Carla Coulson, harpers bazaar, portrait photographer, lifestyle photography, justin hemmed, kate fowler, the hermitage, slim aarons, pool, wooden boat, white bedroom, swimming pool

Start With A Vision


Dear Folks,

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!

Carla Coulson, harpers bazaar, portrait photographer, lifestyle photography, justin hemmed, kate fowler, the hermitage, slim aarons, pool, wooden boat, white bedroom, swimming pool

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.

Carla Coulson, harpers bazaar, portrait photographer, lifestyle photography, justin hemmed, kate fowler, the hermitage, slim aarons, pool, wooden boat, white bedroom, swimming pool

What Was My Vision?

  1. When I scouted the place I noticed lots of opportunities to shoot from different perspectives 
  2. When I stood on the property flashbacks to famous photos, photographers and cool folk started my inspiration process 
  3. 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
  4. Over the years I have looked at hundreds of thousands of images, films and historical references and its in these moments they serve me.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
  5. 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. 

Carla Coulson, harpers bazaar, portrait photographer, lifestyle photography, justin hemmed, kate fowler, the hermitage, slim aarons, pool, wooden boat, white bedroom, swimming pool

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.

Light and love

Carla x

‘M’ is for Manual Photography Week 3 – ISO and Depth of Field

F2.8 50 mm lens carla coulson

PHOTO 1: Depth of field – Shot at F2.8mm Note the focus point doesn’t change in the following images. Wallpaper, book, phone, most of tulips and chair in foreground blurry. Click on photo to read all text

A big fabulous good morning to you as I am about to leave for Sydney.

This is the 3rd post in the series ‘M’ is for Manual photography and it is for those of you who want to get off automatic on your fab digital SLR and head on over to manual. You can catch the first two posts here  Your Camera and F-Stops and Shutter Speeds .

So here we go on one of the most exciting things about photography and something all the girls love. Good old depth of field.

Depth of Field

The depth of field refers to the amount of distance in your photo that is in focus from your focal point (the point you choose to focus on). Yep with manual photography we get to decide what we want in focus and what we want blurry.

Now here is the brain bender for all of us! There is double whammy bonus that is associated with F-Stops. Not not only do F-Stops control the amount of  light coming  into your camera (which you saw in Week 2 they also control the depth of field).

Are you still with me?

So we learnt last week that F-Stops halve or double the amount of light coming into your camera as we change them but something else happens.. drum roll….

Yep, girls it’s called more blur or less blur and it is one of the most fabulous techniques in photography.

So let’s talk about the difference in depth of field of our F-Stops.

When you choose a point to focus on in your image known as focal point that is the point you want to be sharp. There is a ‘field’ of space that is in focus other than the focal point depending on the F-Stop you have chosen.

I did a  little example for you starting with F2.8 changing to F5.6 then F8 then F22. The top shot (Photo 1) was shot at F2.8 and I focus on St Gennaro the little statue and you can see very little other than the stack of photos he is sitting on is in focus and maybe one of the tulips.

F5.6 50 mm carla coulson

PHOTO 2: F5.6 same focal point on St Gennaro

In Photo 2 I didn’t change the focus point here I only changed the F-Stop and the shutter speed. Changing From F2.8 to F56 meant I gained a lot more depth of field. If you have a look at the line on the right it has lengthened from the first shot. The foreground is in focus (not  the chair)  and more of the tulip flowers are in focus.

F8 50 mm lens carla coulson

PHOTO 3: F8 – Same focal point on St Gennaro

In Photo 3 I have kept the same focal point and changed the FStop to F8 and I am gaining more depth of field. You will see the line on the right stretches from in front of the chair right back to the tip of the book. The red phone is also starting to come into focus and the wallpaper is far less blurry than in Photo 1.

F22 50 mm Carla coulsonPHOTO 4: F22 – The focal point is still on St Gennaro

In Photo 4 I went from F8 to F22 and you can see everything is in focus from the white chair in the foreground to the crazy wallpaper including the book, the orchid and the phone. F22 is the big kahuna of FStops, you know you want everything in focus this is your starting point.

