New Women’s Chiffon Tops. They’re just so chiffon-y.

Notes from a workshop with fashion photographer, Peter Coulson

The fashion photographer, Peter Coulson has been visiting Perth and I went to hear him speak and did a workshop with him and two professional models, Natascha and Tara.

You can check out his website here . I’ve learned so much my mind is reeling. Mostly about breaking rules. Doing everything in camera. I won’t be able to do him justice but here are some personal notes…

- he showed us how he ‘reads the light’ (both in studio and outdoors) by turning the model 360 degrees while he turns with her, to find the position where the light is most flattering, and then he spot metered on her skin (he only uses Manual mode and spot metering – hates Aperture or Shutter priority and the 50 point metering facility!)

- he used a single light to show how to get different effects by positioning the model nearer and further away and by positioning himself nearer and further away – in a triangular formation – astonishing. He says he usually uses only one light and his current favorite is a small spot with a bare bulb. This is definitely worth experimenting with. In a small space, he achieved vastly different lighting effects with this simple set up. Hope these mock-ups help to explain it.

1. For full on effect:
Model …. – ….. Photographer
l
Light

2. For more wrapped round effect
Model …. – …. Photographer
……………….l
………… Light

3. For less wrapped round or more rim lighting: [and to get a fine edge of light on the model’s face, reduce the distance here between model and photographer]:
……………. Model . .. – …. Photographer
Light

- shoot from below to give length to the legs if shooting full length; shooting from eye level makes them look dumpy (the flash was at eye level or higher though); shoot from eye level to get beauty shots of face

- light slightly high gives a nice shadow separating face and neck – no double chin (camera doesn’t need to be higher)

- shooting skin (eg for cosmetics) need to slightly overexpose to hide blemishes; shooting older skin, use less power in flash, and grid diffuser (also gives nice vignette)

- ‘shadows were OK until the 90s’ – he likes to position model close to wall to get strong shadows behind her – break the rules

- use music to convey the mood you want the model to give you, e.g. soft, romantic Michael Buble, or edgy and strong, punk rock!

- talk to her throughout the shoot – keep up her energy levels – make her feel the way you want her to look, not just pretend – never ask her to ‘do sexy’ – never go silent on her, even if you know her really well; say ‘gorgeous’ 5000 times and again; don’t ask her to pose the mouth – keep it neutral (‘park the lips’)

- he never touches the models at all – only uses words to convey what he wants them to do – he can get really close to them with the camera between them but never gets as close to them without it (I heard Natascha, one of the models say to someone: ‘the first and hardest thing you have to do as a male photographer is convince me you’re not a sleaze’).

- fashion shooting isn’t the same as portrait or glamour – no need to have catchlights in the eyes; face mustn’t be competing with the dress for attention; the model is a coat hanger – pushing out collarbone and pelvic bones (minimising chest and rear); ‘imagine a man pissing at a urinal’. ‘Alien heads’ make great models because you can’t look at them and have to look at the clothes (my note: so that’s why the models all look so weird in fashion shows with all that crazy makeup – I’ve never understood that!) The converse of that is a shot of a woman naked except for a balaclava and a machine gun. He showed it to a friend who said, ‘you bastard, you’ve given me a naked woman to look at but her eyes won’t let me’.

- he uses mostly 70mm and 50mm lenses for fashion (an d a Hasselblad in the studio) though a wide angle can look good too.

- break another rule: he never uses a filter just to protect lens – no point in buying expensive lens and then putting inexpensive glass in front of it.

- uses a ‘dog bowl’ attachment to an on camera flash for a fashion show shoot ( I couldn’t find this by googling it but it looked very plastic and simple, maybe a real dog bowl with a hole cut out of it??? – another example or trying out things and getting something different from all the other photographers’ shots with the standard gear)

- he hates doing weddings – suggested getting the bride and groom to dress up three weeks before and do an afternoon’s shoot when they’re relaxed and then just doing record shots of the day; words to give the bride an idea of how to pose: elegant, sophisticated, ‘push tall’, ‘strike the pose – Vogue’ – everyone knows what that is!

- he uses ‘Phocus’ to convert from RAW. It’s available for free on the Hasselblad site and works for other cameras but only with Apple, not PC.

- he has a Hasselblad but doesn’t take it out of the studio – ‘you don’t buy a Ferrari and use it on a dirt road’.

That’s all I can remember for now. Totally exhausted from learning so much! I hope I haven’t misrepresented, misquoted or got things wrong.

and that you find it interesting…

one last point, the shots on Peter’s website may appear to objectify models but seeing him work with them, I was never in any doubt of his authentic respect for them. And I know my ‘sleaze antennae’ to be sufficiently sensitive to have been rattling wildly if there had been any doubt.

Thanks, Peter, Tara and Natascha for an amazing experience.

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