Postmortem: Edouard Boubat

post·mor·tem – an evaluation or discussion occurring after the end or fact of something: to do a postmortem on the decision of a court.

The Postmortem is a spinoff off the Inspiration that’s usually featured on Mondays here. In the Postmortems (PM), we’ll look at awesome and horrible photos, both modern (translation: digital) and film. What works, what didn’t, why did it flop or why did it “sing”? If applicable, I’ll also point out how lights were used and how you guys can achieve a similar look at home.

Edouard Boubat

Quick bio: Born in France in 1923, took up photography in 1946 and won a number of exclusive awards over the years.  He had a knack for capturing intimacy in his images, in quiet moments when people were still and serene.

“Remi Listening to the Sea” – Edouard Boubat

On composition: this breaks a couple portrait rules. For one, his shoulders are cut off. The framing is extremely tight – it just avoid clipping the shell on the left. If I were Boubat’s teacher, I’d be telling him to back up a couple inches or so and give this scene a little breathing room.

But you know what? It works despite these flaws. It doesn’t matter. Lesson here? It’s okay to break the rules sometimes. That serene little smile, like Remi’s hearing a secret…that’s what makes this picture gold.

Light: I keep flipflopping on the lights. I can’t decide whether it’s two lights or one.

Here’s my thought process: the left side of Remi’s face (our left, Remi’s right) isn’t very shaded, while his neck and the back of his hand are pretty dark. Typically the shading on the face should match up with the hands/neck, but that isn’t the case here. Boubat may have used a small, low-powered second light to light up just the face and shell, but for some reason, I don’t think that’s the case here.

I suspect that in addition to careful placement of the light and the seashell acting as an improvised reflector, Boubat may also have done some darkroom magic (dodge) and lightened Remi’s face and the shell a little bit.

Where did he place the light? Visualize Remi in center of a clock, and the camera at six o’clock: I peg the light as being at about four o’clock, judging by that thin line of sheen on the bridge of his nose, and slightly above; it’s high enough that there’s a  shadow inside the curve of his ear. There’s also a faint shadow from his nose and his brow.

Copycat: to get a similar look at home, the easiest and quickest way is a dark, solid-colored backdrop and diffused window light. Keep the clothes and accessories simple as well. If you’d like to lighten the shadow on the face without relying on postprocess, use a reflector. A white wall or paper poster will work in a pinch.

So…tell me, what do you think of this picture? Is it boring or is it interesting? Does it work for you?  Do you agree or disagree on my guess at Boubat’s light setup?

Let me know in the comments!



  1. I have no guess on the lighting (is the shirt fabric lighter under his neck than it is on his sleeve?), but I think this is a beautiful image, warm and dreamy without any corny tricks or cliche.

  2. Yes, a lovely image. As you observe, the smile is the core of this image. I also enjoy the hands, so small, and the way they are holding the shell. They balance Remi’s face in the composition. Using a flesh-toned T-shirt also helps to keep this portrait delightfully minimal.

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