Photographer Peter Collie: ‘I love light and the moods of the day’

Peter Collie is a world renowned photographer working with luxury and high fashion brands on striking editorial images.

Top fashion and beauty photographer—Peter Collie—has worked for brands such as Vogue, TAG Heuer, L’Oreal, Volkswagen and EMI music. We heard that Peter favours Affinity Photo for parts of his retouching, so we had to find out more about his experience and his work.

Tell us a little bit about your history as a photographer.

When I was very young, my mum had a Kodak Brownie that used 127 film. She showed me how to wind forward to the next number then press the one and only button. More importantly, she had to be ever vigilant since I was always trying to take it apart to see how the magic box worked.

When I was about 10 she remarried, and my step-dad had a Pentax Spotmatic and also a hand-held light meter—more to explore. Then in high school I joined a camera club and learned how to develop film and print. At this time there was no digital photography and there was an enormous amount of technical knowledge needed to complement the aesthetic elements. This is when I discovered my passion for photographing people more than things or places—I still have a few of these early prints.

When I got serious about making a career of it, I did a three year course at Dawson College in Montréal Canada.

“At this time there was no digital photography and there was an enormous amount of technical knowledge needed to complement the aesthetic elements.”

Developing film B+W, transparency and colour negative, printing B+W, Cibachrome and colour, there was no auto exposure or auto focus. These technical hurdles meant that many students did not make it past the first year.

A few years later I was in an ad agency that had previously valued my abilities in the darkroom, when the art director asked me to just give him the negs—he had a thing called Photoshop and would scan them in. After his quick demonstration, I signed up for a Photoshop course using PS 2. The writing was on the wall. Since then I have been an early adopter in all things digital which is what led me to also giving Affinity Photo a try in its beta phase.

What equipment do you prefer to use for your photography?

With film I had used Bronica and Nikon, but switched to Canon since the early Nikon digital cameras did terrible skin tones and it was just too much work fixing them. This of course is no longer the case, but I had switched a lot of gear. I am now a huge fan of the Olympus mirrorless cameras and probably do a majority of my work on them. They have great lenses and are one of the most innovative builders of camera bodies. For studio lighting, I have been using Profoto—simple, solid and reliable.

“I am now a huge fan of the Olympus mirrorless cameras and probably do a majority of my work on them.”

Your editorial photography is beautiful and high concept. What is your starting point for creating an editorial shoot, and does it differ from the way you would approach a commercial shoot?

Ultimately, the process isn’t very different since they both start with a concept to which different constraints apply. An editorial shoot will have fewer specific constraints but still need to be relevant to the fashion or trends of the season, or a theme of a magazine issue. The commercial shoot of course will need to feature the client’s product, logos and often have negative space in the composition to allow for copy. Sometimes there is quite a strict layout provided by the agency, but you are still selected to apply your touch and feedback.

Of course a catalogue shoot on a plain background where you must show accurate colours leaves less room for artistic expression, but you can still apply beautiful light and direct your talent well to leave your mark.

What kind of photography or subject matters do you most enjoy?

I have spent most of my career photographing people for fashion, beauty, CD covers, portraits and so on. It is where my main passion is. I think it is both the connection with my subject and the chasing ephemeral moments of expression that makes me love it.

A can of beans will be the same in an hour or the next day, but a person’s mood is ever changing, and you need to evoke or provoke the image you want. I also photograph interiors, food, cars, and jewellery, but this is a business that works best if you specialise, especially in your marketing. You need to present a clear message about what you do, and too much variety confuses people. Promotion is important, but it is usually a word of mouth recommendation that gets you the job, so it is important to develop your contacts.

“You need to present a clear message about what you do, and too much variety confuses people.”

You’ve worked with a long and impressive list of clients—GQ Magazine, Elle Magazine, Vogue, TAG Heuer, L’Oreal, Volkswagen, Jim Beam, Sony Music, EMI Music to name just a few! Who has been your favourite brand to work with or which project has produced your favourite photos?

