A few days ago, I asked all of my social media platforms what questions they wanted answered to do with car photography, whether it was about what settings I use or how to start a business. In this post, I’m going to answer every single question that got asked with as much information and with as much honesty as I can.
A disclaimer right from the start though – this is just how I do things. These answers are hopefully guidance but I expect other professional photographers will shake their heads at me and say “No, no, no… you’re doing that totally wrong!” in which case, feel free to comment below to help others.
I am STILL learning from other photographers. Just last week, I had no idea on charging a company for usage so I asked the wonderful Dominic James for help. When I first started out with big stuff, I asked a million questions to Jaguar Land Rover’s super-duper front photographer, Nick Dimbleby, and then later on to commercial wizardry car photographer Easton Chang. I learnt a lot from these people and much more, so I’m trying to pay the favour on.
This post is long. I’ve tried to split it into sections; Business, Technical, Personal and Other. Lots of people asked similar questions so if you don’t see your question outright, I’ve probably tried to cover it under a similar one.
And one first and most important thing you should all know – no one really knows what they’re doing either. Sure, some of us have a better idea and feel like they’ve got a good grasp on things, but we’re all still just fumbling our way through it all and have a little self-victory party when something goes right. Don’t worry if you don’t feel you’ve got it all figured out, none of us do. And if you think you have got it all figured out, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. Not that there’s anything wrong with comfort zones, but I do know that I personally don’t like to be in mine for too long.
This is something most self-employed people get thrown into without having a clue where to start unless you decided that you wanted to do a course in business studies and have more than a vague idea. You learn the ins and outs along the way, lots of mistakes are made but lots is learnt on the way.
How do I get clients? How do I get started?
TL;DR – Create a body of your best work you are proud of and make yourself known through social media, contacting them and free jobs for poor people (don’t undercut other photographers). If you’re still not getting hired or noticed, you may not be at their quality just yet. And finally, BE NICE.
When I did my first ever car shoot of the Ferrari P4, I had no idea how to carry on getting automotive work. The only car magazine I liked (because I wasn’t really into cars at all before I started shooting them) was Octane magazine. So I dropped them an email, which went along the lines of, “Hi! I’ve just photographed a car and I think the photos are pretty decent. Can I do some work for you?”
Very kindly, they invited me into their office have a look at some of my work. I made a physical portfolio with pictures printed from the self-serve machines at Boots and put in photos of the P4, the 2013 Goodwood Revival I’d just been to and other non-car work I’d done, as those two shoots were practically all the car-related things I’d ever shot. They were very lovely to me but said that really I needed more examples of car work, especially showing that I could do panning and tracking shots. So off I went and photographed my mate’s Fiat Punto and my Dad’s Mini as practice. I sent them the photos and was turned down again because the harsh truth was I was not good enough for their standard.
This is a horrible truth the sometimes accept, but it was the truth. If you are continually shooting and showing your work to clients but not getting any jobs, you may just not be at the level of work they need yet. Really scrutinise your own work against those images in the magazine – what makes them better than you? How can you alter your work to become as good or better than them? If you want tips on improving, head down to the ‘Technical’ section.
Be sure to have an up to date, easy to navigate website and a number of social media platforms. Instagram is my best friend but that’s because it’s the best social media platform for me as a photographer, it’s all about pictures. Twitter isn’t great for me and Facebook has been better. These are free ways to get your pictures into the world and if they’re good, they WILL get noticed. Don’t buy followers, we can all tell. Keep posts consistent, people will follow you for car images, but then might unfollow you when you post a picture of your cat, but you may get some slightly odd cat fanatics who will follow you, who will then unfollow you again when you post a picture of a car. And so on. If your skills range then that’s great! But if you want to build a social media following, keep your content consistent.
So, I wasn’t good enough for Octane just yet. I also sent my Revival images to Goodwood’s Facebook page in a message. I later found out that it was a pure fluke that they saw it. Anyhow, 2 months later they saw the images and called me to invite me to shoot for them at the 72nd Members’ Meeting to which I confidently gave them a day rate figure I’d Googled that moment and that, to my great surprise, they practically agreed to.
