Guest Interview with Paul Cooper

Mar 30, 2024 | Photographer Guest

“Show Notes”

Paul Cooper has been a professional photographer for over 30 years. He is currently a commercial photographer. But, in the last 30 years he has shot most types of photography. His photography business ⁠Baily-Cooper Photography⁠ is run with his wife. They also have a photography education business called ⁠Master your Photography⁠. Master your photography caters for everyone from someone who wants to buy a photographer and doesn’t know what to buy, to professional mentoring. Before Paul was a professional photographer, he was an amateur photographer. His parents got him a camera when he was 18. Him and his wife married, and photography was still a hobby. Paul worked for ten years in IT working on the first PCs that came out. After ten years Paul took the leap and setup the business. As the business grew, they realised they needed a second photographer in the business, so Paul’s wife left her job and joined him. Paul then got his professional qualifications with the British Institute of Professional Photography and the Master Photography Association. This process was back in the days when the training available was through face-to-face meetings in the associations.

Marcus asks how Paul and his wife divide up the work. Paul says that Kate his wife tends to do babies, young children and families. He tends to do corporate work, and then they come together for big projects. But they can mix it around as they wish. Sam asks why they are a limited company as many photographers don’t do this. Paul said they did this years ago on the advice of their accountant. He also thinks for larger jobs it can give more kudos. They discuss style and developing a style and having a passion for it. Initially photographers tend to copy other photographers and then go on to use those influences to develop their own style. Paul says that many photographers don’t understand lighting and it is a very important factor. He says his business has spent more money and time on lighting than on cameras. There is another ⁠podcast about lighting here.⁠

Sam asks Paul about the teaching side of the business. Paul says customers tend to come from the photography work they do anyone. For example, clients chat about a camera they have and don’t know how to use. He does offer videos etc. but many people want to come into the studio and lean how to use their camera face to face. They will also go into business and work with a group of people to help them do things like get their own PR shots.  Paul says that with just a little training people can take much better photographs. Paul’s main advice for students is just to go out and use your camera as much as you can. Marcus asks Paul if he has any favourite photographers. Paul says ⁠Bob Carlos Clark⁠. Bob gave Paul the inspiration to become a photographer. Later Paul went to his studio and Bob made him a frittata in his studio! He was a boudoir photographer before that was really a “thing”.

Marcus asks Paul to explain his roll with the Master Photographers Association. Paul has been on the qualifications side. Photographers can put a panel into the qualification panel for judging. Paul says the two reasons a photographer would want to get a qualification. Firstly, it pushes you creatively. Secondly, it’s good from a marketing perspective. You can shout out about the qualification, and it differentiates you from other photographers. The qualification process is that a photographer has to put together a “panel” of around twenty photographs. All of those should be photographs you have been commissioned to take. They can’t be from personal projects.

“Show Transcription”

Marcus: Well hello Sam and hello listeners, how are you doing Sam?

Sam:  Very good Marcus, excellent yes, and how are you doing today?

Marcus: Nice yeah I’m good yeah the old I mean by the time this goes out and broadcasted it will be full-on summer here in the UK hard to believe but yeah I’m very good thank you Sam and you know I’ve got the pleasure to introduce our guest today is Paul Cooper. Now Paul is a commercial photographer based in the northern part of England but what makes him interesting is he’s got a very diverse practice that includes education and being a board member of other bodies. So let’s introduce if you can introduce yourself Paul over to you.

Paul: Thank you Marcus and hi Sam yes I’m Paul Cooper and for my sins, I used to say well until recently I was saying oh I’ve been a professional photographer for 25 years and then I realized it’s nearly 30 years because we started the business in 1995 so yeah it’s 29 years now so I’m older than I think if that makes sense. I’m a commercial photographer as Marcus said but over the last 30 years I’ve probably shot most things you know we used to shoot weddings we got out of weddings 10 years ago that was a conscious decision still shooting portraits and things like that and I say we because my wife is also a photographer so she’s the other half of the business which is Bailey Cooper Photography and then we’ve got the education side which is our business that we call Master Your Photography which caters for everything from someone who’s who literally wants to buy a camera and doesn’t know which one to buy because let’s be honest there’s a lot of choice out there right through to professional mentoring which then as Marcus hinted out there leads into the work I’ve done with the Master Photographers Association where I spent almost 10 years as a board director looking after qualifications so that’s qualification panels where professional photographers want to gain a qualification a licentiate associate or fellowship so that’s me in a nutshell. Jack of all trades master of none.

