Addicted to Coupon’s Portraits

This week I finished up my 8-week portrait class featuring, photographer, William Coupon. He started out in the Big Apple, shooting the punk scene, and ended up creating portraits of presidents and celebrities like Bush, Clinton, Miles, and Mick. Here’s a summary about Coupon from Wikipedia:

William Coupon was born in New York City, but moved to Washington, D.C. and later to San Francisco. He attended Syracuse University and ultimately moved to New York City to begin his photographic career. He began in 1979 to photograph backdrop portraits of New York’s youth culture, to document its “New Wave/Punk” scene at the then popular Mudd Club in lower Manhattan. Commercial work soon followed for a variety of international magazines, record companies and advertising agencies. He continued to photograph portraits, often of various sub-cultures and indigenous peoples in the 1980s and early 1990s including Haitians, Florida State Prison inmates, Australian Aboriginals, Drag Queens, Alaska Natives, Scandinavian Laplanders, Turkish Kurds, Israeli Druzim, the traditional Dutch, Moroccan Berbers, New Guinea tribesmen, Brazilian Caraja, Malaysian Penan, Native Americans, and the Mexican Lacandon, Huichol, Mennonite and Tarahumara. These were titled his “Social Studies” series. He was invited to photograph the world’s tribal leaders during the Earth Summit in May 1992, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His most current work embraces the digital medium, in places like Cuba, Venezuela and in his native America, which is more candid, but still formalistic in approach.


The portrait style is up-close and painterly, with very warm earth tones against a mottled canvas. The style is usually medium-shot and classically lit using medium format cameras, referencing the Dutch painting masters such as Rembrandt and Holbein. The portraits have a quality about them that is less about fashion than about personality and as groups there is attempt to show their disparity as well what is relatable among the earth’s faces in a manner that is real, non-compromising, or over-glamorized. They were often accompanied by environmental images, which have a noticeably journalistic feel.

Some of his most notable images are of the Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton which were “Person of the Year” covers for Time Magazine, Yasser Arafat, George Harrison, Willy DeVille, Mick Jagger, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Miles Davis.

My take-aways from Coupon’s work are:
• simple lighting – just one medium sized, gridded soft box, close to the subject
• textured background (he sometimes painted his own)
• a 50mm lens (or close to it)
• square cropping (he shot with a medium format camera)
• and very, very warm post-processing

Here are a few portraits of my friends, Chrissy Moritz and Abigail Connolly, inspired by Coupon.


Chrissy-William Coupon

Chrissy-William Coupon-by-Irene-Liebler

William Coupon-Abigail

I’m happy to report that I’ve signed up for the next round of 8 photographers, over the course of 16 weeks!

I’ve learned so much in the last 8 weeks, but I know there’s so much more to know!

I don’t know how to describe the magic behind  Don Giannatti’s Portrait Photography Workshop.

• It could be be the world-class photographers he chooses to focus on.

• It could be the value. (The class costs less than what most people spend on lattes in a month.)

• It could be the community of students from around the world that bring their best work each week, and motivate, and support each other.

• It could be the confidence that builds naturally from shooting weekly and “doing the work”.

• It could be Don’s, kind, easy-going manner, and constructive criticism during the weekly live reviews. Don is truly inspiring. He cares about the profession, and everyone’s success.

Learning photography is a blast.  Learning photography with Don Giannatti is an addiction.

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