Easton Chang also posted my P4 pictures on his Facebook page to which my site blew up with visitors (2 years later, I took him for dinner to thank him). From that, Petrolicious found me and contacted me, asking if I wanted to shoot some images and write some articles for them. I had never written about cars in my life (I couldn’t tell the difference between a Defender or a Land Rover Series 1…) but I said yes anyway. I didn’t care that they paid very little, their Facebook page at the time had over a quarter of a million likes and heck, I was barely getting any photography work at all! So I busted my ass and shot a few things for them, angling the articles on the people rather than the cars because heck, I didn’t know the technical jibber jabber of car stuff! But from those articles, Classic Driver found me and called to say that they’d pay me almost three times the amount to shoot for them! I couldn’t believe my luck!!
Building your work means you may also have to do free jobs but only if you enjoy it. I’m not talking about undercutting other photographers (which is a shitty thing to do, but we’ll talk about that later…), but helping out people who don’t have a budget themselves or have very little. These shoots with the Pitts Special, Keston Cobblers’ Club band, and Tim Hutton’s AutoTweetUp were all free or practically free (under £50/I was fed two slices of pizza). This is because they didn’t have money to pay me and I wanted to photograph them because it looked fun. The Kestons ended up hiring me a couple more times since and they’re super fun to hang out with, and the location of AutoTweetUp, Bicester Heritage, became one of my most continual clients because they liked the images from that meeting. I still do free jobs for poor people to help them out with their own dreams because we all need a leg up sometimes.
Finally, it sounds straightforward but it’s got to be said – BE A NICE PERSON. A big client recently said to me “There are thousands of great photographers out there but at the end of the day, we’re going to hire the ones who we like to hang out with”. There are some photographers I know who don’t get hired by a bunch of clients because they’re a bit shitty, arrogant and drama queens. There are some, bless them, that just struggle to chat and be sociable. Once you’re a massively famous photographer like David Bailey, you can probably get away with it because people really do want your work but before we get to Bailey status, we need to be able to get on with the people hiring us. Be open, friendly, enthusiastic, hardworking, open to suggestions and for goodness sake, smile. You’re doing the thing you love!!
How to ask to work with clients or random people who don’t know me?
TL;DR – Ask nicely, ask again, don’t be over professional. Take the cars away from the coffee and cake scene, use that instead to make connections.
Most of my clients come to me. If I ever want to work for someone (like in the early days with Octane and Goodwood), I drop them an email to tell them how much I like their magazine/event/product etc and that I’d love to collaborate with them/work with them. I send them a link to my work, tell them my day rate and see if they get back to me. If they reply (which is not always the case), they might say that your rate is too high for them, in which you ask them what figure they had in mind and see if you can come to an agreement. Don’t be put off if they don’t get back to you, this will happen. Email them again in 6 months time once you’ve got more work under your belt. They may reply with ‘Love your work! We’ve got a shoot coming up that we think you’d be great for.’ Bingo. Try to be professional in your writing but don’t over do it. ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is a little OTT. Depending on the client, alter your tone. I’m a very sociable person so I usually include lots of ‘Hi there!’s and smiley faces, but that may not always be the best approach. Talk to them sincerely, like you would face to face, check your spelling and grammar (the most basic but looked over thing… You’re writing to people who publish text and images! They see a grammatical mistake like the devil just appeared on their screen!) and don’t give them your whole CV in an email. Qualifications have nothing to do with it.
If you want to bump up your portfolio, go to car meets and chat to owners. I see so many photographers shooting cars at car meets but those images will not get you noticed. If you shoot a nice image of a car that’s parked up next to some other average cars, that will also not get you noticed. You know how when you go to a job interview, you’re meant to try and dress in a manner that the interviewer can see you in that position? Do the same for your jobs. Potential clients want to see images they’d publish in their magazine and I’m sorry to say, car and coffee meets are not often one of them. Talk to the owners of some of the cars you think look awesome, or owners that have an awesome story about their car (Barry has driven his Hillman Imp the distance to the moon!!), ask them if they’d like to have them and their car photographed, give them a contact card, and then go and spend an afternoon hanging out with them. Take the car to a cool location and shoot like you were shooting it for a magazine. You make some great friends along the way too! My Series 1 Land Rover images for example – I saw the car at a meet and thought ‘that looks cool!’ and introduced myself to the owner, Jason. Jason said he was free that weekend for a shoot. I photographed Jason and the Landy. 3 years later, I’m his groomsmaid at his wedding this year, driving that car as their wedding car!