Sam:  Excellent I was just discussing it with someone today who used that as we’ve seen originally a positive thing that seems to move to a negative but anyway I’m intrigued were you and your wife both photographers when you met or did you become photographers together?

Paul: Right okay let’s go back many years now before I was a professional photographer I was a hobbyist photographer and that came about I blame my parents for everything. I blame them for the fact I wasn’t born a millionaire but I also blame them for the fact that I’ve ended up working as a photographer because they bought me a camera for my 18th birthday. Kate and I you know I was a child bride so you know I’ve known Kate for many many years and we basically photography became a hobby for both of us and I then started work and I worked in IT for 10 years actually when the first IBM PCs came out. I was one of the technicians with the soldering iron fixing them I know we don’t use soldering irons anymore so 10 years in IT still with this this massive interest in photography and just soaking up as much information as I could. And I always had this this ambition to be to earn a living from photography. Yeah if I’d stayed in IT I might have been that millionaire but hey ho you know I followed my dream and set up the business in 1995. Kate was not a full-time photographer at that point she was working in the NHS but then after about it must have been three or four years we realized we needed another photographer in the business and the obvious but slightly scary thing to do was for Kate to give up her job and join me in the business which is what she did so that’s again a bit of potted history of how we both ended up as professional photographers I then went through the qualification process with the British Institute of Professional Photography and the Master Photographers Association. Because at the time those were the only two that were kind of around and then the AOP that was in London and with us in the north it didn’t kind of really fit with the kind of work. We were doing so we went through the qualification process and you’ve got to remember this is in the days when well the internet didn’t really exist so the only way you could learn these professional techniques and how to market your business as well, was to actually get involved with the associations and go to the monthly meetings and do face-to-face with people who’d been there and done it. Yeah slightly different world now with you know YouTube and podcasts which is brilliant because it means there’s so much information out there for people now.

Sam: Yeah, that’s it finding the right stuff can be challenging but yeah no there’s a lot out.

Paul: Yeah that’s yeah good point yes yeah yeah yeah you’ve got to filter through the rubbish to get the good stuff that’s it.

Marcus: Yeah uh just for our listeners the uh you mentioned there Paul the AOP that’s the Association of Photographers and again we can put notes in the uh we can put it in the notes so now I understand there’s two people involved in your practice you and your your partner your business partner your wife. I can now see why there’s such a diverse range in your practice um do you do you divide it up are you especially in one particular type of photography and your wife and another how does that work.

Paul: We do tend to divide it up in that, for instance Kate will photograph baby’s young children etc. Because let’s be honest with my face I’m going to scare them too much so Kate does the babies and the family portraits and that kind of thing. I tend to concentrate more on the corporate side of stuff we come together and do love, for instance, we did a big shoot last week for a dental lab and so we both go out on location um Kate gained her fellowship in commercial photography so she’s just as well she’s probably better than me at commercial photography anyway. Um, so we come together on projects uh but today.   we tend to divide the work into family portraits children etc. for Kate’s corporate portraits product shots for me um that tends to be the day-to-day stuff but it’s quite nice because either of us can do anything that comes in really. I tell you what’s frustrating though right I’ll be setting up a product shot in the studio. Kate will come in and just as she walks out she’ll glance at what I’m doing she’ll go are you happy with that and walk out I was what’s all that about. That is so frustrating so anyway yeah never work with your wife.

Sam: Yeah and then I’m quite interested as well that you’ve got a limited company and most photographers are not limited yes so yeah can you just give us the give us reason for that?

Paul:  um the reason we are a limited company um is historically our accountant advised us to do that many years ago because there were some significant tax breaks at the time.

Sam: Okay to do that not many photographers do it nearly all stay as sole traders don’t they?

Paul:  yeah they do um so yeah we did it on the advice of our accountant, I mean it must be what 20-odd years ago now and um and we’ve stuck with it um the tax advantages are possibly not as great as they once were but you know there is still a benefit there. I think there’s also a benefit if you’re pitching for larger jobs then you know a large company will check you out and you know to see that actually you’re a limited entity you’ve got registered etc. And I think it can it shouldn’t but it can have a bearing on whether you sometimes get your foot in the door or not that’s it.

Sam: yeah you I guess it shows you’re kind of slightly bigger business you’re not just like yeah he’s doing the odd photo at weekends and whatever yeah.

