Fabien Voileau has mastered the art of making the mundane look profound. Everyday moments, like carting a bag of groceries home or waiting for pedestrian lights to flicker green, take on a cinematic quality with his dark and brooding visual style. Here, the French street photographer reveals how he uses a CPL filter to elevate his practice.
Finding pockets of stillness against the chaotic backdrop of a large city is a skill street photographers work on their entire lives. But Fabien Voileau seems to have a sixth sense for unearthing these moments in the madness. For his latest series, tentatively titled Parade, Fabien walks the streets of downtown Los Angeles to capture its diverse residents going about their days.
In an area renowned for its exciting mishmash of cultures and architectural styles, Fabien is able to artfully veil the messiness of the city landscape and hone in on one salient element in the scene. When asked about his motivation for taking these photos, Fabien says, “In this series I was aiming for a kind of poetic opposition, to bring something visually intimate and gentle into a very rough environment”. Close-ups of pensive facial expressions and strained muscles make Fabien’s photos feel personal; painting a picture of the restlessness of the city and the people who live there.
“I was aiming for a kind of poetic opposition, to bring something visually intimate and gentle in a very rough environment.”
“The CPL helps me visualise and amplify the style I can bring, even before editing.”
Fabien’s images are always purposefully underexposed, and have very little contrast – a stylistic choice that heightens the intimacy of Fabien’s shots. To achieve this look, Fabien uses a CPL filter to darken the scene slightly and reduce glare from shop windows and other reflective surfaces often found in urban environments. With a CPL, he avoids any high-contrast anomalies in the frame that might detract from the emotion in the image.
While these effects can be achieved in post-production, Fabien says having a CPL on his lens allows him to test different effects immediately while shooting, giving him a better idea of what may or may not work for the series. “The CPL helps me visualise and amplify the style I can bring, even before editing.”
“It’s very pleasant to be able to play with the strong light that the middle of the day usually offers.”
Another signature element of Fabien’s style is the inclusion of sweeping shadows to hide crowded city scenes and keep the focus on the subject. Even though shadowy scenes need to be shot when the sun is out, Fabien is still able to achieve his signature underexposed, low-contrast look “whatever the time and light of the day due to the creative comfort the CPL offers”, adding, “it’s very pleasant to be able to play with the strong light that the middle of the day usually offers.”
Aside from Fabien’s personal projects, he also takes his CPL filter with him to achieve his distinctive look quickly on commercial shoots, telling us, “I also use it for work projects where I can immediately get a result with a lot of style.” He added that with the CPL, “creativity is amplified and very accessible.”
When asked for his advice on taking intimate street shots, Fabien encourages other photographers to “step outside what you think you know” about street photography and “go deeper into your emotions” to capture the underlying feeling of a place in the frame.