Music Photography Interview: Ian Coulson

Interview by Yising Kao, Photos by Ian Coulson

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As It Is

What inspired you to start doing photography and videography?

Bizarrely, I studied English as a degree at University in Brighton, but because my course was coupled with a media studies and English course, we had access to the same optional modules as their course, which meant I ended up doing a module in Documentary making as well as one in photography, which in turn led me to rediscover the love of film-making and photography that I'd held in my teens. Coming out of Uni, I hadn't had a clue as to what I wanted to do career-wise, but my film-work I was doing (bizarrely as part of an English degree) kept getting showcased by the Uni and entered into film festivals and the like so I thought that maybe there was something in that. I finished studying and tried to get a job with a production company but got nowhere because I hadn't studied it and had no real experience. So instead, I decided to just go it alone and freelance. I worked in bars to actually make money for the first year or two and then was able to go full-time and haven't looked back since!

You’ve created recap videos and tour diaries/trailers for bands such as As It Is, You Me At Six, and Thirty Seconds To Mars. The videos have really beautiful and clean shots and transitions, and I admire how you capture the artists’ and fans’ emotions so well. Do you usually plan out what type of shots you want to get at shows and have an editing style in mind, or do you just go with the flow and decide how to edit in post-production?

Thank you so much! It honestly changes job to job, sometimes ideas come to me before shooting or even while shooting, and so I’ll shoot content with certain parts of the edit already in mind. Sometimes the whole edit from start to finish will be planned out in my mind, sometimes I'll go in shooting completely blind and the edit kind of creates itself as I work my way through footage. I love creating a real narrative flow from clip to clip, be that through transitions or the visual and narrative links between clips. I always try to stick to a mantra of every part of footage, having a distinct reason for being used in the way it is in the exact place it is in relation to the whole piece. There's almost always a very specific reason I’ve chosen to put a sequence of clips together in the exact way I have.

What was the process like producing As It Is’ “Winter’s Weather” music video and planning out the storyline?

The “Winter's Weather” shoot was a great but very long arduous day. When planning a treatment for a music video, I'll generally listen through the song in question upwards of 50 times, generally with the lyrics in front of me, waiting for a spark to happen, sometimes a lyric will jump out at me, sometimes a particular part of the song will conjure up a very specific shot in my mind, often with no other point of reference. I'll then have to try and figure out what on earth the story is that has caused that shot to occur. If I remember correctly with “Winter's Weather,” it was actually the shot of the baseball bat going through the mirror that first popped into my mind. From there I fleshed out a story that would lead to that event happening that I felt tied in lyrically and fit thematically with the song.

Would you ever consider producing a tour documentary for As It Is?

There may or may not already be something in the pipeline. I can't say too much currently other than that it's going to be very different to the majority of the tour documentaries currently out there in the world..

What’s your favorite part about touring?

The places and the people. I've been so lucky as to see parts of the world I never thought I'd get to see, far less get paid to be there. I've also made some of my closest friends and formed some of my most meaningful relationships on the road, which can be very difficult when you spend such an intense period of time with a group of people, to then often not be able to see them for months or even years. Such is the nature of the touring industry..

What advice do you want to give to aspiring tour photographers/videographers?

Value your work and value yourself. That's not to say never do favours, never work for free, the sad reality is that the industry is so competitive, you have to put in the graft and hours. But rather, view all your work as an investment, be that for gain financially, or gain in terms of contacts or whatever else, particularly when starting out. What I would always say is that as a solid rule, if a client has enough money to pay other members of crew, you should be getting paid, you are just as a valuable a member of crew as anyone else, just in different ways. But realistically, a small band doing their first tour aren't going to be able to support you financially. Keep plugged into the underground scenes, link up as early as you can with up and coming artists, build a reputation of being not only someone good at their job but also as a person that people WANT to keep around. You can be the most talented photographer/film-maker in the world, but if you act like an asshole, the chances of you being taken on tour drop dramatically. And besides all of this, as I said earlier, value yourself, social media can be such a blessing and a curse. Something I've had to really train my brain to do is to use social media comparison as a force for making myself improve, rather than beating myself up. Failing that, keep it at arm’s length, it can be a useful tool but it's not worth losing your self-worth over.