Now that is a truly difficult question. I can’t really say there is a favourite brand or magazine as it is dependent on the team. My favourite work has always come from working with great clients, art directors and stylists when we just get each other and the look we are going for. Sometimes we argue but other times we let someone run with something and in the end the magic happens.

Editorial photograph by Peter Collie

How did you first discover Affinity Photo and what impressed you about it?

I read about it at a time when I was finding Photoshop very frustrating. There is nothing wrong with it, but it has grown to be such a huge all-purpose tool that a few versions ago it seemed to have forgotten that a lot of photographers use it.

I explored several other alternatives and found them underpowered, or lacking in colour management, and then got on to the Affinity Photo beta and could see that it was a serious contender built for photography. Yes, there were tons of issues in the early versions but they were being addressed. It is very easy to use and doesn’t have much of a learning curve aside from a different saving and exporting process. Plug-ins are supported, and things I use a lot like frequency separation are built in and easy to use. HDR and RAW processing all work easily, although I use Capture One for most of my capture and RAW processing because I can tether a camera and work in batches.

How has using Affinity Photo changed your processing?

As I said before, I do all my capture and selection in Capture One which is fast, versatile and efficient. I then do local retouching with Affinity Photo. If Affinity Photo did tethered capture and the myriad of other things Capture One does faster and better at some point in the future, I would give it a try.

What tools in Affinity do you find most useful when processing?

Frequency Separation. Many others exist in some form in other software. I am also starting to use Tone Mapping a lot.

How do you think Affinity Photo compares to other software for processing and retouching images?

I haven’t done numerical tests but find it at least as fast if not faster than Photoshop and the results are flawless (unless I make a mistake).

Areas for improvement in Affinity Photo would be sticky brushes—that is your previous selection staying selected—and some other menus where the setting needs to be inputted each time. This however doesn’t annoy me enough to keep me from using it.

What advice would you give to any photographers considering switching to Affinity Photo?

It is not difficult if you are used to Photoshop, and many of the differences are improvements in how things work. Affinity support is very good as well. I just started using it on jobs where I wasn’t under intense time pressure. Personally I like the non-subscription model as I don’t like or use Lightroom or Bridge. I do have an Adobe subscription though, since I teach using Adobe.

What inspires you on a daily basis?

I love light and the moods of the day. This morning had a beautiful sunrise, the deep purple storm clouds and a silvery ocean, now we are back to sun. I also like people and their emotions, personal style and ways they express themselves and music.

“I love light and the moods of the day. ”

You’ve travelled all over the world with your photography, and you’re now based in Sydney Australia. Where has been your favourite place and why?

One of them has to be Sydney, because I am still here. Paris, the south of France and Jamaica are all places I feel at home in some way. I also love New York and Montréal as they are vibrant cities full of cool people but cold winters. I have just returned from Antarctica as photographer in residence with One Ocean Expeditions, and I must say it is an amazing photographic subject.

What achievement in your career have you been most proud of and why?

Things like prizes and awards come and go, but most of all just doing it and having a career that keeps going. Things have certainly evolved so it is a challenge finding new ways to put my vision together with technical skills and adapt to the market.

It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Any final words for us?

As always, it is important to have a solid technical understanding of photographic processes and an eye for a good shot but in a world that everyone has a camera in their pocket and websites are selling photography like an UBER ride, you need to distinguish yourself in some way if you are going to have a career. This could be anything from a distinctive style, excellent service, packaging and promoting yourself. One thing that won’t get you far is working for nothing or competing with the lowest price. Other people have got that area covered.


You can see more of Peter’s work at www.petercollie.com


Artist relations
Charlotte is an illustrator and arts lecturer who is passionate about the creative industries and is now part of our artist relations team. Her interests include mid 20th century inspired design, comic books, board games, movie memorabilia, baking cakes, feminism and yoga. She shares her 1960’s home with her graphic designer husband and her toddler son who likes to hide her iPad. Get in touch with Charlotte if you have work you have made in Affinity apps to share with us, or tag your work with #madeinaffinity in the usual places.
Credits & Footnotes

All images copyright of Peter Collie