Tony Cobley

Today we had a guest lecturer come in called Tony Cobley, Tony is an ex student of Plymouth College of Art. He started photographing at the age of 12 when he got his first camera, an Olympus SLR, with this camera he took a self-portrait reflection of himself.

Tony considered himself as a “happy-hobby” photographer, photographing everything as a hobby. As a career Tony was in the marketing business and would drive a van from place to place as part of this career, this became more difficult after a while due to back pains.

His career took a change when he decided to go back to college in April 2005, he went to Plymouth College of Art where he did his degree in Photography, at this point in time he was in his 30s. Before college he was into landscape photography and this interest carried on as he focused on landscape photography in his degree. At the same time as going back to college he also started his own business.

One of his first year projects on the degree he went to beaches like Weston Super-Mare and Paignton to photograph various shots of the beach, pier, seaside and other sights that you’d see when at the beaches in Weston Super-Mare and Paignton. As well as these shots of the beach, pier and seaside he also took a different approach where he photographed the not so pretty sights that you’d see around the beach, which was heavily influenced by Martin Parr. These photographs would be colourful, high saturated shots of people, beach huts and various other subjects.

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Moving on from that he started doing documentary photography in black and white film where he photographed in places like Paris and Venice. These photographs would mostly include the various people that are around at the time but could also include vehicles, for example motorbikes and cars. These shots would be textured, detailed shots and some also include high contrast and shadows.

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When it came to the third year of college Tony started working with 5×4 large format camera, this he found quite difficult as he had never used large format before and it was something completely different to what he was used to. It took a lot of time for him to get used to using large format, getting the hang of it happened when he borrowed the equipment from the college over Easter and set it up in this livingroom. It took a few days for him to actually start playing with it and getting the hang of things but since he has bought his own on eBay for £200, this was in 2007.

Another totally different approach that started when Tony used the studio in college and having to do portraiture, which he wasn’t used to at first due to preferring landscape he started making family portrait photos and wedding photography. Tony would go to the families house to photograph the families because that way it’s easier for the family members to change into different clothes, fetch toys and various other props that could work in the shots, also it would make the families more comfortable being in their own homes. Tony has done 47 weddings and is soon doing his 48th, however he is thinking on finishing wedding photography after his 48th. His first wedding being in 2006 and his last being 2014. Having said this he may come back to wedding at some point to make it 50 weddings rather than 48.

Family Portraits

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baby weds wedding 2 wedding weds

Thanks to the Professional Practice module he did at college, at the time called Worked Based Learning he was able to get a lot of experience by assisting various photographers and agents. He assisted Trevor Burrows with commercial photography and a photography agency called Venture, which specialize family portraiture. After this he went freelance and began starting his business. He also got a bursary at Plymouth College of Art to photograph for the college prospectus as well as other photography for the college.

Towards the end of the degree Tony got a licentiateship with the BIPP, British Institute of Professional Photographer before then managing to get an associateship with them and carrying on to get a fellowship there too.


here you can see the different qualifications and a description of what they are.


Above you can see the requirements needed for the qualifications.


And finally here you can see what you need to submit for the qualifications and how.


As you can tell, being awarded with these qualification means you have to put in a lot of work and effort so to graduate from licentiateship, associateship and fellowship is a big success.

Tony has all his own equipment, this came in useful when it came to photographing the family photographs and also become useful in many other times as it meant that he he didn’t need to hire anything out, all the lighting equipment and cameras he has are all his own so everything is easily accessible for him.

In his photography career now Tony works with many different styles of photography, for example:

  • Commercial/Marketing
  • Corporate Portraiture
  • Medical/Scientific
  • Industrial/Technical
  • Leisure/Tourism
  • Education
  • Property – Interior/Exterior
  • Architecture
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Events/PR
  • Stock/Landscapes

For commercial and marketing Tony mostly photographs food and drink, this can be studio based but for clients is mostly pub and restaurant based.


His corporate portraiture would be with lawyers and business people and be environmental shots, taken in their workplace or similar locations. These photos need studio lighting in places to lighten the photo enough for the photos to look as good as they should.


Recently with the medical and scientific photography Tony has photographed various laboratories around the area and photographed the different experiments in their labs so, some were taken in the labs and others were taken outside the labs. He has also taken photographs with various other medical and scientific companies like Maxim Eyes and DDRC.


For the industrial and technical photography he has worked with people from Devon Air Ambulance, photographing some of the workers as well as photographing workers at Exeter airport and workers of Eco-friendly companies like Greenpeace.


With the technical side of things he has photographed people working with sound-desks, editing music in a studio, for this he had to use low-key lighting.


The leisure and tourism side of photography he has worked with clients like National Trust to photograph different National Trust sites, a lot of these photographs included people that have visiting the National Trust sites, showing them enjoying themselves there.

Education photography included the same sort of photography that he did for Plymouth College of Art when he got the bursary, photographing for prospectuses, marketing and promotion for the various schools, colleges and universities.


