Licensing Contributor Estelle Couturier on her dream-like tonal palette

Photo Stories

Estelle is a graphic designer and photographer based in Marseille, France. Her photos carry a strong aesthetic that is achieved through moody and muted colors. Estelle turns her subjects into modern-day muses with careful composition and styling.

Mathilde by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: You are a very young photographer with a highly developed style. What initially motivated you to start experimenting with photography?

A: I started photography because I loved to look at family holiday photo albums. They made me want to travel and take pictures. My grandfather was a photographer reporter, and he had a lot of material (analog cameras). I remember, when my sister and I were little, he would mount his overhead projector to show us his photos. When I got my first camera, I started taking pictures of everything, and I created a Facebook page that was followed by a lot of young people who liked my content. I gained confidence from all the comments I received, and so I created more.

Q: Can you describe the evolution of your photography? What did you want to shoot when you first started snapping photos?

A: I was taking photos of my perfume bottles, or my jewelry, with macro mode. I was fascinated by the blur.

My sister liked to pose for me, so we did photoshoot sessions in the garden of our home, with flowers, mirrors, etc. I also wanted to edit and create photomontages. My father had photoshop on his computer, so I started using it at the age of 13 to edit my pictures. I learned how to use it by watching YouTube videos.

Mariya by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: Could you tell us more about your relationship with graphic design and photography?

A: I do a lot of photography in my graphic design work. I’m in my last year of graphic design school, and graphic design is all about meaning. It’s a world where you can use your favorite media or mix them. Of course, I use a lot of photography, and I like to combine photography and typography. The thing about graphic design is that you must tell a story with an illustration, typography, color, shapes, and layouts, and it is the same with photography—if you have an aim behind it, the concept must be clear.

Mathilde by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: Does graphic design inform or influence your photographic style?

A: Graphic design influences me a lot. The first book I bought about photography was about advertisement photography. I was in my first year of graphic design, so I didn’t know a lot about photography or design, but this made me realize how vital the right image is. With composition, colors, models, and decorations, you can sell anything by making the right choices. Also, you have to think about the layout before the shoot by creating a sketch. It’s a long process before shooting because everything must be thought of in advance.

Juliett by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: Your photography is full of beautiful, dream-like tonal palettes. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when we ask you where you find color inspiration?

A: I look at a lot of photographs on Instagram, Pinterest, and in my books—when I like one a lot, I save it. Then, I try to recreate a color platter or the grain. Often, I spend an hour or two finding the perfect edit for my series of pictures and save the preset for future use.

Juliett by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: What are your three essential tips on how to achieve dreamy tones within photos?

A: The most important thing in photography is light. I like to shoot during golden hours or the blue hour in summer. But it depends on which city I am in. For example, in Paris, the sky is often grey or covered by clouds, so I like to shoot at night.

I like to desaturate a little bit and turn the green to a more desaturated and yellow tone.
Sometimes I also change the temperature directly from my camera. I think it looks better than doing it in Lightroom, but that’s just my preference.

Théo by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: How do you apply commercial photography to your current photography practice?

A: Since I am currently in school, I mostly shoot projects that don’t require me to think commercially. But for my personal photos, I do think of it, especially during the editing process.

Mathilde by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given as a photographer?

A: Don’t wait for someone to teach you.

I think photography is first learned by yourself and by searching for photographers that will inspire you and make you find your own style. Also, don’t replicate what is already done. Think about what you want to do. We live in a period where it’s becoming tough to create new things and styles, just do what you like from yourself and be proud of you.

Mathilde by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: How did you conceptualize the series, “Mathilde”? What was the mood you wanted to convey with this series?

A: For this series, I wanted to mix nature, architecture, and fashion. My idea was to create a natural and neutral mood. I wanted to shoot at sunrise and create a narrative between the location and the model. Early in the morning, everything is calm, nature awakes, it’s a new day, a new beginning that should be different everyday—something uniform, with neutral tones that are mixed between the outfit and the bridge.

I choose Mathilde (the model), because she is very natural, smiling. It was her first photoshoot, and she was a bit afraid not to be up to par, but I told her I just wanted her not to act, but to stay natural.

Marie by Estelle Couturier on 500px.com

Q: The models in your photos have a calm but fierce expression. How do you achieve this, and what are your tips for working with models?

A: Every time I shoot with a model, I ask him/her to be natural, to act like I’m not there. I don’t like it when people are posing; I prefer natural movement. I say things like, “what is your position when you are waiting for someone in the street?” I just want them to relax, not be serious, not smile only to have a smile in the picture, but smile if they liked my joke or if they are a smiley person. I also want to talk to the model before or even during the shoot, it creates pauses, and the more you know your model, the more comfortable they will be.

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