Many people ask me how do I translate an idea into photography reality. So often we have glamorous, cool or moody ideas of what we would like yet our outcome is something else. Anybody seen the Life of Pi client expectations and budget floating around on the net!
Sometimes photos that look so simple are in reality a ‘battle’ to get the outcome you would like and others are gifts to you. This shoot was one of those gifts!
When I am working on a shoot my starting point is a vision.
I liken photography to any goal in life, if you can’t see it, how can you get there?
When I was shooting this story for Harper’s Bazaar of the beautiful Kate Fowler and Justin Hemmes my vision for these photos started long before I picked up the camera.
What Was My Vision?
When I scouted the place I noticed lots of opportunities to shoot from different perspectives
When I stood on the property flashbacks to famous photos, photographers and cool folk started my inspiration process
I allowed my body to help me. Spaces that excited me such as the pool area and the staircase allowed my imagination to run wild and so much of photography is about imagination
Over the years I have looked at hundreds of thousands of images, films and historical references and its in these moments they serve me. They come to me as inspiration
Give yourself permission to photograph the things you love and the way you want
As this was a big shoot my vision started kicking in days before and often an idea would come to me driving, swimming or in the middle of the night. Yes, my shoots keep me awake at night.
So by the day of the shoot I had plenty of ideas of where I could shoot and what I was trying to achieve.
But how do I get a final result that is as good as the image in my head? This is something I will be teaching this October in Puglia on the Heartland – People and Spaces Workshop. How to take a vision and make it happen and not walk away from it when it isn’t working out.
We have ONE PLACE available if you would love to take great people and spaces pics in a place close to heaven. You can read full details HERE.
This is a video about how my passion for portrait photography developed in the beginning of my career and how I found my style and vision.
Today’s blog is a video! To Watch click ABOVE OR HERE
Here’s the Transcript.
I was going to make a blog post about this morning, and then I thought, why don’t I delve into my archives and show you what’s in the box and boxes of my pictures and how my story. So, for those of you that don’t know my story. I had another life years ago and at 35, sort of had a midlife crisis look down. And I am back. So, during that time, I decided I had to work out what to do with photography, so I decided.
I just like taking pictures
I didn’t have any background in photography I just allowed myself to be attracted to what I like and it changed my life
So the one thing that I’ve learned by luxury of looking back, is that I get to look back at all these pictures, and one of the things that I feel when I see these images is extraordinary amount of people who were so kind and allowed me to photograph them.
This is all when I was at photography school so any poor person hanging around doing absolutely anything was game. This is on the street in Sicily. Anyone hanging around who didn’t have anything to do Carla was there to torture them! Flatmates who had a half an afternoon off at school. I would ask them to pose and I would try and come up with some sort of interesting fashioning looking picture, and this is another gorgeous friend who was kind enough to model for me.
My Love for Italy and Daily Life
I was really really drawn to people, also because people in different situations. And I just love Italy, and the daily life really so much it was so inspiring and even though I was shy and sort of awkward people were so kind to me. So, I felt like I could just keep going and taking all these pictures.
I just kept going and then when I was in Paris, some how the girls in bathrooms turned into girls at the Mouln Rouge and the Lido!!
Taking a Photo versus Creating a Photo
One of the things that I really learned is take pictures there’s sort of two different types of of ways of taking people pictures and that’s finding people in their environment and just taking a picture and then of course, trying to create something, and then create an emotion and have fun between you two or, or create something serious whenever you really click take pictures.
So when you’re creating a photograph from nothing from scratch and the two of you just sort of staring at each other, it really kind of feels like a rodeo ride in a sense that you know it’s exciting this tension, it’s kind of fun it’s nerve wracking. And you don’t really know where it’s going to go like that in the beginning, you feel like yeah I’ve got the good ingredients but I don’t have a cake yet, so you might have a nice location.
Thing is about having the ingredients you then try to make it into something.
And often, it really does feel like a rodeo ride and I think one of the most important things about portraiture is that when it is just so uncomfortable most people walk away.
But the art is to stay with it.
The camera connects
That the camera is an excuse to connect with people. My passion for portrait photography meant that I could go up to that person say hello and take a photo. And I loved it and kept doing it and it became my life.
And the wonderful thing was in the beginning, I didn’t put any pressure on myself so I just wanted to give you a couple of tips today.
You know, in the beginning allow yourself the joy.