Managing clients for a happy ending
TL;DR – There are always happy compromises, but don’t be afraid to stand your ground. Be the best you can be, always produce the best work you can.
Managing a client’s expectations vs. reality can be awkward sometimes, but there are ways to make sure they’re happy and you’re happy, which usually result in the client returning. A client usually gives you a brief of what they’re after, anything from a vague ‘Yeahhh, just go to this event and shoot some stuff for us, thanks!’ (the best kind of clients) to image by image of what they want the outcome to look like. Obviously, the latter can be more challenging. Sometimes you just need to try your best but also make them aware of the possible things that could go wrong or that they need to prepare for. For example, I had a client who loved beauty shots of cars and often models in busy London streets. But the car didn’t start so we had to transport it everywhere and push it everywhere. They also wanted me to visit some very expensive shops and shoot in there too. We were too short of time to call these places to ask them permission and we didn’t have any official permit to shoot so could get moved on by police at any moment. I tell them that I will try my upmost but be warned, the traffic will be busy, police may stop us shooting and shops may not want us in, I’m just going to ask them when we show up. Everything turned out fine in the end but I had to make sure they knew the realistic outcome if things went to pot.
Sometimes I’m asked to alter my editing which I don’t really like to do, but editing is something quite personal so I don’t mind tweaking it if needed. For example, a client wanted my pictures to be less ‘hazy’, with more contrasting blacks. This edit, I think, is part of my signature style so to alter it is something I don’t like to do, however, I only tweaked it slightly, meaning my images still looked like mine, but the shadows were darker and they were happy. Win! They hired me again a month later.
If the client emails me and tells me they want something that I think is out of my skillset, such as using a lot of artificial lighting, I thank them for their email but tell them I think their request would be better with another photographer.
Some clients will try and alter the outcome a lot, yes. I really don’t like it but at the end of the day, it’s for their company so you need to produce what they want, even if it’s a bad idea. The best thing in that situation is to cover your ass and do both your ideas and theirs. This may mean you’re pushed for time, but it will create the best outcome for both of you.
Sometimes you don’t feel like you’re a photographer at all, just someone to press the button. I’ve been on a commercial shoot before and the client just wanted to have input and micromanage. I’d produce what I thought was the best angle for the shot they wanted, but the client would say they didn’t like it and wanted it different. So you do what they want, think it’s not great but it’ll do, and the client loves it. Sometimes you’ve just gotta do it. They hired me again, too.
Sometimes a client will be unhappy but that’s not your fault. If you can give them images that fit their brief that you think are awesome, it’s not your fault. I had a wedding couple once tell me how they only liked one image of the two of them from the whole day. I know I that the images I produced were beautiful because everything about the wedding was gorgeous, they just didn’t like how they looked. Sorry, but that’s not my problem.
Sometimes clients are a bit shitty. They tell you about a job, you quote them, they lower the quote a tad but you accept, then they tell you a bit more about the job, and extend the time, and that they want the images unedited and immediate, and then you wish you hadn’t taken the job at all. I have once emailed such client that did that, the day before the event, telling them that I was very sorry but I wouldn’t be photographing their event due to the new information. The client obviously threw a paddy but I suggested some other photographers, apologised again and didn’t go. No, they didn’t hire me again. I don’t consider it a loss, but a learning curve.
If the job is well paid, you can lower your ‘how much am I going to enjoy this’ expectation. Don’t do a job unless you’re going to be paid well, have fun, or it’ll be beneficial to brand You!
Fees, undercutting, pricing yourself, expenses, usage and deliverables
TL;DR – Find your base fee, don’t undercut other photographers, usage is hard.