For property, interior and exterior Tony needed to set up 3 or 4 lights to be able to light the rooms correctly and make sure that there wasn’t any areas that appeared too dark or shadowy.


Photographing Health and wellbeing Tony took photographs at different leisure centres, spas and swimming pools. These shoots also needed a bit of extra lighting here and there to make sure that the subjects were lit correctly and there weren’t any shadows ruining the shots. For some of the spa shots one of Tony’s assistants wanted to try out acupuncture to see what it was like so having that offer Tony did some photographs of acupuncture as part of the health and wellbeing. Other health and wellbeing photographs included hot stone massages.


For events photography Tony worked with Jaguar at a promotional event with ex boxer Paddy Maguire and also did photography at the Exeter Food Festival where he photographed chef, Michael Caines. The photograph at Exeter Food Festival was complicated as the client didn’t want Michael Caines’ prosthetic right arm being in the shot. As well as this it was hard to capture a photo of him when he was talking but it worked out well in the end.


Finally with stock photography it was mostly landscape photography due to Tony’s interest in landscapes. When it came to stock photography a lot of the time the photos were a lot of fun for Tony as it’s something he enjoys doing so it didn’t feel like a job to him and photographing for stock he could photograph whatever he thought would sell. For example he liked to photograph the ponies on Dartmoor and did that as a personal project anyway but going back to the ponies he could use the photos as well as others that he had taken as stock photography. When shooting at the beach once for stock photography he was waiting for children to finish school to get this shot of two boys learning to surf, he noticed a really nice sunset scene which would of been really nice for a photograph but the two boys weren’t there yet, because of this he decided that in the time that he was waiting he was able to still get photographs that were good for stock so he photographed his assistant with the sunset scene in the background and a surfboard in the foreground, this shot sold many times as stock photography.



the photograph of Tony’s assistant, photographed while waiting for the two boys to finish school

A lot of the time his assistants would be college and university students, this is because it would give them a better knowledge and understanding of what working in the photography industry is like as well as giving them the experience. As well as having student assistants he started doing workshops and tuition teaching the community how to work a camera and take photographs, these workshops happened in various places from the beach, gardens and locations on Dartmoor. At one particular workshop only females turned up and since that workshop those who turned up enjoyed the workshop being just females and were interested in a female only workshop, because of this there is now going to be a photography workshop for females only ran by Tony.


Tony’s clients include:

  • National Trust
  • Toshiba
  • Lexus
  • The Royal Marines
  • Devon Air Ambulance
  • Asda

Going back to the photography with National Trust it was interesting because having thought that he would need to use landscape techniques for photographing National Trust it turned out that the portraiture technique that he learnt in college and while doing the family photos were more helpful that the landscape technique as it involved photographing children and people a lot so having that knowledge of portraiture was useful.

national trust 2 national trust

Earlier I mentioned Tony photographing the ponies on Dartmoor as a personal project, Tony has many other personal projects that he likes to do in his spare time and for his portfolio and website, these projects include:

  • Structures In Landscape
  • The Pony Project (Dartmoor Ponies)
  • Union Street
  • Skyscapes

I’ve already talked about The Pony Project, photographing the ponies on Dartmoor but now I’ll talk about his other projects. His Union Street project involves photographing different buildings that are old or/and derelict, some buildings that Tony has photographed are, Grand Theatre, The Boulevard, New Palace Theatre (The Dance Academy). He photographed these buildings among many other old building as he liked the look of the buildings and the textures in them. Another project of his is Skyscapes, this project is photographing the sky, focusing on the clouds and how clouds look in different times of the day and in different weathers, this started because Tony is interested in the shapes and forms of clouds and how they look. Structures in Landscape is a project is focusing on the different structures within the landscape, photographing the difference in the structures within the landscape, the shapes and textures and how these different structures may look strange within the landscape.

The Pony Project

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Union Street

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I was really interested by Tony Cobley’s presentation because he was in the same situation as us except several years ago so being able to see how he progressed is helpful as it shows what we should be looking at doing or how we should go about how we do our degree. As well as this I’m quite into my landscapes and have never done portraiture before so being in the same spot that he used to be and seeing how good his portraiture is now makes me think that I could possibly gain similar knowledge in the studio and doing portraiture like he did. Also it’s good to see somebody with such a broad range of different photography and how well it’s done, I photograph near enough everything and anything as I’m not really sure where I want to go with photography yet so seeing how successful Tony is with his broad range gives me an idea of what I could possibly do. Seeing his work has gave me a better idea of how to go about doing your photography and also gave me an idea of composition as his photographs are well composed and mine aren’t quite so well composed so now I can work on that having seen how he goes about composing his shots. He has also taught me to take every opportunity possible and it gets you a lot of experience and gets you out there to see what it’s like to be working as a photographer and what the industry is like.

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