learned so much from him. I am so very grateful.
What inspires you most?
I am inspired by many things. Maybe too many The books that I read, the movies I see, the video games I play. Illustrators, cartoonists, painters, sculptors, the work of many photographers that I find on the internet on a daily bisis. It’s hard to remain indifferent to this enormous amount of stimulus. My curiosity is relentless and sometimes I have to take a break from all these inputs to concentrate on my own things. Let’s say that I switch between long periods of collecting inspiration with short but intense moments of personal creativity. The right balance between these two conditions makes me happy. When I tend to exceed in one over the other I feel like I’m missing something and I tend to become less centered.
And how does it feel to know that so many photographers are inspired by you?
It amuses me. I find it exciting to be an inspiration for other photographers. I never disliked to be copied. Not too long ago I made a post on my blog where I wrote about this.
Of course I put myself in the position to defend my little intellectual property only when it’s copied for profit reasons.
If the reason is experimentation, creativity, if it’s constructive, then I feel part of a collective flow and I like to influence others and discover new visions of my own work.
Interviewed by Angela Butler