Blog - Carla Coulson
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Learning to Say ‘No’

Photographer unknown (but I love it) image via

Learning to say ‘no’ was one of the greatest lessons of my life.

For the first part of my life I was a ‘yes’ girl. Not sure why, maybe I just wanted to please everybody. I ran myself ragged racing from one thing to the next and most of the time collapsed exhausted on the couch every night.

Not long before I left my life I learnt to say ‘no’. I had to be told by someone else when I was on the verge of nervous collapse that it was ok to say ‘no’. I had never thought it was an option (drrrrrrr)..

I learnt that everything in life wasn’t right for me and this applies also to the photography we choose to do.

When you become a photographer many people will ask you to take photos for them. Someone in the family or a friend is getting married, the guy across the road is starting a door company and needs some photos of his products and the lady at the bread shop is organising her child’s christening.

But you want to be a fashion photographer?

Why should you say no to these jobs?

Just because you can take great fashion pics doesn’t mean you have the right lens or the right eye for taking creative pictures of doors. Wedding photography is a particular game, most pro wedding photographers work in pairs and know exactly how a wedding works, what the crucial moments are and not to missed, they know not to overlook anyone as they maybe an important family member even if they are giving you dirty looks and they will spend days editing, retouching, printing and managing the files. That’s why they ask BIG $$$$$. Because it is a BIG job.

So if you role up most of the time for free you are bound to lose a week on the job, get paid nothing and lose focus for creating your fashion photos, seeing clients or doing a job.

Likewise if you shoot doors for the guy across the road, the couple of doors will become days of work, taking photos of a product you don’t understand, trying to figure out how to straighten the lines afterwards because they are all wonky and maybe your neighbour won’t even be happy. Nothing I can assure you in photography takes 30 mins that’s why magazines have only half-day or full-day rates.

The power of no:

1. You save time and don’t get involved with things you don’t know or want to know about

2. You don’t create an additional problem by having an unhappy neighbour!

3. You can concentrate on what it is you really want to do in life

4. Recommend someone who would be good at that and you are helping both of you out.

5. Everyday of your working life you will face situations that aren’t right for you, politely saying no isn’t a bad thing for you or them.

Remember every client isn’t the right client for you!

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.

Henry David Thoreau


Photographic Permissions + Recently Published Work

Yesterday I had two gorgeous women contact me, one to ask how much to charge a client for her first job and the other who has just received her first commission from a magazine wanting to know about permissions.

And whilst we were on the subject of publishing I wanted to share a story I recently photographed with super stylist Vicki Archer in House and Garden Australia.

I am going to tackle permissions today for any of you who are interested read on?

Permissions in Paris nearly killed me and my book Paris Tango. I thought I would never get to the end of it because of the incredible amount of paperwork, number of phone calls needed to get permission to enter fashion shows, historic hotels, backstage at the Moulin Rouge and Lido de Paris and anything slightly fabulous in Paris.

But without the permission of these places to shoot us photographers are unable to get to all the good stuff.

Whose permission do you need?

If you plan on shooting in a private space, a big hotel, a restaurant or a shop you need their permission in theory to shoot in their space and publish the images. I always ask their permission, arrange a time to go and ask for a contact on the day because I want total freedom once I am in the place and their help to get the photos I need.

I always write to the PR person of each place or if it is small to the owner detailing why I need to photograph in their place explaining where the images will be published. Most people especially small businesses are happy to have you because it means free publicity but famous places (especially in Paris) sometimes see it as a nuisance or a time waster unless you are Architectural Digest or Gourmet Traveller.

All Photos styled by Vicki Archer and Copyright Carla Coulson

To show them you are serious you can do the following:

1. Ask the publication for a letter with your photographic story commission to show it is real!

2. Write to them with your request, explain where the magazine is published and their readership figures. Send a link to your website and attach any other publications where you work has been published.

3. Follow up, don’t be surprised if you don’t receive an email back (especially in Paris) and call if need be. Just be your charming self.

4. When shooting,  if you photograph any of the staff you will need a photo release with their permission to publish the images. Many places will also want to sign a photo release detailing where you can publish the images.

5. When the images are published send them a copy of the magazine or PDF and you will have a good contact for life.

Its worth getting the permission because if you go hoping to take images and you are asked to leave you won’t be able to fulfill your job.

Best of luck girls, I hope this helps.

I always felt that acting was an escape, like having the secret key to every door and permission to enter into any realm and soak it up. I enjoy that free pass. Edward Norton.



Paris Portrait Shoot + Light Tips

Is there anything more nerve wracking than taking a portrait of another photographer?

Well I must admit I had butterflies in my tummy when I started the morning with beautiful photographer Millie Brown but she was so fabulous they soon flew away.

Millie too left her life some time ago and is now taking gorgeous travel pics and if you want to travel vicariously check out her stunning work here.

Millie once lived in Paris and like all photographers never actually got to be in the photos so we decided to take some pics of her in this glorious city. Starting at Cafe Marly one of her favourite places..

We ducked down to the divine Louvre and the sculpture section. Who wouldn’t be inspired by a backdrop like this?

