In our series of DoP to DoP talks – Mikołaj Krawczunas, a DoP passionately interested in the latest technology, invites various cinematographers to share insights into their work. This episode features Fabien Benzaquen, cinematographer known for his virtuosity in capturing materials and textures such as skin and liquids. His dedication to enhancing the subtle and beautiful nuances within the frame has led him to collaborate with Chanel, Guerlain, Dior, YSL, Louis Vuitton, Helena Rubinstein and Lancôme perfumes and cosmetics.
Every artist has their signature style. What aspects of your cinematography do you feel define your unique voice in the beauty and cosmetics industry?
I don’t know if my style is unique because I’m unable to judge the skills of the other cameramen who work for cosmetics as I do. Let’s be honest, most beauty and cosmetic films look quite similar, and it’s very difficult to tell what comes out from post-production or from real cinematography… What I can say is my main goal is to keep my set-ups simple, most of the time with only one light direction. I also try to work fast, and get as much as possible in camera. I hope the result feels simple and clear as well, because I really think that simplicity is the main key for impactant images.
Can you share a challenging moment in your career that ultimately helped to shape your approach as a Director of Photography in this niche? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn from the experience?
Answering these questions! More seriously, I guess it’s the Dior Homme Genesis spot I shot almost 10 years ago (directed by Megaforce and produced by Iconoclast). It was basically one of the first films of this kind, and it was really challenging because we had «carte blanche», we had time to experiment, and we didn’t totally know what it would be going to look like. We did some basic SFX demo shots, and also tested a lot of effects, but for the first time it was some kind of narrative. Now a lot of perfume or cosmetic films look like that, and I had to repeat the shots I did for this one several times, but I learned to fine-tune them and made them better. This one really opened a breach.
What are some of the considerations and challenges unique to shooting in controlled studio environments versus on-location shoots when it comes to the projects you are usually shooting?
Studio work is the base of perfume and cosmetics films, and then, obviously, everything comes out of nothing.
When there are some location or exterior shots, I try to get the control I have in the studio, but it’s almost impossible. Then, it is much less frustrating to let accidents happen than to try to control everything.
Not the same at all if I’m shooting a narrative: we never have enough time or money to control the light in the exterior; then I find that adapting to any kind of condition is the funny part of my job.
Natural light vs. artificial light – which do you prefer and why? Are there any specific scenarios where one type of lighting is more advantageous than the other?
It doesn’t make any difference, each shot requires its own ergonomy. I frame a shot, and then I light it. Lighting is for me a question of finding the most accurate adaptation to the conditions, whatever they are.
How do you balance the need for showcasing intricate details of cosmetic products with the overall aesthetic and storytelling in your cinematography?
Honestly, I don’t know if I should say that, but for me, in most of the commercial films I do, 50% of the shots are totally useless artistically speaking! They only respond to commercial ideas which for me, are in total opposition to what you call aesthetic or storytelling.
Can you share a memorable experience from shooting a music video that challenged your creativity and pushed the boundaries of your cinematographic skills?
Shooting music videos is one of the best ways to experiment new things, but it’s not linked at all to my commercial jobs, it’s much more related to my narrative works. Most of the music videos I’ve shot, each one with his own specificity, have been a very useful laboratory for my work on feature films.
The beauty industry is known for setting high standards for aesthetics. How do you maintain your passion and enthusiasm for visual storytelling, even when faced with demanding clients or tight schedules?
As I said before, in beauty commercials, clients ask me to repeat things I’ve done many times before.
The principal thing that maintains my enthusiasm is the fact I work with directors I get along with, people who have original visions and aesthetics.
Can you share a specific example of a project that you’ve worked on and are particularly proud of? What made it stand out?
I did a lot of «Chanel Sublimage» commercials with a photographer from Belgium called Pierre Debuschere. I’m proud and happy of what we do together, because in these shoots there is always a big space for experiments.
Are there any dream projects or collaborations you hope to pursue in the future that you’re particularly excited about?
I hope I will pursue my collaborations with great directors and photographers I work with like Sølve Sundsbø, Pierre Debuschere, Daniel Sannwald, Raphaël Hache, Ryan Hopkinson and Patrick Clair among others, and, obviously begin new collaborations with many other interesting directors.
Otherwise, I shot a feature film a few months ago, and I’m expecting new narrative projects to come, but that’s another story…
Fabien Benzaquen, Paris-based director of photography. His work is mainly showcased in beauty advertising, music videos and feature. To check his wide portfolio go to www.fabienbenzaquen.com