Paul:  Exactly, yeah who let’s be honest I have a lot of respect for people who do yeah we can well I mean we just call them weekend warriors don’t we? I have a lot of respect for them because I was one you know that’s how I started yeah um so yeah it’s  a I would say it’s probably the most common route into being a professional photographer isn’t it? And I know that you know there is the other route where you’ve you go through university and do your photography degree and then straight into a photography job and that’s brilliant that’s a great way to do it but I reckon more people do it through the route of being hobbyist first.

Marcus: Yeah, especially these days I think Paul I think you know I mean I started on that route degree assisting etc. but I think that’s a rarity I find with people coming into the game these days.

Paul: It is unfortunately and I suppose well again go back you know many years there was this barrier to entry wasn’t there in that the cost of getting into photography was so high. So you had to follow the more formal route and now those barriers have been have been well eliminated almost and anybody with an iPhone can call themselves a photographer and I’m not knocking the iPhone there. I use an iPhone myself and have sold photos from it so you know I would never knock any anybody who wants to get into photography. Because I think having a passion for it is more important than anything else qualifications equipment whatever I think you’ve just got to have that passion and that’s what will drive you forward to well to follow your dream.

Marcus: Exactly I think yeah I think it’s the passion and also having a vision as well or having a unique vision I should say of how you see the world. I think is very very important and often misunderstood or not taken up on.

Paul:  Sure yeah but yeah good point yeah you see a lot of and we see this in qualifications a lot of copycat work coming through don’t you? And when you do see something that is refreshingly different that’s the marvelous feeling. We all when we were judging panels within the master photographers you know we always used to say to candidates, especially at fellowship level your panel needs to go in front of the judges. They need to walk into the room look at it and go wow we’ve not seen anything like that before and if you get that reaction you’ve passed. It doesn’t matter everything’s going to go your way from that point onwards if you can get that wow reaction at the beginning then that’s great but very few photographers will do that as I said there’s a lot of copycat work out there.

Sam:  yeah but I guess everyone does the copying to start with don’t need that is that a lot. I think how people find their voice you know they’ll copy one for a while copy another photographer a while and then gradually they kind of bring those around and help to get those influence.

Paul:  It evolves doesn’t it yes yeah and then they form their style yeah or even you know mash two styles together and come up with something unique.

Marcus: Yeah I agree with you and I think I have to think about this because I’m you know I do music as well and it’s very common. Where when I’m with musician friends we talk about songs and refer to that and oh we’ve learned this one I’ve heard this song and you evolve from that by learning the different styles well it’s in photography. I don’t see that so many people just tend to think oh I’ve got to go and find this go and do it I don’t know it’s not referred to as much.

Paul: Yeah, and I think as well it doesn’t matter what style you are trying to emulate or copy. I think photography ultimately comes down to having the passion for it and then understanding light and that’s the thing that I see the biggest problem with is photographers not understanding light. And you know we get asked all this oh what cameras do you use it doesn’t really matter does it um we have probably over the years spent more time and money investing in lighting and how to use it than how to use a camera. I mean you know the camera’s fairly basic isn’t it and it’s a box with a lens and a shutter and something that’s light sensitive at the back of it but the lighting is the thing that makes the difference and how to use that lighting um and I think that’s where looking back at my own work.  I can see when I started out in photography I didn’t have a clue about lighting you just point your camera don’t you? And think does that, is it composed correctly yeah but the lighting’s rubbish and I think lighting is that key differential um that separates the maybe the I don’t like using the word amateurs the non-professionals from the professionals.

Marcus: Yeah and if I can just quickly jump in there and give a quick plug we have got a show I think has it gone out Sam not?

Sam:  Yeah I think it’s coming up by the time this goes out yet.

Marcus: Yeah uh about the 10 principles of flash lighting.

Paul: oh fantastic.

Marcus:  So yeah and I’ve boiled it down to there’s 10 things that lighting not what it does but how it works.

Paul: Excellent yeah excellent that’s something you’ve put together Marcus is it with these 10.

Marcus:  Yeah I did I like you know being my teacher background .I like making things simple and breaking them down into their sort of very basic components. And I did the same with creativity I had the five hours of creativity, we did a show about that and yeah exactly I could go on.

Paul:  But I’m not going to look forward to the 10 lighting tips. Yeah excellent that will be yes that will be out very soon or if you’re listening it will be out already.

Sam: Cool, I was going to ask you Paul about you teach photographers um which is interesting if we’ve not had anyone on the show who does that as kind of part of their business .We’ve talked to quite a few different photographers but nobody who does that be quite interesting to kind of find out a little bit about how that works how you find customers a little bit about that side of the business.

