ProFiles | Paul Cooper

A veteran of photographing sport stars in the studio, Paul Cooper is the subject of our latest ProFile

© Paul Cooper

Hi Paul. Can you tell us a little about your genre of photography?

These days I mainly shoot global ad campaigns for sporting brands, often involving whole teams as well as individuals such as Lizzie Armitstead, Bryan Habanna, Sir Chris Hoy and more. I also shoot editorial portraits of sporting personalities for magazines and newspapers.

© Paul Cooper

What do you like about it? What keeps you coming back?

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.  There is every chance you could create a great set of photos that may eventually run over several pages in a magazine or across a global billboard campaign. For me that is very fulfilling and inspires me on each shoot.

The buzz of knowing you have a great shot is what photography is all about for me. I still get that feeling after many years in the business and the desire to create even better photos on the next shoot is stronger than ever.

© Paul Cooper

How would you describe your photographic style?

My preferred style involves dramatic, edgy, hard lighting. Working with some of the world’s most passionate athletes, I like to try and capture some of the grit and determination that makes these people the successes they are.

Of course, I have to adapt my lighting style depending on the client’s requirements. It’s not uncommon that each shoot has a completely different look, due to the art direction from the creative at the agency. In the world of advertising photography you have to be flexible in your lighting setups and creative approach in order to suit the campaign.

As much as possible though, I try to shoot in my style, and on several occasions I’ve shot an additional setup in my style alongside the agency’s requirements and they’ve ended up going with mine. So it’s good to have a defined style of your own – almost a brand, if you like.

© Paul Cooper

Where did your career start?

I started out in the darkroom at The Times in London where I learned black and white and colour printing and processing, which was a very good grounding for the move to taking photographs.

I left London to live in Paris and freelanced for a couple of years before starting my own agency covering news, sports and features across France and Europe for many worldwide newspapers and magazines.

On my return to the UK, I moved into advertising photography and specifically sport. I am very lucky that my career combines my love of both photography and sport.

© Paul Cooper

It sounds like you’ve had a varied career. Any particular memories that stand out for you?

I have several favourites for different reasons. Some remind me of a wonderful experience, some I like because they are technically interesting, some because of the great shots. I constantly amend my favourite list with new shoots I undertake, so the choice of favourite is an evolving thing.

Recently I would say that I have enjoyed the shoot I did with Lizzie Armitstead; it was a challenging one as we had to contend with both rain and time constraints to get strong imagery that would work across the campaign. We had only a few minutes on location, trying to keep Lizzie dry and happy, and then had only twenty more for all the studio shots. I am very pleased how the end results worked out.

I also really enjoyed a shoot at Man United. We built a set of the Old Trafford changing room so we could position the lights in ways that would not have been possible in the real one to shoot the players with some nice light. You can’t tell the difference between the fake and real dressing rooms in the final results, which is very satisfying.

FullSizeRender© Paul Cooper

What camera setup do you use at the moment?

I generally use Nikon D810 bodies with prime lenses for most shoots, however I do use medium format if requested by the client.

Do you have any particular plans for the future of your photography? Anything you’d like to try that you haven’t yet?

I love doing sports portraiture. I recently shot Ross Barkley for FS magazine and they used the photos over four pages. Seeing work in print is still a buzz for me and I want to keep that going alongside my advertising work.

Moving forward I would like to shoot more campaigns abroad. Last month I did a watch advert shoot in Italy with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz of RedBull/Toro Rosso. Sometimes getting the big names in global sport means you have to go where they work, you have to travel. To shoot LeBron James (basketball) or Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees (baseball) would be amazing.

© Paul Cooper

Paul Cooper was speaking to Jon Stapley.

His official website is and he tweets under the handle @cooperphotosuk


ProFiles | Ian Derry

Ian Derry has seen some of the world’s most famous faces pass before his lens. We catch up with him to talk photography.

© Ian Derry

Thanks for talking to us, Ian. To start with, how would you describe the kind of photography you do?

I would say I’m a celebrity portrait and sport advertising photographer. My background is actually in newspapers. I was staff on the Daily Mirror and I left there in 2000 – I’d just had enough of newspapers, and I wanted to start shooting portraits one to one. So that’s what I did.

I also wanted to do something a little bit more dynamic. I’d shot sport in the past, football matches and boxing for the newspaper, so I’ve got that quick eye. I didn’t want to just do events, I wanted to bring it to life in an advertising way, so that’s when I started working for people like Speedo. Now I do some female sports brands as well, and I shot Usain Bolt for Puma.

