The Peter Coulson Look

I’m relatively new to photography and try to make every session in the studio a learning experience. As part of this exercise, I’ll sometimes take a photographer who I admire and try to replicate their style. 

So lately I’ve been trying to shoot in the style of Peter Coulson, a famous Australian fashion photographer. On a podcast, he introduced himself as an professional amateur who likes to shoot eyes. When he said that, I became an immediate fan. If you’ve ever done a shoot with me you know how excited I get when the light is beautiful. I’m gleeful. Coulson is a master of light. I may not always like his flatter style of lighting; it’s not entirely my personal favorite aesthetic. But he knows how to control and manipulate light in incredibly nuanced ways. Oh yes… I’m also obsessed with eyes.

So I tried to get the Peter Coulson look. In this picture that I did with Taylor, the light’s relatively flat, but flattering. We get a nice little catch-light in each eye. This is a 3/4 shot, but I cropped it so you can see more detail. Coulson often takes his blacks way down, but then selectively removes shadow in textured areas. That’s exactly what I did with Taylor’s hair in this picture. 

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These next shots have a little more shadow than Peter typically has in his images. This is why I do this as an exercise: We all tend to stick with what we’re comfortable with instead of stretching ourselves. I want to fight that tendency. 

But both of these images use only one light, which is a typical Coulson set up. In his studio he has a large bank of floor to ceiling windows and although he often uses that natural light as a key light, he seems to just as often use it as fill light, which is why I think his images have a flatter, but flattering look. 

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I don’t have a bank of windows in my studio, so I need some workarounds. In the image above, you can see my lighting setup if you look closely into her eyes. I had a large Octabox just a little to the side of her. Then I threw a white reflector on the floor and bounced a flash into it. So you can see the edge of the bright Octabox in the top of her iris and you can see a big circular catch-light in the bottom of her iris from the reflector. It was not quite what I was going for, but I kind of like it.