Peter Coulson talks to 500px about his workshops and his personal journey as a photographer.
500px: How long have you been a full-time photographer and at what point in your career did you make the switch to full time?
Peter Coulson: Roughly 20 years now—that is a combination of being a lifestyle photographer (fishing industry) and fashion photographer.
I had a business in fishing. When I started shooting for magazines, I didn’t have enough time to run my business and keep photographing—so it turned into full-time photography for magazines. During one of my assignments, I did my first shoot in a studio. A studio assistant was employed to help on the day because I knew nothing.
I fell in love with the studio. That night I went home and told my wife, “Love, we are going to go broke, but I am making a transition from fishing to models.” She supported me, and it started from then onwards. That was the point I was truly full-time, as I had no other income.
500px: You’re not just a photographer—you’re also in the industry of photography education. How are the workshops you host different than other photography courses and tutorials?
Peter Coulson: The biggest difference is that I am self-taught and I don’t learn well in normally school environments. I did a few workshops when I was trying to make the transition from shooting fishermen to fashion, and I always walked away feeling like I spent a lot of money to only learn one new trick. It frustrated me that there was nobody out there teaching the things I actually needed to learn. Everybody would fluff around the edges and get participants to take a lot of photos so they would leave happy. What the participants forgot was that they were only shooting, not learning.
I never had the intentions of getting into the educational side of photography. But I had a small importer in Australia ask me if I could demonstrate their lighting at a trade show. This resulted in a massive crowd around me, asking, where can we pay to see more of this? The importing company heard the feedback and ran workshops from their store for me to teach.
I think another major difference is that I try dumb everything down; I don’t try to make myself look better than anybody else. I try show everybody how it is simple if you make it simple; dumbing it right down without making it too technical, otherwise it starts to become really hard.
I have no secrets. Anybody can hire a pretty model, awesome location, fancy gowns, stunning makeup and hair, set up one octabox and bang—you create an incredible image. But by doing that, it doesn’t mean you have learned a single thing except that you cannot afford the model, location, gown or hair and makeup—you cannot reproduce this tomorrow.
Even though I use beautiful models for the workshops, I use very basic clothing and get the models to do their own hair and makeup, and I shoot in ordinary locations, to show you can create beautiful images without any of the other stuff. This way the participants can go out the next day and do the exact same thing, in their own backyard. What I teach is for people to really learn how to create and recreate anything they like in a very simple way.
500px: You’re hosting workshops all around the world this year—how do you find the time to shoot for yourself and still manage to stay inspired?
Peter Coulson: I try and keep my business in a rule of thirds: 1/3 workshops, 1/3 commercial work, and 1/3 shooting what I love. For the last few years, shooting 1/3 what I love has been really tough to manage. My commercial work and workshops started to overtake this, resulting in me only shooting 5% of what inspired me. In the last year, I have tried my best to make changes so that I can be selective with my commercial jobs, picking the jobs I do enjoy. This creates more time to shoot what I love, which keeps me inspired and passionate about my art.
With the educational side, especially our new website, I am shooting what I love to shoot for the tutorials. This has also helped me get closer to 1/3. The more I can show the world what I love doing, the more people will want to learn how I do it, and the more I will get booked commercially to do what I love. It feels good to go back to my beliefs that I preach, shoot what I love, and build my business on what I really love to do.
500px: We have a pretty large community of photographers in Dubai, so let’s talk about your upcoming Dubai workshop in mid-April. What can participants expect to learn in the 5-day course?
Peter Coulson: The main things—they will walk away with gaining the knowledge about the technicals that you actually need to know, such as exposure, colour, etc. These give you a firm starting point to be able to work commercially, especially in relation to printing and what happens after the photograph has been taken.
After that, I teach people how to see light and how to manipulate light to do what they want it to do, whether it be flash light, studio light, or natural light.
The rest of the workshop is teaching people how to put in emotion and feelings, how to make it real and how to put their own style into their photography, and how to communicate with the models to create the look they are trying to create. Once you have learned how to see the light, everything else is easy. And I teach people how to do this.
500px: Generally speaking, for photographers who have never participated in a workshop before, what kind of advice can you provide before they choose a Peter Coulson workshop experience, and what should they ask themselves before signing up for one of your workshops?
Peter Coulson: It is no good coming to my workshop if you are close-minded, following rule of thirds and wanting to stay in a “camera club headspace” where you want to pixel-peep and analyse every little pixel in minute detail. The type of person that will benefit from my workshop is the type of person that sees that technically their work is fine, but visually it is boring. So, being able to be open to new ways of photography… opening their minds to create. I can help them see their own photography style and really push it to a whole new level, creating images they really love looking at themselves and forgetting rules and pixel peeping critics. I go back to art, creating art, and creating images that are timeless. As I said, I have no secrets, and I get a week to support and guide participants in whatever direction of photography they would like to take, from beginners to advanced full-time photographers.
500px: We understand that the Peter Coulson workshop experience is quite intensive—what kind of feedback have you received about the high energy and pace of the experience?
Peter Coulson: I see a massive change over a 5-day workshop. I see people coming in not sure about themselves as a photographer, not sure of their style, not sure why they are even here. But about halfway through the week, I see each person hit that light-bulb moment where things become really easy for them, and they truly believe in themselves as a photographer, in their skills, and what they are capable of creating. They walk in with a big question mark on their head and walk out inspired with so many ideas to shoot as soon as they get home.
The most exciting and rewarding part for me is that I help people really learn to love photography and inspire them to create their own artwork. Watching that transition is amazing; listening to the conversations changing from “How do you do this?” to knowing how to do it, and asking more in-depth questions in regards to taking their photography to a whole new level. For people that run their own studios and work as photographers, they come to my workshop and realise they have been stuck in a box, shooting the same things—and I teach them and hopefully inspire them enough to get out of the box and do what they love.
For more information or to register for a workshop,
visit Peter Coulson’s website.
Don’t miss out on these exclusive discount codes for 500px readers:
Dubai 5 Day Workshop discount code (15% off): 500pxdubai
London 2 Day Workshop discount code: 500pxlondon
Paris 5 Day Workshop discount code (15% off): 500pxparis