This one is TOUGH. As mentioned in the intro, I’m still learning. There are a tonne of websites and articles out there that will try and help you figure out costs for these things but sometimes it’s just trial and error. Things change a lot depending on who the client is, what other photographers working for them charge, how much they want from you, whether it’s editorial or commercial work etc. Some professional photographers charge a day rate, travel day rates, editing costs, usage costs and expenses on top. I’m not at that level to get all of those ticked off yet as usually, my clients are smaller.
When I first started charging properly, my day rate was £400 a day plus any fuel/food expenses. There are websites that tell you how much you can charge for this (such as in the UK, I think you now charge 45p per mile, and then there is a general day allowance that they’ll pay for food, too). Some people told me this was too expensive for them and they could only pay me £300 plus expenses, or £350 but no expenses. Sometimes even less. This is the point you need to think how much you want to do the job if it’s financially beneficial or professionally beneficial. There are clients I work for now that still only pay me that but I still do the jobs because of who the client is and the type of exposure I get for brand Amy Shore from that. Some photographers make a loss for some of those jobs but the thing is, the photographers for those clients all get paid the same. My day rates have gone up since then because I’m now too busy and have the fortune to be able to pick and choose my jobs. Some clients will straight out tell you what they will pay you which is sometimes a BIG help because they offer you lots more than you would have dared ask for… or they say they’ll pay you so little that you kindly decline their offer.
One more thing with expenses – they should pay for all of them (don’t be cheeky and order a sirloin steak with a bottle of red…) and you add them onto your fee. So I’ll say ‘my fee is X plus expenses’ and don’t define a number. Sometimes people will want you to quote them with everything down to the last penny you think you’ll spend, but I don’t find that too often. Here are a couple of examples of invoices of mine:
Now I look back at my older one, I can criticise it a lot more!! Like, why I decided to put Quantity 1 of 2 shoot days, I don’t know… Face palm. People will be late paying and chasing invoices suck. Like, I’ve done my job for the agreed fee, why are you not paying me?! Frustration to the max. So far, I’ve not had an invoice not paid in the end. Yes, it may have taken months, but it has always been paid.
Always keep your receipts for things you want to charge as expenses as clients will ask to see a copy to make sure your figures add up. And always keep your work receipts anyway to claim against your own tax.
Deliverables, or the images that you deliver at the end of the shoot, vary from photographer to photographer. I give my clients every image that I think is good for what they’re after, edited. I may shoot 3,000 on a big shoot, but they may only see 300 images of that because the rest are either crap or are repetitive of a similar and better angle. Another photographer I know asks the magazine how many images they need for the spread and gives them exactly that many images (bold move, that man!). Larger commercial clients will pay for your editing time, but smaller editorials won’t. Commercial may ask for 15 highly polished images, where the editing can take hours, and they’ll pay you X amount to edit each one. But first, they’ll want to see all of the images with a quick edit to be able to tell you which ones they want more editing applied to. From my experience, you get paid for what you deliver, not the work up to it. This is why photographers have to charge a higher day rate because their job is only half done once they leave the shoot.
Usage is something I’m brand new to. I have a better idea now but that’s only since chatting to other photographers. Editorial is £15-£45 per image per usage, so 10 images x (£15-£45) = one month fee. Commercial is a whole different ball game which I can’t advise as I’ve not had enough experience myself. If you shoot for a client for a day rate, some usage is usually expected in that fee (e.g. unlimited usage on social media platforms for 2 years and use worldwide over the next year in published media for use of promotion of the next event/published for that one month issue of the magazine). If you’re not sure, ask them what they intend to use the images for and make your own judgment. Usage tends to be charged if a client wants to extend the use of the images, publish them again, or buy images from you that you’ve already shot for something else. The usage also can change depending on where in a magazine the image features (cover shots cost more) and also how big the image is (double page spread to stamp size).
