The Pro Interview: Karl Taylor

Each month will conduct an interview with a commercial photographer. Why is this happening? Because in "commercial" there is the word commerce. To survive in photography, you have to eat every day!

Kay Taylor possesses two rare qualities: being an educator while being an excellent photographer. This British native of the Isle of Guernsey has been running a photography training website for 12 years: Karl Taylor Education. For the modest price of 23 euros per month, the members of his academy can consult about a hundred courses. All subjects concerning commercial photography are covered: lighting, composition, post-production, business. A multitude of advice that allows professionals to improve their techniques.

The interview granted to took place by videoconference. Karl Taylor was in Guernsey under lockdown. Alone at the bottom of his cave like an owl, he gave us his thoughts on photography. Behind an affable smile and a very British sense of humour, one can sense in Karl Taylor an iron will. One who starts from nothing to build an empire. The one who swims across the oceans to make his dreams come true.

How did you start your career?

I started in the early nineties as a photojournalist for the press. I travelled all over the world, but like many reportage photographers, I made a very poor living. The little I earned, I had to invest it to finance the next project. Discouraged, I went to Australia where I worked as an assistant in a studio. I learned a lot about light and product photography.
I returned home in 1997 and opened my studio. I then went into commercial photography. I worked in different fields: tourism, food, architecture, corporate portrait and then I gradually specialised in product.

When and why did you decide to launch this training service?

In 2005 with the development of digital technology I realised that many amateur photographers were interested in the technique. Photography has always been a hobby for amateurs but with the development of digital technology the number of amateurs has exploded. Somehow, more and more people were involved in photography.

I became aware of this evolution and started to think about a business around training. The economic context of the time accelerated my thinking. The "Subprime" crisis in 2008 wiped out my turnover. Advertising agencies and my clients were paralysed with fear. I then embarked on the adventure of training by joining forces with a company that created websites. We produced DVDs that sold like hotcakes. We were lucky to be distributed by an American magazine with a circulation of 500,000 copies.

Three years ago you decided to change your pricing policy. What were the reasons for this?

With time, we realised that people were abandoning DVDs. We imagined a "Download" system but it was not very conclusive. Soon a "membership" system was imposed. For 23 euros per month, the member has access to all the resources of the site: the courses but also twelve years of archives. Every month we produce two new live shows and two new courses. Important detail of the commercial agreement: the member can cancel his subscription at any time.

In order for the business model to be viable, this modest price of 23 euros obliges us to find a large number of members. This has now been done, with around 100,000 members. Only 20% of our members are English, 25% are Americans, the others are Europeans and Asians. The great growth at present is in Asia (Thailand, Taiwan).

Over the last twelve years, how has your audience evolved?

When I started producing DVDs, the courses dealt with basic technique: aperture, speed, framing. Our target audience was clearly photography enthusiasts. But quickly this type of course developed on social networks. So we had to adapt. We became more advanced. The subjects that we tackle today are aimed at professionals.

How do you find the time to create tutorials and work as a product photographer?

Today I am more busy with my training business than with my traditional clients. I no longer have to constantly look for new clients. When I was a product photographer there were two of us: the assistant and me. Today we are 9 people working for Karl Taylor Education.

How do you develop a business in Guernsey, how do you make a living from photography on this small isolated island?

Contrary to popular belief, Guernsey is a very dynamic island economically.  This tax haven is home to a large number of head offices and banks. Moreover, Guernsey is only 40 minutes away from London by plane. We have (or had before Covid) five flights a day to the capital. I still work in London very often.

Generally speaking, many photographers no longer live in London. The pandemic is accelerating the movement. We work with our clients by videoconference. A system of cameras and screen sharing allows art directors to follow the photographer's work in the studio. This saves time and costs for everyone.

One of your mantras concerns the importance of diffused light. Why is it so important in product photography?

I have studied a lot over the last fifteen years the physics of light: how light reacts with objects, how it reflects off objects. What is the difference between the light from a parabolic dish or the light from an umbrella?
In product photography, the main focus is on the reflectivity of objects. Most objects have glossy surfaces: cars, cosmetics, etc.

Shiny surfaces are like mirrors. These surfaces must be seen as images. They are images of the source lights that illuminate them. So you cannot use a softbox to directly illuminate a mirror. It is then necessary to play with the angles of illumination and the diffusion material. In the end it is this diffused light that becomes the main subject of the image, the light that is reflected by the shiny surface.

What are your plans for the future?

We are going to produce about ten films on fashion photography: from the brief to make-up, from backgrounds to post-production.
We will also do car and motorbike shoots as well as portraits. We try to meet all the needs of the market.

Interview by Benjamin de Diesbach, 30 January 2021


Kay Taylor possesses two rare qualities: being an educator while being an excellent photographer. This British native of the Isle of Guernsey has been running a photography training website for twelve years: Karl Taylor Education.