The story behind the Profoto Ambassador and man we know as ‘The Light Shaper’
Despite his busy schedule and constant travelling, Andrea Belluso had a few minutes to spare, albeit in his car, travelling… Interviewing someone of his caliber is intimidating to say the least and made me really nervous, but the ice was broken real quickly and I soon felt comfortable talking to the Light Shaper himself.
When we first contacted him about possibly doing an interview he was busy with important productions, amongst other things, working on some new educational content for Profoto. He described it as long hours, lots of work, loads of pictures but great fun.
We were very curious to know how the name ‘The Light Shaper’ came about. He explained that when he started collaborating with Profoto they needed to give him a title and since he didn’t mind what he was called, they dubbed him The Light Shaper… it seemed to have stuck with him ever since.
Andrea’s photographic journey started with his father introducing him to photography; partly because he wanted to keep Andrea busy but also because he wanted to steer him away from the music industry. Andrea was heavily into the Punk scene, actually being one of the first punks in London, hanging out with the Sex Pistols and so forth. So when his father realised that he enjoyed photography, he decided to take him to see photographer Bardo Fabiani, who said that Andrea could work for him as his 3rd assistant. Only 16 years old at the time, he gladly accepted and left school.
Just for a little background info, third assistants weren’t getting paid; they were not allowed to touch the cameras, they were not allowed to touch the lights or to talk to anybody on set, especially the models. Your job was to be first in and last out of the studio, cleaning up, doing the dishes and grocery shopping. After a year his parents moved from London to Kuwait, he was 17 at the time. In order to support himself he had to get a night-job and managed to get one working as a porter in the cloakroom at a nightclub in London, where he worked with Boy George who was the DJ there.
3 Years passed by and he managed to land a job shooting for Conde Naste, Vogue.
He considers shooting for Vogue at the tender age of 19 both a pro and a con. He remembers thinking, “Great, I’m 19 years old, done Vogue, done everything now, so they’ll call me right?” but in the end they didn’t. He didn’t realise that now he had to work even harder. Waiting for the clients to call surely didn’t work and since he stopped assisting by then and had to pay the bills, he had to, once again, get an extra job. This time it was driving trucks, laughingly saying that he was most probably the smallest truck driver in the whole of UK.
As the universe would have it, he was driving trucks for a fashion company who after about two years wanted to start a magazine and needed a photographer. And so Andrea started shooting again.
While we were on the topic of fashion, I just had to ask him whether or not he really likes fashion overall or if he only likes photographing it, as a job… He said that he is trained in fashion because of working as third assistant for Bardo Fabiani, stating that he learnt much more about fashion from him than he ever did about photography. He knows fashion, enjoys fashion and many people come to him for fashion advice.
After working as photographer again he actually started to grow tired of his pictures. Even though he would change locations, backgrounds and models, his images looked the same because of the light. He then took a break from photography (for 5 years) and that’s when he realised the importance of light. He started to do a lot of research, worked very hard and experimented a lot to get him to that next level of photography.
“Photographers always using the same light shaping tools for every shoot and using the lame excuse that it’s their ‘style’ is ridiculous. Before my break I used to call myself an artist and now I say that I was just a bullshit artist.” He believes it’s an excuse for not daring to try something different, not daring to have more fun with light and as a photographer. Continuing to say, “Light shaping tools to a photographer is the same as brushes are to a painter.” For him, creating the perfect light is like a fun game. He likes ambient light but he loves creating light even more.
When we asked him to elaborate a bit more about the different moods and effects that lights can create he said that it’s all about the tools you use. Some light shaping tools create a deep, dramatic effect and other tools will create a white, jolly effect and as long as you know what effect a light shaping tool gives you, then you will know how to create and change the mood.
His advice to anyone either struggling or intimidated by light shaping tools is to play around and have fun. He goes on saying that especially with Profoto’s B1’s and B2’s you don’t even need to know the technicalities about photography to experiment with the light, because of their TTL functionality. You simply start out with a few different light shaping tools, play around, see what they do and see how the light changes by changing the distance of your light to your subject or changing up the angles.
He believes that there is no such thing as a wrong picture or wrong lighting, that is if you are honest and you really feel great about the image you just lit up and created, then that is perfect, you just have to go with your feelings. “Photography IS art, and art enables anyone that is willing, to open themselves up and be totally naked in front of their reality, just giving what they have without being scared of doing something wrong, because there is nothing wrong when you’re being honest.”
Besides photography, Andrea really enjoys gliders as well as scuba diving. Although he has been diving with blacktip reef sharks in the past the thought of hammerheads roaming our waters has kept him from diving into our South African waters.
With a true spirit for adventure, he said if he weren’t a photographer, he would have loved to become a pilot and, ironically enough, would most probably have been travelling less then he does now.
When I asked him if the travelling ever gets a bit too much, he said that there are a lot of advantages to travelling, but that it gets in the way of spending more time with his son as well as his family and definitely in the way of relationships.
“Life inspires me…”
One of the many advantages of travelling is that you get to experience a lot of different countries, their cultures as well as the food they have to offer. Even though Andrea enjoys food in general, he feels that South Africa is one of the best places to eat. “With excellent quality, huge portions and all types of food, it’s paradise” he adds that always puts on weight when working here. If he had to single out one place, the Codfather in Camps Bay, Cape Town, has to be one of his favourites.
Andrea Belluso is such an inspiration to many photographers throughout the world, when asked who or what keeps him inspired, his answer is “Life inspires me”. He draws inspiration from little moments and scenes happening all around him. Art such as Impressionism and Pop Art has an influence and when going into photography, he says that Irving Penn is his biggest source of inspiration.
Never Satisfied. No Regrets.
Having achieved so much already, being an ambassador for Phase One cameras as well as working with Profoto we just had to wonder if there are any wild, crazy dreams he still wants to fulfil. His answer to that was a pretty convincing “YES, I still have everything to achieve!” He is getting more and more into art and believes that one never settles. You can be very happy but the more you accomplish the more you wish to accomplish, “if you’re satisfied, you’re dead.”
We then asked him if he has any regrets in life… He said work related it would be taking that 5 year break from photography but in actual fact he can’t regret it as he wouldn’t have been where he is today without it; that it was the very thing that was necessary for him to take the next step in his career. “I believe that in life everything happens for a reason, everything, every person you meet, every detail, every action you take, everything stupid or good that you do has a meaning that maybe you don’t understand right away but you will understand in time. I have no regrets.”
Andrea says that he loves South Africa and the people here (YAY for us!) and that he really hopes to come visit us real soon. Currently there are plans for him to present workshops in both Pretoria and in Cape Town, we will keep you posted.
It was an absolute blast chatting with The Light Shaper himself; the tenacious man who is still down to earth, devoted to his craft and brimming with knowledge about the topic of shaping light. (And of course, more than willing to share a tip or two about fashion)