I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the very talented and award-winning, self-taught Photographer Paula Cooper. Paula lives in Norfolk in the UK and finds inspiration for her photography through her everyday experiences with the landscape. With a unique approach and her very own technique, Paula has created both dramatic and creative photographs for viewers to experience in their own way.
Paula, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us and thank you so much for all your thoughtful responses. It’s not every day we get a behind the scenes point of view of someone with such skill and expertise. I can’t wait to see your future work!
Can you please tell the readers a bit about yourself?
In am the lead Animal Health Officer for Norfolk Trading Standards which involves inspecting farms. Luckily this involves being out and about quite a lot across the county so I can sometimes come across new locations for my photography on the way. My loves in life are horses (and animals in general) and my gardening.
Where do you call home?
Although I was brought up on the borders of London and Essex I consider Norfolk my home. I have been living here for 20 years now and my mum’s side of the family were from Blakeney on the coast where I spent all my childhood holidays. I currently live in The Brecks which is a mix of forest and heathland and the coast is about an hours drive. My partner Barry and I live in an old converted barn with an acre of garden with our 2 dogs and cats and a tractor or two!
After browsing through your website, I see that you’re truly immersed in the field of photography. What is it that led you towards photography and how long have you been working in it?
I only got my first camera around 8 years ago but didn’t really do anything with it much until I got hooked about 4 years ago. My first camera was a very cheap infrared conversion as I liked the look infrared produced after seeing some images. I only got a “normal” camera around 4 years ago. I think photography has allowed me to be creative where I failed trying to paint!
Are you self-taught or formally-taught? Where have you found the majority of valuable information along your journey?
I am very much self-taught, learning as I went to get the camera to take the sort of images I was after through trial and lots of errors. My partner answered my stupid technical questions when I got really stuck. I still struggle with the technical side of things. I have since done a couple of workshops which have pushed me to try different things.
Regarding your styles of photography, which do you prefer the most?
I really enjoy doing intentional camera movement images and multiple exposures as I can create a more artistic image sometimes from the dullest of subjects.
Color vs. black and white images. Why one over the other and is the photographic process different?
I have found it much easier to see an image in black and white but have since learned to see a colour image. I think black and white is much simpler but more recently I do love some of the soft light or vibrant colour images I have taken.
How do you choose what you are going to shoot?
I very rarely go out to shoot something specific. I tend to look at the weather (or the tides) and then work out a location that would be good to match. A lot of the time I do my photography while out walking my dogs so it tends to be what is seasonal in the local forest. Luckily there are a lot of wildflower areas in the summer months so this gives plenty of opportunities.
What type of photography shoots do you look forward to?
I enjoy in the summer months going up to the coast after work, even in the tourist season a lot of the beaches are empty by that time so can have the place to myself all evening. I love having the space and quiet around me to really get into what I am photographing.
When shooting subjects, what do you find most challenging?
I have tended to avoid photographing anything with people in, although over the last year I have liked some of the images with people in the distance or blurred in an ICM image. The thought of doing portraits just scares me so I have avoided that area of photography.
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?
I have tried not to be too influenced by other photographers and to try and create my own style (which is very difficult in today’s world of social media). I have however been very inspired by Valda Bailey and her artistic creations which are taken to another level. There are a huge number of other photographers I have met via twitter who inspire me and encourage me through their kind words on a daily basis.
What’s the best part of being a photographer?
The best bit is getting out and about in all weathers and seeing some of the amazing sights nature provides, from murmurations to stunning sunsets.
What is the most challenging part of being a photographer?
For me, one of the main challenges is sunrise photography as I struggle to get myself out of bed in the mornings! I see the amazing light other photographers get at first light so I must challenge myself to do this more.
Share with us your favorite image and why.
My favourite image is waves of light. It was the first image I took which was the start of my one view project of ICM work, with all images taken of the same viewpoint at a local lake. I wanted to create an imaginary world from what was a fairly dull viewpoint in reality.
How do you keep your photography fresh and how do you stay motivated to keep on learning?
As I am still quite new to photography it has been fairly easy to try fresh ideas. I enjoy a variety of styles so can usually find something which works depending on the weather conditions. During the brightest summer day, infrared can work really well or on a wet winters day I have a go at macro using a lightbox at home. If I am out and cannot see anything to photograph I usually tell myself to stand still or sit down and just look around me properly and will find things I hadn’t even noticed.
What is one piece of advice you would like to offer a new photographer just starting out?
While rules are good when you first start I would say that although they are designed to help you they are also there to be broken. My favourite images quite often break lots of rules.
What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What is your favorite lens?
I have always used the Panasonic Lumix range of micro four-thirds mirrorless cameras. I cannot carry a heavy camera so would just not use it if I had one whereas these are perfect for carrying over my shoulder while out and about. I have just upgraded to the G9 and love it. I have also just bought myself the new f2.8 200mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter which I have been having a play with, so would say this was my current favourite lens. I tend to shoot handheld most of the time as it gives me more freedom.
How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
I don’t use Photoshop so do all my editing in Lightroom and Nik software. I don’t tend to edit any of my images very heavily so would say software was less important than the starting point of the image itself. People quite often ask me how I make my ICM images in software and are quite surprised when I say it was done in camera.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite or most memorable photo shoots? What made it so great and why did you like it so much?
I think it would have to be any one of the shoots I did at the local lake for my ICM One View project. Standing in the lake as the sun set with birds going to roost and bats coming out to feed and flying over my head was just a very peaceful experience. I am still surprised no one reported me as a mad woman standing in the lake waving a camera around!
Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
When I was in Ireland last year there were some amazing beaches with lots of seaweed washed up with interesting patterns and textures. I thought it would make a great portfolio for some of the competitions I enter but I have ended up not using one single image. I took them using the infrared camera as this picks up greens showing them as white however the sand tended to blend in a bit too much for my liking. I will revisit this subject in the future.
Are there any areas of photography that you have yet to pick up on that you’d like to learn?
I would love to learn to do good long exposure images of seascapes, I am not very patient and don’t use a tripod much so I think that has been a major factor in my failure in this area up to now.
What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I would love to concentrate on creating more artistic images and also get into garden photography more as I love this subject matter.