These two things go together, because the situation is that in portraiture of celebrities, you don’t make much money. It’s mostly editorial, so I make more money in syndicating the pictures for years after than I do from the actual shoot itself. So I need to find ways of advancing my income, and that’s what advertising does, and that’s how it’s worked out.

That’s not to say it doesn’t cross over – I’ve shot David Gandy for Johnnie Walker, and Charles Dance for another whiskey campaign, so it does cross over sometimes, but not all the time. Not as much as I’d like.

© Ian Derry

You must have to deal with quite a few big personalities, is that a challenge?

Well, If I’m honest – I’m going to sound quite boring now – I’ve probably photographed some of the world’s most famous people, in acting terms… and they’re always nice! I think it’s the professional attitude they have to have, the more quick and affable they are, the quicker and more professional they are, the better it’s going to be for everybody.

Still, when you meet your heroes it’s quite daunting. When I met David Bowie, for instance, it was something quite amazing. I shot Gary Oldman as well, a couple of times, and he’s one of my favourite actors of all time.

© Ian Derry

Did you get a little starstruck?

I did a bit. You’re sort of sitting there thinking, “Shit, it’s Gary Oldman!” They had an exhibition of pictures at BAFTA, and Gary Oldman came and so did John Hurt, who’s another hero of mine, and I had my picture taken with them and with my pictures of them. It was quite a special place to be.

© Ian Derry

You’ve shot promo images for Game of Thrones – I noticed when I looked through them that I recognised quite a few, as they’d popped up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, unattributed to you. Does that sort of thing bother you?

Yes, it does. It does bother me, but these things are out of control. I don’t mind if the fan sites do it – in fairness to them they do actually ask permission. But for instance I had a situation once where a thing called Mumsnet, which is quite big on the internet, used some of my pictures, and they took all of the Game of Thrones characters, cut their heads off and put babies’ faces on them! Which I thought was completely out of order.

I do like to help people. So if it’s the Cumberbatch fan website, I’ll help them out as much as I can with outtakes and stuff like that. But it frustrates me when people just steal stuff, put it on their Tumblr, put it on their Twitter. What annoys me more though is when they manipulate it, fiddle with the colours and mess about with it so it doesn’t even represent your work. And then it goes one stage further, and they change the whole picture, and then they credit you!

© Ian Derry

And that could damage your professional reputation…

Exactly, it could indeed. But there seems to be no way out, the internet seems to just be wild. No one seems to want to take control or police it in any way.

I have a syndicating agent, and if they see stuff they will pursue people, but often you end up in a dead end so it’s kind of a waste of time.

© Ian Derry

I see on your website as well as categories for your work in advertising and portraiture, you have a section simply called ‘Concepts’. I’m intrigued – can you tell us more?

Well the reason they’re called concepts is that they don’t really fit in portraits. For instance, I did a shot for Channel 4 for the Paralympics a few years ago – for that we sat down and came up with a concept where we’d have three or four pictures of the background, which they put together to look like one, and then we photographed each individual person at different angles and then they were all comped together.

Sometimes people come to me for ideas. At the moment for Channel 4 I’ve got a new contract to do the Formula One racing, and they’ve asked me for ideas on how to do it. It’s nice when it’s like that, I much prefer when I’m asked to have some input rather than just: “We’re doing this, this is the brief” and it’s more like painting by numbers. I prefer to have creative input.

© Ian Derry

I understand you’re also planning to make a move into filmmaking?

As well as photography, because I’d never give that up, I’m trying to move into directing. I’ve just made my first short film, which is called Felix. It’s had about 300,000 views already [you can see Ian’s film here].

We talked about ideas and creative input earlier, and essentially that’s what a director does – come up with ideas and make them come to life. So it’s like a natural progression for me to do that. For instance, Felix is a yoga master who I originally shot for an ad campaign for Fujitsu. I thought it would make an interesting film, and wanted to make a video but Fujitsu weren’t really interested at that point. So I made it myself. I got a director of photographer, a sound man, a studio, lighting. And all I did was direct; I didn’t touch the camera at all. It’s a direction I really want to go in.

© Ian Derry

Ian Derry was speaking to Jon Stapley.

You can see more of his work at Ian is in the process of of editing his second film, Johanna, a short film about about a world record freediver who dives under ice. The film was shot in northern Finland and will hopefully be finished in May 2016.

Hi, how can we help?