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Paul Cooper Interview

Paul Cooper Interview - Paul Cooper has photographed portraits of some of the biggest names in sport, film and fashion. Here, we find out more about him and his images.

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Category : Professional Interviewed
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Wayne Rooney
© Paul Cooper 

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was first interested in photography aged about nine, my mother bought me a small camera for Christmas, and that morning I was photographing my siblings with backdrops improvised from blankets and then sitting on fences and in trees in our local park looking away into the distance, I had no conscious idea of what I was doing, it was purely instinctive, then I was hooked.

I had my first darkroom set up aged 11 under the staircase cupboard of the family home, it was pretty cramped and the chemical odors probably did not do me any favors, I knew then that the medical career I envisaged was not going to  happen and I was destined to be a photographer. Then ten years after working at national newspapers in the UK, I moved to Paris where I set up my own photo agency and travelled extensively around the world photographing major sporting events, celebrity portraiture, fashion shows and hard news events such as suicide bombers in Israel and presidential campaigns. Variety is the spice of life!

What else makes you tick?
I love the moment when you press the shutter and you know you have a great photo, you can't beat it, and that hunger for that next buzz keeps me interested in photography and wanting to get better pictures all the time. Photography is in my blood, it’s such a big part of my life that when I am not taking photos I am constantly looking at other photographer's work. I love the idea of capturing a defining moment in an image, when you look at the photo and it should tell the story, so much so that you don’t have to read the caption.

James Martin
© Paul Cooper 

How did you eventually come to have a career in photography?
After knowing it was the career I wanted, I joined News International in London, which prints the titles The Times and the Sunday Times, it was a great way to learn. I learnt Black and White printing, colour grading, and the skills and techniques of press photography. All these essential skills meant the transition to digital was pretty easy as I understood the dynamics behind exposing a perfect negative or slide and how to correct colour and density etc, which is in the current digital age is sadly overlooked by all the automation and the shooting in RAW. I would recommend people learn the basics as it will improve your digital photography no end.

Have you done any formal training or workshops at all to get there?
I am mostly self taught, although I did undertake some Kodak courses in Black and White and colour printing.

If I asked you to describe your style in three words…what would they be?
Honest, artistic and technically correct...I hope!

Do you have any particularly memorable experiences from recent years that you felt you learnt a lot from, good or bad, that you care to share?
I think you are always learning in photography, there is always room for improvement, it's a very fluid art form in the sense that your style evolves with your experience.

I have learnt a lot on the social side, the interaction with people, the discourse and the collaboration and how to get the best from them, and on the other side of the coin I’ve learnt that sometimes being a photographer is not as glamourous as people expect. It was quite tough doing my job after the death of Diana and the recent phone hacking story has changed the general public's perception of the role of editorial photographers and journalists in a negative way, however wrong I think that negative perception is. So I’ve also learnt not to take anything for granted.

Peter Jones
© Paul Cooper 

Do you have one photo that you have taken that is your all time favourite? If yes, why is it such a favourite?
It would be tough to choose one image, I have several favourites for different reasons. Some remind me of a wonderful experience, some I like because they are technically great, some because they remind of an historic moment, and I also amend my favourite list with new photos I take, so the choice of favourite is an evolving thing.

Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by the possibility that within every job you do, there is an element of the unknown about what you may come away with but that you can create a  great set of photos from a seemingly quite bland scenario into something that may eventually run several pages in a magazine. For me that is very fulfilling and inspires me on each shoot.

Are there any photographers whose work you particularly admire and who you follow?
I love Salgado and Nathwey. They are honest, sometimes brutal but they take photos that make you sit up and question what is going on in the world.

Who are some of the other greats that are currently active in the photographic world at the moment that you would suggest people have a look at?
I like David Bailey - great character. I have briefly met Mario Testino who is a true gent and he does get great access to photograph some amazing people.

© Paul Cooper 

How have you built a network amongst your peers and how do you manage these working relationships?
I have been in photography since I was a boy and have obviously made a network of friends and colleagues that span the world, with Facebook and email, it's easy to maintain these relationships, and I often go to magazine or newspaper parties to catch up and to further increase my network, Arles and Perpignan festivals are also good to meet new people in the industry.

What’s your essential kit list for when you are working and what would be your all time favourite lens?
I always carry two Nikon bodies with SB900 Flash guns and external battery packs and wireless transmitters, a couple of portable light stands, brollies or soft boxes, a 14-24mm, 28-70mm and 70-200mm all f/2.8 and a 50mm Macro lens. Loads of spare compact flash cards,spare batteries, a Manfrotto tripod, some gels for the flashes, my macbook pro and card readers. In addition I do have Quantum and Bowens flash units which I use for studio and location work.

My favourite lens would be the Nikon 200mm f/22, which is an amazing lens for fashion and portraits as you can really throw the background out of focus and it is a super lens.

© Paul Cooper 

Some of our readers are newbies to the photography world. Do you have one piece of business advice that you'd give to them as they start out on their journeys?
Be careful about your marketing. It’s no use being the greatest photographer around if no-one knows about you. Start with a great website and work hard on the SEO so get you get well ranked and so people become more aware of you. As your business increases spread your marketing budget wider and try to specify in a niche area or location to start out with, this will help you compete in a very competitive field. And remember if you are going to survive as a photographer, you are a businessman with a camera, not a photographer who dabbles in business. This does not sound very romantic I know but that is the brutal truth.

And what one piece of photographic advice would you give?
Look at as much photography in the sector that interests you, then practice, practice and practice some more.

What do you think has been the key to your own success in the field?
Hard work and obviously having a talent for the job, perseverance and perspiration are the keywords to success as a photographer in my opinion.

One last question, if you could arrange a shoot with anyone (dead or alive), anywhere, who and where would it be?
That's a tough one, I think I would quite like to photograph someone who has legendary status, so I could create an iconic image and then get loads of lovely royalties to use on other photography projects, I would have loved to have photographed Che Guvera or Marilyn Monroe for example.

For more information on Paul and his work, take a look at his website, CooperPhotos.

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