The Peter-Coulson Look – A Lighting Exercise

Jul 17, 2015

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

The Peter-Coulson Look – A Lighting Exercise

Jul 17, 2015

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

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As someone who describes himself a “Facebook Enthusiast”, I have a lot of photographers in my timeline. Probably 100 are constantly popping up, some of them are friends, while others are in that list because of their work. Peter Coulson  belongs to the latter part, and he is somewhat special even there, because I always recognize his style. Every time he’s popping up I think: Yes, that must be a Coulson or – even better – I would say to myself “wow, that image is awesome” what do you know, it’s Coulson’s.

So I tried to re-create that signature look.

Reverse Engineering

At first I tried to get some background information by scrolling through his Facebook and Instagram accounts and some things are pretty constant:

  • nearly all models are very attractive girls with somewhat bizarre clothing
  • kind of all the good images are black and white
  • he paints his vignette
  • strong contrasts
  • very soft skin textures

Light

Mr. Coulson likes writing about the equipment he’s using and the 1.5m octagonal softbox is one of the most used items there. We we were lucky enough to have one of Multiblitz’ 1.5m octas, so we looked for a setup and some behind the scenes images. We found them here (at the very bottom).

If you scroll down, you will find a very unique light setup: The octa is above and in front of the model and there is a second flash from camera direction as well – probably a standard reflector with grid.

That was the light setup we wanted to try.

Model

We looked into our model database and found Verena. Again. We worked a few times with her and she’s fun to work with, loves experimenting and, is overall just a laid back person. Besides that she’s sexy. So we asked her if she wants to join the party and she said yes.

That was great because every light test we did was not successful and the simulation wasn’t looking any better.

So we just looked out for some costumes and after a while we found – fur of a hare. We got some wind going and we worked from that point…

imageSelection

Shooting

We used Capture One for its tethering options. After the first few images, we did a little test edit inside of C1 and applied a basic black and white conversion with a vignette as well as a few other little tweaks. We tried to get as close as possible to the Coulson look. Capture one has that beautiful function “use raw conversion from the last image for the next one”. So we could just tweak it nondestructively while shooting.

By the way – that’s an awesome feature if you’re working with clients as well: You can shoot rather flat and the client gets tweaked images for preview.

Capture One real time raw conversion
Capture One – real time raw conversion

Retouching

We combined 2 images – because we can’t find one with all the hairs flying around as we wanted it. It was just a bit of a masking job.

10before

Some clone-stamping, healing brush and dodge and burn later
Some clone-stamping, healing brush and dodge and burn later
Let's give the fur some micro contrasts / clearity
Let’s give the fur some micro contrasts / clarity
and some more subtle dodge&burn
and some more subtle dodge&burn
The vignette
The vignette

The vignette is basically just two layers on neutral grey in soft light layer mode. They both have a darker color on the outside. I quickly masked out the model on bottom of the image.

vignette

Black and white conversion 1 (just the areas with lots of contrast)
Black and white conversion 1 (just the areas with lots of contrast)…
.. and the other areas
.. and the other areas

A little side note to the topic of black-and-white-conversion:

You can convert an image to black and white in different settings for different areas. Something this makes total sense, because some areas need a strong contrast conversion, others don’t. If you use a masked black-and-white-adjustment layer, and put another conversion layer above that, you will get different settings for different areas, because the top layer has nothing to do: It’s already black and white…

blackandwhite_layers

That test was lots of fun – and it always is. By trying to get a particular look and by trying to read as much out of the images as possible, you will learn a lot about photography. Well… for me it’s one way to learn. Will I do all my stuff like that? Of course not – that would be boring…

What about you, did you ever try to copy someone else’s style just for learning purposes?

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Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler

Stefan Kohler is a full-time retoucher. He’s from Germany and likes bacon. In the last years, he built up a broad community around his retouching classes at the Infinite tool’s website.

Join the Discussion

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One response to “The Peter-Coulson Look – A Lighting Exercise”

  1. Peter Coulson Avatar
    Peter Coulson

    thanks :)