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Este artículo no está disponible en Español
September 2009

Fifteen years on after opening up her own studio, Spanish photographer Belén Caballero has earned a great reputation in the business courtesy of her dynamism and her eclectic mixture of shooting street scenes, available light portraits, weddings, and mothers and babies. Pablo Carballo spoke to her about how she got into photography and why she loves shooting people.

There was an undeniable drive in Belén Caballero’s spirit since she was a little girl. “I always wanted to be a photographer, and the truth is that I don’t know why. There have been no other professional photographers in my family. Back in the days we would go around and use my Dad’s camera. In many of those pictures I have an angry face because I would rather take the picture than be in it,” she recalls with a laugh.

Later on she proved to herself that there was more than a simple childhood whim to it. “I got increasingly interested in photography… and the day I went into a lab and watched the image emerge from the tray, I thought: ‘This is pure magic!’ and I got hooked,” explains Belén.

Many things have been unplanned in Belén’s 15-year long career as a professional photographer. She got a degree in audio-visual languages, and later on she made up her mind to set a studio of her own, but without much of a business-minded approach. “I started with portraits taken in my very personal way, most of them in black and white. Had I done a proper market study I would probably have chosen other photographic topics,” she admits. “But it is OK; I started at my own pace.”

© Belén Caballero

Shot on the 5D with the EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM zoom and flash lights. Exposure was 1/125sec at f/8.

She soon got more and more into shooting pictures of maternity. “It is one of those unexpected findings that photography brings along. Sometimes you are looking for topics, and on other occasions the topic finds you. This was the case,” says Belén.

She had always been interested in portraying naked bodies, and had some experience after working in the world of theatre and modelling. Then came the weddings. “The truth is that at the beginning we saw it as a way of making relatively easy money,” she admits frankly. What happened later was a surprise: “The same women whose weddings we had shot started coming around. They developed an interest in our portraits, so we started shooting them when they were pregnant… and then the same thing happened again when they had their kids.” Now, nearly half of Belén’s total workload is related to maternity and is always shot in black and white.

© Belén Caballero

Image for a bridal catalogue shot on the EOS 5D with the EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM zoom lens with flash.

Then there is the problem with picturing nudity, as Belén explains: “It is a delicate topic where the person just wants to recognise him or herself in a portrait. Even if they have a strong motivation to do it, it is still embarrassing to get into a studio, take off your clothes and stand in front of someone, just like that. So I try to make that moment as comfortable as possible.”

“Maternity pictures are proving really successful,” Belén elaborates. “I think that it has to do with the fact that it is a very special and sensitive stage of life. On my side, I really enjoy portraying naked people because it seems to me that the human body is one of the most spectacular things that you can take a picture of.” She adds: “I also like taking images of babies; tiny portions of their bodies. It is interesting to get the contrast between an adult’s and a baby’s skin. I find these are all very rewarding topics.”

When Belén opened her studio in Valencia, with Tomás Bueno, it was at the time of the emergence of digital photography and this affected their studio work. “We started off with Nikon digital cameras, and later on we moved to Canon. I currently use a Canon EOS 5D. I am also testing an EOS 5D Mark II and I have to say that it is amazing.”

© Belén Caballero

Available light portrait of the famous Spanish photographer Juan Manuel Castro Prieto (Agence VU). Shot on the EOS 5D Mark II with EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.

The switch from film to digital was not traumatic for Belén. “Of course it was weird at the beginning. I used to feel kind of limited for some topics; I did not know much about digital and I missed resolution and chromatic range,” she acknowledges. “But later, after I got used to Canon cameras, I stopped missing analogue. Now I don’t miss it whatsoever! Adapting (to digital) meant an economic effort, but now I wouldn't want those old times back,” reveals Belén.

Quality is the main feature that Belén praises her equipment for. “It is not only about resolution, but mainly about colour quality. This is very important for me. My 5D keeps all of it, plus all the resolution - on top of that it is very versatile.” She still keeps her old Hasselblad and selects the most suitable camera for each particular piece of work. “For instance, if I am working in the studio with kids, I work with my Canon SLR, because I know that kids are very lively subjects, and with my zoom I can keep them in focus at all times.”

© Belén Caballero

Catalogue portrait image.

When it comes to lenses, Belén’s favourite is the Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM zoom. “It is not only how close you can get to the topic, but also the lens’ quality. It is really bright; an impressive lens.” She explains that this lens provides a wide range of options, which is important to avoid disturbing the subject. “If my place was on fire and I had to save one thing, I believe that I would take this!” she jokes.

Another technical issue that Belén needs to take into account is the fact that most of her work is presented in black and white. “In that sense, the outcome of the equipment I use is also great. I get a very nuanced colour, and this means that once you have converted to black and white, all those nuances are still there.”

With regards to lighting she argues: “I tend to use as much natural light as possible. Of course, it is not always perfect and I carry a couple of flashes around with me, in order to help as a support or bouncing flash.”

Belén expresses some doubts when asked about the future: “In these difficult times we are thinking more of daily survival than of long-term projects”, she admits with a smile. “The current economic climate is having its consequences here, both among professionals and consumers, so you need to take this into account when thinking about the future,” she adds.

© Belén Caballero

Black and white portrait of Spanish photographer Julian Ochoa.

But then again she has never cared too much about planning the future. Belén explains: “I truly believe that every single day and every single work you do in photography is a challenge in itself. I start something and I wonder what I will make of it. Someone comes around and with nothing else than that - just between that person and myself - we need to figure out a picture. That is the challenge”. She adds: “I only expect to continue improving and at least keep my current level of workload, quality and excitement about photography.”


Belén Caballero's equipment:

EOS 5D Mark II

EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
EF28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM

Speedlite 580EX II
Metz 40MZ-3
Metz 45 CL-4

Biografía: Belén Caballero

Belén  Caballero

Belén Caballero developed her flair for visual arts via a university degree in AV languages. She now runs her own studio - Kalos Fotógrafos - in Valencia, Spain - alongside her colleague Tomás Bueno. They mostly shoot weddings and portraiture, either at their studio or “in context”, usually where the subject lives or work. She is also president of the Spanish Federation of Professional Photography and Imaging (FEPFI).