Every photographer needs one quick pic of herself with a Leica!

Off to our favourite garden in Paris the Luxembourg garden, too chic for words.

And last stop a Parisian cafe. What could be better?

Millie is also the photographer of a beautiful range of cards with France and Italy as the stars. You can order them online here.

Some light tips on how I shot these pics.

Shot 1. At Cafe Marly there was lovely morning light in Paris that day and I used the big open portico like window light asking Millie to turn towards the opening for soft light on her face.

Shot 2. Seated at Cafe Marly I did a similar thing in the above shot but used the light coming through one of the main entrances.

Shot 3. There is a wonderful glass roof in the Richelieu section of the Louvre and I asked Millie to look up so there was a soft light illuminating her face.

Shot 4. It was little gloomier in this section but I asked Millie to face towards a wall where the sun was bouncing back and illuminating her face.

Shot 5. It can be gloomy around the Medicis Fountain but to take advantage of the soft light I made sure she was at beginning of the fountain where the most light was coming in but not hitting her directly.

Shot 6. Mixed light Ugghhh.. I messed around here and changed places three times till I found a place where she was almost in even light even though the background still had mixed light. The important thing for me was that Millie looked great..

Shot 7. This was shot through the window of the cafe even though there isn’t a lot of reflection. It was difficult to find a place where there wasn’t a van parked across her face and I made sure she was close to the window to have this lovely soft light.

Wasn’t she a star!

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. Harriet Tubman

PS: If you would like a chance to win a copy of Chasing A Dream see this post for details.


What Photography Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Chasing a Dream Copyright Carla Coulson

Since taking up photography, learning the techniques has been a steep curve but one of the greatest discoveries is what the great master photography had to teach me about myself.

Photography allowed the poet out. Have you ever felt there was something you always wanted to say but you never had the courage to say it? I did and photography is the way I learnt to say it and then the words followed there after..

Photography taught me to really look at life. When you are behind a camera you are observing all the fine detail of life, the way someone rests their head on a shoulder, the touch of hands, the depth in a colour, the way the wind picks up a skirt and makes it move, the colour of the sky at different times of day, it’s as though life is a big screen and you are looking in macro.

Photography taught me to be patient. Once upon a time I wanted it yesterday and anyone that has picked up a camera knows that photography is all about waiting and if you wait and learn to be patient you will get the good stuff! Photography invites you to slow down.

Photography taught me to feel. Well I guess we all could say we feel but photography begs you to feel the language of people especially when you don’t speak the same language. An old man crossing the road where age has taken it’s toll on his bent back, the way two people hold each other as though they never want to let go or a windy road that leads to who knows where. To the untrained eye this is life to a photographer they are emotions.

Photography held the mirror up. Looking through viewfinder at other people’s lives invites you to reflect on yours. Who am I and what am I doing? I love that photography makes me ask myself this question.

What has photography taught you about yourself?



Quirky Old Paris – Musings On The Parisians

Parisian Train shop for grown-ups copyright Carla Coulson

It has been pouring for days in Paris and it has got me thinking about this town.

A friend arrived yesterday glowing from the south of France telling me that she had just left the beach. I was a little envious being a water baby!

I am not sure whether you have this afflication but do you ever ask yourself should you be living somewhere else?

Then I took a little stroll and had a think about Paris. Why do we love her so?

She is quirky, like this fellow gazing into the train shop window. What store in the world would even still sell trains that run around on tracks for little (and big) boys? Paris is chock full of quirkiness from Deyrolle, the taxidermist boutique that is out of this world to the stamp sellers in the 9th.

Who collects stamps when the whole world sends email I ask? Only in Paris..

Paris doesn’t fix things if they aren’t broken, she doesn’t replace the 18th century carousel in the Luxembourg gardens for a new one that will make you scream at the top of your lungs and she wouldn’t dream of updating her wonderful steel chairs that have been kicking around her gardens for centuries for plastic ones that would be cheaper, easier to maintain and move around. No Sirree.. Not in Paris. And she would never dream of  tearing down those wonderful wooden shop fronts that need repainting every year for a new whizz bang version. Don’t we love her?

She loves the individual, in Paris you can still find it all in a funny little shop that just sells cord, or another that only sells leather trims or one type of handbag. And Parisians aren’t scared of the competition, they generously gather the same type of cords shops, stamp collectors or camera shops together in the one quartier. How awfully thoughtful when you are shopping for a new camera or wanting to add to your stamp collection, no running around all over town just head to the stamp collecting quartier. J’adore Paris!

She loves beauty and attention to detail and generously plants flowers and almost hand trims the lawns in her public gardens, such attention to detail that would bring a grown man to tears.

Beauty, is there a city that loves beauty as much as Paris, from the wonderful graphics of her exhibitions, the breathtaking gowns of her couture runway shows to her decorated patisseries!!

Ok, so we don’t have the weather, we don’t have the beaches – but we will always have Paris!

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. Ernest Hermingway



PS: Paris lovers might like my Paris Pinterest Board