Paul: Okay um right how do we find customers they tend to come from the photography work? That we’re doing any way you know you get talking to a client and they’ll say oh I’ve bought this new camera and I don’t know how to use it um and we also get clients coming to us direct online uh through our master your photography website as well. It falls into two camps really there’s those who are quite happy to just watch an online video and learn from that um I find that more usually people want to actually come into the studio and they want to sit down and learn how to use their camera face to face. And we gear the whole teaching side of the business such that we are teaching them how to use their own equipment because you know anybody can come into our studio and we can show them how to use our lighting packs and camera gear and everything but that doesn’t really mean much to them. Whereas if they come in with their camera and we actually show them where the settings are then they’re going to learn and get so much more from that training so that’s the way we like to structure it.

Sam: So it tends to be very much one-to-one.

Paul: Very much one-to-one yeah um we also go into businesses and we’ll maybe get a group of people who they want to learn how to maybe do their own um PR shots for the business. So you know um we can teach them even just using their phones, how to get better angles in front of this kind of thing because again let’s be honest, we used to do a lot of PR photography that’s fallen by the wayside um because people are using their phones and taking their PR images because they can but with just a little bit of training we can elevate that that photography that they’re producing yeah and turn it into something that just looks that bit better when it gets published. So that’s another area of the business as well so it caters really for one-to-one individuals as well as businesses.

Sam:  Okay

Marcus:  And by helping people become better photographers you’re not doing yourself out of business. There are you Paul because what you’re doing is teaching them what makes you know how they start to realize to take a really good photograph is quite difficult.

Paul: Indeed yes, I mean there I can think of at least two examples where a company has said to us okay. Look we need to take some product photos can you show us how to do it with our equipment and then at the end of the day they’ve said okay. We realize you’re better at this can you do it for us now.

Sam: So you got paid twice you got paid to show them how to do it and then to do it.

Paul: That’s a win-win isn’t it?

Sam: Yeah, it’s quite interesting you’re kind of not marketing individually for this it’s literally kind of coming from existing clients. People you’re already talking to yeah um and then it sounds like it’s kind of more technical training as well than anything else the kind.

Paul: It is yes, you see you can teach the technical side of photography you can teach the lighting side. It’s very difficult um to teach the creative side. You can do it I’m sure Marcus does that as well um teaches the creative side but I do find people have either they’ve got that creative spark or they haven’t.

Sam: Yeah and I guess and I think most people too.

Paul: Yeah I think most people have um and the piece of advice I give to every single person that comes on one of our courses is when they leave the studio you need to go out and you need to use your camera as much as you can just go take some photos. Because the more you practice the better you will become at it um and again the cost of practicing nowadays is well it’s virtually zero isn’t it? Because you have using film and yeah all this kind of thing you know again. I sound old I learned with the film you know and um so you’d go out and you’d shoot a roll of film and I’d be making notes about the exposures and everything so that I could learn from it and then you’d be in the darkroom printing them and again you would learn from every single frame. Because you’d make real copious notes um whereas nowadays it’s all there in the EXIF data when you shoot your pictures which are brilliant for teaching you can learn such a lot yeah.

Marcus: You can but I must admit I think my students who pick up uh who start on again doing film learn quicker than people who do digital any favorite photographers Paul.

Paul:  I loved Bob Carlos Clark oh.

Marcus: Yes oh really okay that’s not a name I hear very often.

Paul:  Yeah and you know I mean I suppose you look it’s a cliché isn’t it? you know when you’re a hobbies photographer you look at people like bob Carlos Clark who was shooting all the beautiful women and you think oh I want to do that the reality is you’re and um you know and prototype products in a studio but it doesn’t matter it gives you that passion. So yeah bob Carlos Clark is has always been one of my favorites um in fact I met him I went to his studio he served me a frittata that he’d cooked.

Marcus:  Oh yeah which was a pleasant memory.

Paul: yeah and I mean he was a nice guy um was he British or was he American.

Paul:  He was um he was Irish originally okay but yeah but yeah ended up um working in London and living in London it was London.

Marcus:  Yeah he he was one of the very sort of early boudoir photographers and yeah before boudoir was invented exactly that term came around it was more a fetish we called it at that time.

Paul: Exactly, yes yeah I’ve got I’ve got several of his limited edition prints and yeah I just think he was creative as a photographer. He was doing things that before anybody else did them um which is fantastic but uh yeah sadly no longer with us. Yes he had uh you know a lot of issues which finally got the better of him when he jumped under a train.