Undercutting is a shitty thing. Photographers steal your clients because they charge much less than you to get their own foot in the door. Yes, the photography world is tough. Yes, perhaps do one or two discounted shoots to get your foot in that door and noticed but once you’re in, up your costs to match the other photographers. If the client would rather hire the originally more expensive photographer, you need to ask yourself why. I have had a couple of photographers rip off my photography style (people would comment asking if it was my shoot) whilst shooting for my client that I’d had for a long time because they charge much less consistently. This is not cool. Right before I started shooting for a large client, their usual photographer told me what to charge them and I was scared to because I didn’t think they’d hire me. He said that that’s his day rate and it makes it fair for all of us professional photographers who I trying to make a living doing this. And guess what? They hired me and they still hire him! Win-win!
When can I make the jump from amateur to professional?
TL;DR – If you’re a poor graduate like I was with no initial savings or a spouse to support you in your dreams, you need to work until your head figuratively explodes.
I was very lucky that when I started photography jobs (weddings and friend’s parties!) I was still in school/university. I was used to being poor. Once I graduated, I worked as a freelance book designer (through pure luck of meeting someone) but scraped by on minimal income for about a year with dappled photography jobs here and there, including the Ferrari, Goodwood and Petrolicious jobs. I was still shooting weddings until just last year (I still have two weddings this year to do before I retire completely!) as I wasn’t getting enough car or wedding work to give up the other completely. Don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. I was working up to 85 hours some weeks (with travel, shooting, editing, emailing, invoicing, planning etc) to get through all my work. Even then, I was worried about stopping weddings because of the fear I wouldn’t get enough work. You need to work until you feel you cannot physically survive another year before you can make the leap to full-time X photographer. If you can, tip the scales slowly. If you’re in full-time employment, see if you can work part time. Start saying ‘no’ to jobs that you don’t want to do if you’re already freelance. It is tough and scary. I personally wouldn’t take the jump if I had no backup or if I felt I still had free time. Get a job doing something you enjoy, do photography on the side (talk to an accountant about paying the right amount of tax) and keep on at it.
Getting media access to events
TL;DR – Find a reputable publication that wants you to go.
This is a half guess, as I’ve never actually applied (but instead been hired by the client directly) but I’ll give you an idea of what I think happens.
You need to be shooting for a publication or magazine. Usually, you need to provide examples of your published work (on websites/magazines etc) and a letter/email/cc’d person of that publication to say you’ll be shooting for them. This will then hopefully get accepted, you get put on a list, then you have to find the media centre/sign-on on the day and they’ll have you on their list.
You could email the event directly but again, that goes back to approaching clients.
I do not have a single photography qualification. Everything I have learnt has been from trial and error, playing about with my camera, reading articles online and thousands of bad photographs. I’d never heard of a polarising filter until after my first car job when someone said: “Why aren’t you using a polariser filter for the reflections?”… Guess what I bought that night… There are photographers who love the technical side of photography and even shun other photographers who don’t understand something or know what something is. Don’t be one of those horrid photographers. Take off your anorak and help each other.
What are your edit settings? What presets do you use? Who inspires you?
TL;DR – Put your own awesome stamp on the world.
To put it simply – I’m not going to tell you how I edit, but there’s a good reason. I don’t use any bought/pre-made presets at all. When I first started shooting, I’d play around with settings, look at other people’s work I loved the edit of and really think ‘How the hell have they made their picture look like that?!’. I’d open up my image next to theirs in Photoshop and literally look at the highlights – were they yellow? Blue? Grey? I’d look at how sharp the images were – is that camera quality? Contrast? Spot sharpening? All of these comparisons and tests made my edit what it is today.
I adore the work of Laurent Nivalle and have cited his work, especially this album, to be a major inspiration to the way I shot. I would pore over his images to try and figure out what I loved so much about them and how to edit like him. Then one day, a friend of mine put us in touch and Laurent said to me (paraphrasing here, because I can’t find the actual message…) ‘If you always copy someone, you will always be a step behind them. If you are inspired by them, you will be as good or better than them’.
No one owns their own style. I do not own the style, which I’m recognised for. Creativity is open to all to do as they wish. However, when a photographer happens to pop up, shooting in the same reportage style as me, with a very similar edit to me, and then proceeds to work for clients I’ve had on my books for years who then don’t hire me because they charge less, that is not cool. For all I know, these people may have just happened to fall into these exact brackets on their own without ever seeing a single pixel of my images, but it’s just a bit of a coincidence.
