“This is a new area for us” – Stephan Debelle for NINETYseven Collection.

“This is a new area for us” – Stephan Debelle for NINETYseven Collection.

Passionate about people, Stephan Debelle specializes in capturing the lives of people in the most beautiful of settings. One of our latest NINETYseven Collection photographers we get to know more about his aquatic photography and life on Bora Bora.

Explaining the personal and creative poignance in photographing real people with the natural landscapes as a backdrop, Bora Bora based creative photographer, Stephan Debelle examines how being confined and without work during the pandemic, due to no travel, allowed him to reflect and seek new ideas. Entering a new era in his work, the latest aquatic collections capture real people in dreamlike and artistic surrounding.

After joining IMAGO as part of our new NINETYseven Collection, a curated collective of artists and emerging photographers internationally, take a look at the latest collection and read about his creative journey.

IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Can you tell us a little about where you are from, how you began your career in photography and anything about your work you didn’t already know?

I’m a dual citizen of France and the US where I have spent most of my life. Following in my father’s footsteps, I spent much time in Darkrooms at a younger age and took on photography full time in 2012 while getting established in Bora Bora, having been awarded a contract for a Japanese wedding company.  Today I could not be happier to be pursuing my passion while working with my soul-mate, wife!

We love shooting in the water, the stunning Bora Bora Lagoon makes for a prime opportunity to capture wonderful images!   

 

What is the first photograph you remember as being proud of? 

Probably around age 16, shooting friends using Gaugin filters at the time. This was Black & White and the days of developing film and photos in a dark room. More recently would be more fashion oriented in the water.

IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
You write that you are “passionate about people” – can you tell us more in your own words what you mean by this and why you are passionate?

We love traveling and meeting people, being based in Bora Bora; a prime touristic location allows us to meet people from all different horizons and countries.  That is always an enriching experience to learn about different cultures and ways of living.  Getting to know our clients allows us to deliver photos that have a personal meaning to them.   Bora Bora is of course described as a corner of paradise for its natural beauty but what is even more beautiful are its inhabitants!  People here are friendly & welcoming, always eager to share their island with visitors.  Something many visitors will miss for the lack of mingling with people on the Island.

 

What came first for you, travel or photography?

I would say photography first since I started at a young age but then travel became more important – Today being able to do both is just wonderful.

IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Much of your work is aquatic photography. What is about this style that drew you to working in it? 

The ocean & diving was always a passion, I became a scuba instructor at 21 and then acquired a Nikonos V and 35mm I used for personal photos of marine life.  After being established in Bora Bora as a photographer and while most of our work revolves around couples & wedding photoshoot it was essential to acquire an underwater housing.  We then started to offer shootings with the wild life, mostly while free diving / snorkeling. It came naturally to photograph people in the water while wearing formal / wedding attires and even with the wild life.

Being confined and without work allowed us to reflect, seek new ideas and inspiration from other photographers.  With time on our hands, we wanted to be more creative and focus on the fashion aspect of being underwater to create bolder and more sur-real images.  Capturing these images is more challenging, done while freediving most of the time but their uniqueness and sometime sur-real aspect is very rewarding.

We are the perfect place to realize these images, we will normally conduct these sessions in a  pool and we are also very fortunate to have very clear and warm water in our lagoon year round.

IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
How do you prepare and work live on a shoot that is under water?

The clothing / costume is important, we will normally start to envision what we wish to create.  We are fortunate to have a relationship with Valerie Pache, a French designer who supplies us with dresses which are ideal for these shootings.  We also create a variety of apparels well suited for underwater photography.  Then while mostly working with friends as our models, we will organize the session to either take place in a pool or in the lagoon.  Safety is a prime factor and thus the choice of location is important.

What do you hope people take away from your photographs? Is there an overriding message or feeling you want to convey?

For the many couples we photograph here, we always hope we were able to capture long lasting memories for them.  For our other work underwater, we would love to make people dream, want them to experience this type of shooting and of course hoping they could be published and seen by many.

Stephan Debelle. @boraboraphotovideo
Photo: Stephan Debelle. @boraboraphotovideo
For you, what is the poignance in photographing real people in stunning landscapes? Do you prefer to work with people in staged or natural settings?

We almost work in natural settings using natural light, Bora Bora is our outdoor studio and there is no lack of locations.  While we love sunsets, having people in the photos is what in my opinion will make it stand out.  Photographing weddings or people is all about capturing the right moment, the right expressions – These are more so important than having the perfect camera settings, the expressions only last microseconds.

 

Your series of aquatic fashion photographs particularly stand out in styling and aesthetic. Can you tell us a little about the art direction of this shooting? What was your creative process?

This is a new area for us, I always try to envision the capture and look I wish to achieve, dusk night can make for some beautiful sub-surface reflections.  I don’t think there can be one particular style, it will depend on the model, light, clothing and if shot at night or during the day. The light will also be a factor in rendering the final product.  It usually starts by “coaching” the model, have him / her try to perform the poses we think will be the most aesthetic, that is the most challenging aspect.  

These photos require a very different editing process, much time goes into creating the final image, particle clean up, colorimetrie, most if done with photoshop and I personally try to find special effects that are a good match for the image.

 

What do you hope for your work in the near future?

We would love to show more of our work and be published.

IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Photo: IMAGO / Stephan Debelle
Stephan Debelle, together with his wife, Bonnie creates stunning collections in portrait, destination, wedding and creative photography. See more of their work vis their website and instagram

 

IMAGO NINETYseven Collection is our latest in creative photography offering global creative content. From Berlin Outwards. See more and join our new collection here.

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