Marcus:   Okay yeah sadly sad could you tell us a little bit more about your role um with the photographers yes um.

Paul: Yeah uh I mean over the years I’ve been involved um on the qualification side with the British institute of professional photography and the master photographers association which at one point. Probably 15 16 years ago now they had, they came together so two competing organizations both serving professional photographers they came together and said look we’re both doing the same qualification process here wouldn’t it make sense. If we had a single body to do that and they formed what they called the I think it was the pap no the ppqb the professional photographers qualifications board right which is a mouthful but anyway but it worked really well and photographers could come along put their panels in um. If they passed then they could say okay I could join the bipp or the mpa as qualified photographer and they had the choice it didn’t matter they didn’t have to join the bip first and then put their panel in and then join the mpa and put their panel in it was just a single qualification process and it worked really well. Then the politics got in the way and everything fell apart um as these things do and so they went the separate ways with two separate qualifications processes again at that point.  I ended up on the board of the mpa as their qualifications director um and so I looked after the qualifications process for 10 years the mpa is now being absorbed into the royal photographic society into their new professional division. Which hasn’t happened yet but is imminent um the bipp is still in existence but again may end up joining with the rps I don’t know because i’m not involved with them . But I know it’s I know it’s a name that the rps is keen to pursue but whether that will happen or not I don’t know unfortunately as with all these things politics get in the way yeah.

Sam:  Quite interested though in terms of the qualifications you’ve been giving these out. So why should a professional photographer decide they want to go and get these qualifications.

Paul:  Right two answers for that um because I have I have thought about this long and hard over the years and people say to me. Why do I want to do this right and I can think back to when I did my qualifications with the mpa and the bipp and the two reasons for doing it are firstly because it pushes you creatively and you learn such a lot from that process because what you do is when you’re aiming for a qualification you look at? What the standard is and every single shoot you go on up until that point. When you submit your work every single shoot you’re thinking can I get a picture from this shoot for my qualification panel and so it just pushes you to just be that little bit better you’ll do a shoot for a client and you’ll shoot I always say shoot what the client needs first and then shoot something that’s for you that’s more creative push it a little bit further quite often the client will end up buying that shot anyway because it is that just that that little bit better. Even though they didn’t know they wanted it in the first place so that’s reason number one it pushes you creatively as a photographer. Reason number two is purely from a marketing perspective for your business because if you get a qualification you can then go shout about it let’s be honest the public yeah the public don’t know what the qualifications mean so you have to shout about it you have to tell them you have to press release it and if you can get coverage for your business because of it then that works really well from the marketing perspective.

Sam:  Yeah and let’s be honest lots of photographers on their website show lots of pictures but 99% of clients are going to look at one website the next thing and go they’re all pretty pictures they’re not going to be able to tell the difference for it unless somebody’s they’re not and you don’t get many of those they’re just going to look and go that’s lovely but yeah if you’ve got that qualification that is showing I am different and somebody has said I’m different.

Paul: isn’t it it’s a differentiator.

Sam: Yes, absolutely definitely and then you’ve talked about this panel I’m not quite sure what it means can you kind of talk us through sorry yes what?

Paul: Yeah sorry the process the qualification process is the photographer um in very simple terms has to submit a panel of its usually 20 images um on a particular theme and they have to be if it’s within the NPA or the bibb they have to be commissioned images so you can’t just go out and do a vanity project.

Sam: It’s got to be stuff you’ve been it’s got to be still oh okay that’s it but not one. It doesn’t have to be one shoot it can be stuff from all sorts of different things commercial work.

Paul: But they have to be commissioned yeah that’s the key differentiator I think between some of the other associations in that it’s a professional qualification so it should be work that you’ve been commissioned to shoot makes sense.

Sam:  Okay cool right I think that is bringing us towards the end of time thank you so many loads of really interesting things there as Marcus was saying we could sit here for another hour but we do have to finish the show. So, yes thank you so much there will be as always a little bit extra from Paul those of you who are subscribers to the newsletter will get our newsletter extra that will come to your inbox if you are not a newsletter subscriber why not you get bonus content you get referred back to past Joes. You get little hints and tips and markers and loads of other stuff. So yes go to the website shoots to the top.com and sign up and you can be a newsletter subscriber too.

Paul: I will do it now thank you for having an amazing.

Sam:  it’s been amazing to have you on the show Paul thank you so much um and Marcus I will see you next week.