Pierre Belenfant: ‘working with darkness and light allows me to explore the mystery of a place’

We chat with French photographer and Affinity Photo user Pierre Belenfant about discovering his love of architecture and what appeals to him most about working in black and white.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography?

My name is Pierre, I am 29 years old, and I live in Tours, France. I am a photographer specialising in black and white architecture and iPhone photography. My main themes are Gothic architecture and the estate of the Palace of Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors by night, Palace of Versailles

Some people fall into photography during their childhood, but that wasn’t the case for me. For five years, up until 2016, I accompanied a large number of summer camps for teenagers, and one year a camp director gave me the task of making the photo report. I instantly enjoyed it, and at the end of the stay, the children’s parents were delighted with the photographs, and I saw their enthusiasm when discovering some portraits of their children as a bonus. I had no technical knowledge, but it made me want to continue.

What drew you to photograph architecture?

In 2016, I decided to go back to university. I went to Paris for three years to study philosophy and theology. I was discovering “Parisian life” for the first time, and during my free time, I was a tourist photographing monuments. I took photographs of Notre-Dame de Paris, Opéra Garnier, the Eiffel Tower, Musée du Louvre…, and one day, in the summer of 2018, for the first time I went to the Palace of Versailles, and I found it to be a great source of inspiration.

It was in those Parisian years that my practice became regular and my work more refined.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris
You specialise in black and white photography; what appeals to you most about working in black and white?

I do not wish to transcribe the reality of architecture in its colours. Looking at black and white photographs requires special effort because one piece of information is missing: the colour. Our eye must then internalise the image and dare to see more. You have to look for colour in another reality, an imaginary one. Also, working with darkness and light allows me to explore a very interesting, dramatic and mystical side to a place. And for that, Gothic architecture inspires me a lot.

“…working with darkness and light allows me to explore a very interesting, dramatic and mystical side to place. And for that, Gothic architecture inspires me a lot.”

Reims Cathedral
The Grand Trianon, Estate of Versailles
What equipment do you use?

I mainly use the iPhone and sometimes an Olympus with a 40-150mm telephoto lens.

Are there any visual elements you always try to incorporate into your work?

If there is a nice perspective or a nice symmetry, then I’m happy!

Do you have any particular rituals when it comes to photographing architecture?

I try to feel the essence of a place just by being present and observing. I often look for symmetry or a good perspective, but good photos are often the ones you don’t look out for.

“I try to feel the essence of a place just by being present and observing. I often look for symmetry or a good perspective, but good photos are often the ones you don’t look out for.”

Chartres Cathedral
What are your usual post-production steps for retouching your images in Affinity Photo?

After importing my RAW file into the Develop Persona, I start working on the shades of grey. This is the very first step and not the easiest. Especially if the original photograph is very colourful or there is gilding as in Versailles. I then adjust the dark/light tones, the clarity, the luminosity, and then come to the levels and the curves. I finish by adding one or two lights. The Tone Mapping persona is also useful for recovering detail and texture. Sometimes I get into more advanced editing, but overall it’s usually pretty basic.

Gallery of Great Battles, Palace of Versailles
Do you have any shooting/post-production tips for producing captivating black and white images?

I don’t have much post-production advice because I still have a lot to learn myself. But it is important to keep in mind that a black and white photo, is above all else, made up of colours, hence the importance of working on nuances to avoid an effect that is too bland or neutral. For the shot, I would recommend taking your time and observing, even before taking out your camera. And please pay attention to the horizon line!

“…it is important to keep in mind that a black and white photo, is above all else, made up of colours, hence the importance of working on nuances to avoid an effect that is too bland or neutral.”

Royal Gate, Palace of Versailles
Le Colérique, Versailles gardens
Do you have a dream building you would like to photograph when travel becomes less restricted?

Versailles, Versailles, and Versailles!… No, seriously, I have a lot of monuments in France to photograph, but when I can, I would like to visit Grundtvig Church in Copenhagen and Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.

What achievement are you most proud of in your photography career and why?

This is difficult to answer because photography is still new for me, but there is a photo I am particularly proud of. It is called Vertigo, and it was taken on the stairs of the Catholic University of Paris: a building inspired by the great English colleges. It has a Hitchcockian effect that I really like.

‘Vertigo’
What is your ultimate ambition for your work?

Again, I feel it pretentious to answer. Exhibiting my work is my first goal. But I always keep an open mind, and in the years to come, I would like to explore portrait photography—black and white or colour, in a cinematic or conceptual style, I don’t know yet. I love the work of Nirav Patel, Benoit Courti, and Anya Anti, but I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn to achieve this. Everything happens in its own time.

Tours Cathedral

To see more of Pierre’s work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.