F2- Only the focal point is in focus and a couple of mm behind it and the rest of the photo and background is soft blur.

F2.8- Still a very shallow depth of field but a little more field than the F2

F4 – More depth of field but still considered a shallow depth of field

F5.6 – A middle of the road depth of field that you will still have blur in the background

F8 – Good when shooting more than one person who are on different planes

F16 – Almost all the image is in focus

F22 – The whole world is almost in focus from the point of focus to the infinity of the background..



Image via Fuji


Remember in the old days when you wanted to take some photos you would buy a roll of film. Often the person at the camera shop would ask you would you like a 100, 200 or 400 etc?

These numbers referred to ISO or sometimes ASA and they are the numbers that determine the sensitivity of the film. You would choose your film based on the ‘amount’ of light you were going to shoot in or the effect you wanted.

The higher you go in the ISO numbers the more sensitive the film or ISO becomes which basically means it’s like gaining stops of light. So if you went from a 400 ISO to an 800 ISO it’s like doubling the light that will enter your camera. The same concept as we saw with F-stops and Shutter speeds (say for example you were working at 1/125 second, F4, ISO 400 but you wanted to shoot at 1/125 second F5.6 to have more depth of field you could go up  800 ISO and that would give you an extra stop of light you need via the sensibility of the film/digital).

Now let’s talk about light for a second because that’s the basis of photography.

When is there lots of light and when is there less light?

Midday in the middle of summer is about the most natural light you can have.

When you go into the shade on a sunny day there is less light than standing the in full sun.

In summer in the morning or the evening the light is softer, less harsh or strong than at midday so technically there is less light.

In winter the light has different angles and is softer than in summer and for example on a Parisian’s winter day the light is very low .

Entering a building you are dramatically reducing the amount of light that your camera will see.

Twilight hour as the sun is going you are loosing light.

Night – very low light

So it is really important that you understand what kind of light you are shooting in as this will help you choose your ISO. If you were shooting hand held (not on a tripod)  the following may help you select your ISO.

ISO Number – Light conditions

100 – Bright sunny day tonnes of light – Low grain/noise

200 – You have a little more flexibility with 200 than 100 like gaining a stop of light – low grain/noise

400 – Good for lower light conditions, cloudy, shady – Grain/noise

800 –  Shooting hand held inside or as the light is fading around twilight

1600 – Photo journalists often used this ISO as if they wanted to shoot inside or outside they had a lot of flexibility

3200 – Shooting at night or in low light interiors hand held – Really Grainy

You will see from the list above that as you go up in ISO your images will have more grain or noise. Everything in photography is a trade-off.

Now the key with ISO is about what light you are shooting in. In the old days say I wanted to shoot in bright sunlight (ie tonnes of light) I would have chosen a 100 ISO film and that is exactly what I would choose now on my digital dial.  Why? Because having a lot of light I don’t need to compensate by using more sensitivity with my ISO.

Now we are really lucky with digital because instead of having a roll of film in our camera that doesn’t suit the lighting conditions we can simply change the ISO setting on our camera by pressing the ISO button and rolling our dial.

I would suggest you do some tests of your own like I did in the above example with F-Stops to see what happens before your eyes and blow the images up on your screen. It’s magic.

Also press down your ISO button and see what happens. You should see the numbers moving along the bottom when looking through the viewfinder.

You’re almost there.. Next week exposure and once you have nailed that you are on your way.

Best of luck

“Balance of light is the problem, not the amount. Balance between shadows and highlights determines where the emphasis goes in the picture…make sure the major light in a picture falls at right angles to the camera.” Elliot Erwitt




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‘M’ is for Manual Photography Week 2 – F-Stops and Shutter Speeds


F-Stops on my Leica M8 start at F2 then move to F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8 and up to F16..

Hello Manual Enthusiasts,

Thanks for joining me again in this foray into manual photography. In case you missed last week ‘Your Camera‘ you can catch it here.