Who wants to be like someone else, anyway?! Do you not want to create your own stance in the world? Your own photographic mark? I am inspired by photographers such as Ragnar Axelsson, Sebastião Salgado, Harry Benson and Wes Anderson but I’m pretty sure that none of my work looks like theirs, or Laurent Nivalle’s as previously mentioned. Your work can change the whole scope of its creative world! But you’ve got to be original.
My process from beginning to end of an editorial job
- Receive an email from a client saying they want to hire me for a job. I give them dates I can do, they tell me what they can do, they give me a brief of what they need, we sort out logistics of locations/timings etc. and wait until shoot day.
- Turn up to the job. Introduce myself, chat away, and get to know the people I’m going to be photographing, begin to put on my gear. I shoot with two cameras for ease of flipping between lenses and also if one of my cameras breaks, I’m covered.
- Shoot the car for the day, have a laugh with the people I’m with, go to various locations, shoot a whole bunch of stuff, say goodbye and head home. I shoot a variety of whole car angles (front, rear, front 3/4, rear 3/4, 7/8, profile, details, wider interiors, anything specific about the car etc – these are usual ‘must haves’ of car shoots) always in RAW format.
- As soon as I’m home, back all of the images up. My Nikons have dual card slots so I can mirror the cards, just in case one corrupts or something like that. For a job, I always have two copies in different places (laptop/hard-drives) until the job is handed over, paid and done with.
- Get a cup of tea. Load up all of the images into Lightroom. Start at the beginning and do a yes/no process, flagging the ‘yes’ images with a star or a coloured flag. I usually keep between 10-20% of the images I shot and delete the other 80-90%. I then order those ‘yes’ images together and rename them to something like ‘Test Job_0001’ etc. The Lightroom and Photoshop package is something like £9 per month and for the amount I use, it’s a complete no-brainer.
- This part is where I am probably alone. Every other photographer I talk to edits his or her images in Lightroom but I just never got into Lightroom editing. So I open up the images in small batches of 100-300 at a time (depending on how productive I’m feeling) into Photoshop RAW editor (which should happen automatically when you try to open a RAW image up in Photoshop). I only do smaller batches as if my computer crashes, I’ve not lost loads of editing time (which has happened in the past). It takes me about 30 seconds – 1 minute to edit each photograph, but that’s only become this quick because of my need to get through my huge amount of work so quickly and I do it so much. If I have to edit out things, that takes me much longer.
- I highlight all of the images, click my ‘Amy’s Edit’ preset, and then start at image number 1 and do tweaks on that (white balance/exposure/bringing out shadows if it’s high contrast etc). Save the images as JPEGs and repeat until I’ve managed to get through all of the images.
- I then upload my images to Pixieset and send the client the link. They may come back to me and ask for some additional editing (can you Photoshop out this lamp post/ugly sign etc). Once they’re happy, I write up my invoice and send it off to them.
- Storing images after a shoot is a highly debated thing. Lots of people do different things. Some people keep every RAW image they ever shot on hard drives, with the edited JPEGs/TIFFs too. Once the shoot is finished up, I don’t see the point in keeping anything other than the final edited RAW files and their corresponding JPEGs. If I had super duper fast WiFi, I’d compress these folders and keep them online. As I don’t, I have to be super old school and burn them to DVDs. This is a slow process and one I’d like to change, but cold storage is still a pretty safe bet. This isn’t too much of an issue as if I ever need to search for a job or an image, it’s all on Pixieset. This saves me from keeping tonnes of hard drives, which can be prone to failure.
- Finally, once I’ve backed up the final images, I delete the two backups I had on my hard drives. Even this I only usually do when I need to free the space for a new job and not always before.
Do you ever outsource editing?
Rarely. If I’m doing commercial work where I’m getting paid for the editing separately, then I’ll do an initial edit, but then I’ll send the client’s final alterations (getting rid of reflections etc) to an editor. I use the fabulous Phil Lynam. He edits far better than I can so it makes sense to outsource those highly polished images.