Because, you know, when I was at photography school I had the most fun.
I experiment, I make a ton of mistakes.
Do What You Love
When I just noticed it the same kept coming up and up and out, and then eventually I allow that to happen that became part of what I do, how I do things, you know, these very first photographs like this girl, you know this is still at photography school this is in Popi’s bathroom the lady I use to live with in Florence.
This is one of my flatmates. You know, it is all movement in here I probably at the time didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was attracted to move and I didn’t like things to be static, then this became a big part of my style over a period of time so often in the beginning when we’re fresh, you know, we don’t have these preconceived idea that’s when when you are so powerful, so don’t ask yourself why you’re doing it just allow you to do it.
And even if you feel like you’re just going on, you know, over the same subjects, over and over again, just stick to it. Allow yourself to do it. So I thought I’d give you some little tips today on the rain day ride of portraiture, and how you can hang through it stick with it and get the pictures that you want to take. First of all, number one, is to stay with it. Okay, most people don’t stay with it. So, when you’re about to be thrown off the bull. Most people walk out.
The art is to hang on for the ride. So that is my number one piece of advice is to take a break, or to get really really uncomfortable and everything.
Often it could be, you could change position.
You could change the light you could change the energy to change your angle.
So, instead of walking away and starting from scratch all over, ask yourself what you could to change something.
Then, you know, I’m really love photos with energy so you’ll see all my photographs are kind have energy. Every now and then I do have a quiet moment. But, you know, a lot of my photographs, really are about being alive.
Getting the emotions you want
So, how do I get that. So this is the number. I provoke the situation in the nicest possible way. So if I want joy. I give them joy, so I make them laugh I do all sorts of funny things. My niece who worked with me for about a year and years ago, she said to me at the end of the year, that which I took as a compliment, was that “you don’t care what people think about you”
She came on many shoots with me, including the shoots for Harper’s Bazaar and saw that I would say to someone who was considered famous, something stupid, but I do it for purpose which is to get a laugh or get a reaction. S
So another tip for you would be to, to create that energy, whatever energy you want, create that energy.
One of the things that I would like to say to you, all these pictures I took in the beginning,
I didn’t know what I was going to do with these pictures, I just allowed myself, the time and the investment really of energy to take them. But when you do things that you truly love, they don’t always have to have a purpose, and, but often when they really good, they’ll find a purpose, one day, and I wanted to show you this because a lot of these pictures I’ve just shown you, which were taken.
Chasing A Dream
Even some of them from the beginning, these pictures became a book called Chasing a Dream. And a lot of pictures.
So all of these pictures that I just took with love and just with curiosity and trying to learn and get better over a period of years, they became the book really which is possibly one of my favorites, other than Italian joy because they became like a private collection of images.
And that’s what I would like to say just to finish this little message right now is to allow your intuition, and your instincts to be free.
You don’t know where they’re going to take you, but they are your strongest guidance anything in life that comes from the heart will always be the thing that will take you where you need to go.
Over the years many people have asked me about my portrait post processing look and for the first time ever I am pleased to share with you my personal Lightroom presets.
I use these guys to get my distinct look on my black and white and colour portraits.
These presets are for folk who are familiar with Lightroom and know what it means to twiddle with the exposure, colour temperature, contrast and highlight to get your own unique look. These presets will give your images a distinct style depending on the lighting conditions you photographed them in and whether they were well exposed or not.
I have included some of my favourite high contrast and black and whites so you get an instant ‘Carla Coulson’ high fashion look.
Raw file left and Preset Crunchy Black and White Photo copyright Carla Coulson
All the black and white presets have grain to make sure your photos don’t feel empty and for the folks like me that love a ‘grain storm’ I have snuck a ton in to ‘Rock n Roll’.
The colour presets come without grain but I have added an option to add your own.
Each order comes with a guide on how to use your presets and some do’s and don’ts.
Raw file above and PresetRock n Roll bottom – Photo Copyright Carla Coulson
Here’s what you get:
Paris café Portrait Collection is a collection of some of my favourite high contrast black and whites so you get an instant ‘Carla Coulson’ high fashion portrait look. They are inspired by my love for film photography, Paris, Italy, portraiture and the way I love black and white to look and feel.
