Using color for effect

Photo by Francis Giacobetti.
Photo by Francis Giacobetti.

With so many photographers selecting Black and White as the medium to show their “art” it is pleasing to see people like Francis Giacobetti used and manipulated colour to produce striking images. And striking images is certainly what Giacobetti is all about.

He was born in France in 1939 and was always a sensitive dreamer, as so many artistic Frenchmen are – even though he later took out American citizenship. An advertising photographer, he is, however, best remembered for his glamor pictures of women. Many of the stunning calendars are the work of Francis Giacobetti, and there are many photographers throughout the world who have been envious of him (and of what he photographs)!

To become a top glamour photographer takes time. No one rings you up and asks if you would like to shoot the next Pirelli calendar, for example. You slowly earn recognition. Giacobetti did his apprenticeship the hard way too, beginning as a photographer’s assistant at the Paris Match magazine and then graduating to become a news photographer. This was not his forte as he found that he did not want to take shots of important people just because they were visiting France. Reportage was not him – he was an image maker, so he left Paris Match.

He was very fortunate that the glossy magazine “Lui” was launched in 1964, and he became a regular contributor. They allowed him to produce his colorful images to illustrate the chic and sometimes racy lifestyle presented by “Lui”. Those of you who have seen copies of this publication will know what I mean. I used to have a subscription to it, just to keep up with the photographic trends in Europe.

Having made his name in this field, Giacobetti then began to gain the rewards, with other avant-garde magazines showcasing his talents. From there it really was to do the famous Pirelli calendar, with Giacobetti’s highly acclaimed photography featured in the 1970 edition.

There are those photographers who are technocrats – every new device is theirs and they use its features until another new effect catches their eye. Giacobetti was not one of those. He worked in simple 35 mm format, while everyone was calling for 6×6 medium format, using simple Contax cameras fitted with Zeiss lenses. He carried an assortment of filters, mainly graduated filters to deepen the skies in his outdoor shots and that is about it. For lighting, he prefers natural light, but uses its color shifts to heighten the effect in his photographs.


For Giacobetti, technique was merely a means to an end. He was very talented at conjuring up how the photo should look in his mind’s eye and then using simple techniques to produce that image. Banks of electronic flash heads are not his style – but bright sunlight and a polarizing filter was. And through it all, Giacobetti produced images that are truly larger than life. Everything is bright and chromium plated. Dramatic and brash, just like the photograph reproduced with this article. The black skin and the impossibly red tongue (pity the column is in B&W) is such a contrast, it brings the eye back to the image.

Giacobetti’s story illustrates the need to think creatively when going to take photographs. The secret is in the thinking – not in the taking. Sit and reflect just how you want to portray the subject matter and then work through from there. You never know, Pirelli might even ring you for their next calendar – if you show the right amount of original thought. Think about it – and then go out and shoot it. Just like Francis Giacobetti.