Today I am just dealing  with the two subjects that control light coming into your camera, F-Stops and Shutter Speeds.

Now I am going to show you how things work on my Leica (which has fewer buttons and gadgets like analogue camera’s had) and is much simpler to get your head around than all the digital numbers that appear on our LCD screens.

Tomorrow’s post will be about Depth of Field and Exposure so stay tuned.

What is an F-Stop??

You will see on the lens above that there are numbers 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6 and they keep going on this camera right up to F16. These numbers are the F-stops and by moving the ring and selecting a different number you are opening or closing the lens and letting more or less light in to the camera.

Now heres the confusing thing for us girls. A bloke designed this for sure because in my opinion it’s the wrong way around.

Small numbers like F2 or F2.8 mean ‘more light’ entering your camera and high numbers like F16 means ‘less light’ entering your camera.

Now wouldn’t it have made more sense to do it the other way around???

So you have to think like a bloke (illogically.. ha ha guys) when you want more or less light

Small numbers = equal lots of light

High Numbers = not much light

What happens when you go from F2.8 to F4? Basically you are halving the light that enters your camera.. If you go from F2.8 to F2 you are doubling the light. Just a little detail to know that as you move along the scale from one F-Stop to the next you are doubling or halving the light entering your camera. This can be a big deal and save your shot if you are working with low light (that’s why good camera lenses cost a lot of money because they have low F-Stops such as F2).

Have a look at the image below and you will see the black circles are the lens and the white circles are the lens openings. You  will see at F22 the opening is really small (not much light coming in) and F2.8 really large (loads of light coming).


fstops demystifiedImage via Pinterest

Now on fancy digital SLR cameras you no longer simply move the ring on the outside of the camera (unless you are lucky) to change F-Stops you have to use one of your selectors. Now in my case on my Canon 5D I use the wheel on the back of the camera to select the F-Stop. See image below with stars!

So if you are looking into your viewfinder and move this wheel (on my camera yours may be different) you should see the numbers changing along the bottom of the image.

wheel to change f-stop


Shutter Speed

I love shutter speed! It’s the area where we get to choose whether we want motion blur or our action frozen in time…

The shutter wheel dial again on my Leica is just a simple wheel and this is how you should think of shutter speed even if you have a fancy digital SLR.


 Shutter speed wheel and values on my Leica M8

Shutter speeds work in fractions of a second and as you move up the scale from  1/30, 1/60,1/125/1/250, 1/500 you are doing two things:

1. Letting less light into your camera because the speed is faster and the shutter is open for less time

2. Changing how your image is captured. The higher the shutter speed such as 1/500 the more likely movement in your photo will be frozen, at a 1/30 second you will have lots of blur.

wayne chick 4

Image shot at 1/30 second. You can really see the blur here..

Carla Coulson Wayne Chick

Shot at 1/125 second.. Here she is moving towards me and curtseying so  there is a little movement of her hair etc but you can see the dress clearly unlike in the top shot.

Some examples:

1/30 second –  Great if you want camera shake or movement blur

1/60 second – If you don’t have steady hands anything from here down (1/30 etc) will have camera shake and motion blur when capturing movement

1/125 second – My starting point if I don’t want camera shake and when I want to capture slow movement without too much blur

1/250 second – Good for freezing movement such as fast walking or slow biking

1/500 second – Good for freezing movement of a car or scooter

1/1000 second – Good for freezing movement of a Ferrari

1/2000 second – Good for freezing movement of a Lamborghini!

How to change your shutter speed on your fab digital SLR?  On my Canon 5D I need to use the wheel on the top of my camera. When looking through the viewfinder I can see the shutter speeds changing as I move the wheel. On your camera it may be in the same position, if not you need to locate it.

I think that is enough for today!  I will be posting Exposure and Depth of Field next week so stay tuned.

Have a great day.

“I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as life itself and felt that their individual feelings were worth expressing. To me, that makes photography more exciting.” Harry Callahan




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