4 Black and Whites
Crunchy black and white – yes folks this preset packs a crunch, it’s high contrast and has a light film grain
Easy Like Sunday Morning – is a soft black and white with almost grey tones. When you don’t want your images to shout
On The Wild Side – This is an unapologetic high contrast black and white with even brighter highlights than Crunchy black and white
Rock n Roll – It’s a little darker and moodier than the others with more definition in the highlights and dense grain
Raw file above and Preset Get Your Motor Running bottom – Photo copyright Carla Coulson
Raw file left and Preset Natural Born Woman right Copyright Carla Coulson
Daily Juice Portrait Collection are my favourite portrait colour presets and they come without grain but I have added an option to add your own.
Get Your Motor Running – Has a nice rev in the engine! Bright skin tones and good contrast, it gives you an instant graded look.
Moody Blues – It’s in the polaroid look family, with deep blues in the shadows and golden hues in the highlights, it’s soft and dreamy.
Natural Born Woman – this is for those days and jobs when you need a natural look. Simple but beautiful natural colours
Too Cool for School – less blue in the shadows than ‘Get Your Motor Running’ but with some sass of its own and a lovely warm tone on the skin.
No Apologies – This is a ‘get out of my way’ effect very similar to cross processing. With strong contrast, definition in the shadows and definition in the lines. Hold onto your hat!
I thought I would let you in on a couple of backstage secrets of how I shot this recent Harper’s Bazaar story with the beautiful Heidi Middleton and her fabulous babes.
I didn’t have the luxury of scouting this beautiful property prior before packing my bags so I jumped online to see if I could find any images to see the setting of the place. For me this is vital as it will assist me in knowing which lens to pack.
From the images I found on the net I thought the property was in a big field but when I arrived I was surprised (and delighted to see) it was actually in a village. This made capturing a big home like this from the front challenging because I was very close to the building.
Some of you may recall from my ‘How to shoot a chateau’ post that the bigger the building the trickier it is to keep lines straight if you can’t get far enough away from it.
Heidi was a dream! I think I have probably mentioned before how much I love Heidi. What a dream she was to shoot, her calmness, kindness, creativity and beauty. She was great and knew her property backwards and loved some particular parts like the beautiful ivy wall and we all dreamed of her being photographed on it on a ladder.
Red Dress Series
To shoot this photo I was on a super long ladder leaning up against the neighbors’ house in front! So the building wasn’t totally distorted I needed to be as high as I could or at least as close as possible to the middle of the building height. Shooting from a ladder is not my favourite place (yikes, did I tell you about my fear of heights) and Heidi was sitting on the balcony of the building.
I used a 70-200m L-series Canon lens and my arms were literally in a spasm by the time we had completed the shot. I had to balance myself the best I could so as not to have camera shake from the heavy lens.
We started out with Heidi sitting on the balcony and doing some more detailed shots and this lens meant that I could capture as much of the building in the image as possible including the turret, come closer in for a portrait and a vertical shot of her being playful.
I couldn’t have done these pictures without a team. We had a super photographer with me and another assistant with Heidi and we took breaks as much as possible.
When I look at the shots now I think we must have gone mad! But they were shot in a very short time. I wouldn’t recommend that any of you do this. DO AS I SAY NOT AS I DO!
Flowery Skirt and Top Series
To shoot this photo we required two ladders! So the building wasn’t totally distorted I needed to be as high as I could or at least as close as possible to the middle of the building height. That meant both of us were on super long ladders. My assistant held my ladder as I had an extremely heavy lens and feared tipping.
To have the variety of images you see of the ivy wall it took a while for me to get my ladder in the right position and then we were fighting against the light that was about to come over the turret (who wouldn’t want a building with a turret?) and straight into my lens.
I used a 70-200m L-series Canon lens and my arms like in the pic above. I had to balance myself the best I could so as not to have camera shake from the heavy lens.
This lens gave me the flexibility to come in for a close-up and still get as much of the building as I could without getting off my ladder. We lost a lot of time moving the ladder even an increment.
To get that skirt moving and add a little magic took a lot of yelling across the front yard as we were both so far away from each other. Her moving the skirt added a new level to the photo.
The last shot of Heidi and her girls were shot in a field of flowers (and required no ladders, yay) we spotted on our way to her place in the morning. This pic was taken just after the sun slid over the hill and I exposed for her skin which gave the little backlight in her hair but left the rest of the foreground in even light.
I hope you enjoyed these little insights into this shoot, it really was one of those special photography days you hold tight to your heart.
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