How do you start with your first DSLR camera? Different lenses and filters? When to move from a kit lens?
TL;DR – Practice LOTS.
Shoot, shoot, shoot. With your kit lens, figure out your angles, your compositions, your bread and butter of your images. My first ‘proper’ lens after a kit lens was a Nikon 50mm f/1.8, which I still use. Once I got it, I shot everything with it because I loved the ‘blurry’ background from the f/1.8 setting. I was shooting on a Nikon D50, which I got gifted from my parents at the age of 16. All of the images below are old images of mine shot with my Nikon D50 and either the kit lens or 50mm lens. I still think my style can be seen in these images, it just got refined with the help of better gear and Photoshop knowledge over time.
I only use prime lenses (lenses that don’t zoom) because I like the quality of the images and how the images look consistent with one another, but that’s just my personal preference. I never shot RAW images with my Nikon D50 – I didn’t even know what RAW images were!! It wasn’t until 2013 that I got my full frame camera (Nikon D600) and my images really started to take off and look like the quality I was after. You can still create great images on cheap cameras. It’s not all about lots of expensive gear.
Filter wise, I only use polarising filters to get rid of windscreen reflections in cars, but don’t use them for shooting anything else because I feel they give a blue tinge to the images which I struggle to totally realistically warm up again in Photoshop. You can get UV filters and clear filters to protect your lenses, too.
I’ve hardly ever used a film camera but love the feel of the images. I don’t even own a film camera. As I never studied it, I think I just totally bypassed that section and headed straight to the digital age. If I’m brutally honest, I don’t even know if I’d know how to use a film camera.
Basic settings – For beginners of photography, there are thousands of articles to help you online, so I’m not going to go in depth, as this could be another 10,000-word article on its own. Go and take your camera into the real world and shoot everything. I always shoot on Manual settings so I have three numbers to focus on – my ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Your ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light, the higher the ISO, the more sensitive and therefore, the more your camera can ‘see’. However, this comes with a price – the higher the ISO, the ‘noisier’ the pictures will be. Expensive cameras help a lot with this, but Photoshop can also help fix this. Aperture is basically how blurry the background will be, or the ‘depth of field’. The lower the f-stop number (1.8, 1.4…), the blurrier the background but also, the more light the camera is letting into the sensor, so you’ll have to either lower your ISO or speed up your shutter to make sure the image isn’t overexposed. Finally, shutter speed is how quickly your camera takes the photograph. If you have a fast shutter speed, you’ll capture a very quick moment, which is great for people stuff. But sometimes you’ll want to slow the shutter speed down to something like 1/60 to get a blur of a car when you’re doing panning or tracking shots. Your job as a photographer is to try and find the perfect balance between these three settings to get the image you want.
What is in my own gear bag and lighting
TL;DR – You don’t need a metric tonne of expensive equipment to do a good job.
99% of the time, I don’t use any additional equipment to what’s in my bag. No artificial lighting, no reflectors, no light meters etc. My feeling is that my work is meant to be journalistic and real, not beauty. I want to document the event/story/car just as it is. You could argue that I shouldn’t edit my images in that case, but I’m quite happy with my middle ground. Here is a shot and list of everything in my bag (chargers not included in the image):
- Nikon D5
- Nikon D750
- Sigma 24mm 1.4 lens
- Sigma 35mm 1.4 lens
- Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens
- Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens
- Batteries and chargers
- Extra memory cards and reader
- Business cards
- Basic lens cleaning stuff
- Laptop, charger and hard drives
- 35mm and 85mm (focal length, not filter size) polarising filters
- Hold Fast Money Maker sling
- Single camera strap
- Big bag – Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW
- Smaller bag – Hex Black Medium DSLR Backpack
Aaaaaaand that’s it. I take the smaller Hex bag on local jobs or personal adventures, the larger one for bigger stuff and international stuff. I can fit my whole business into a backpack, and I love the freedom of that.
All of my lighting is controlled by what’s going on around me. Use the light that you have to make the image work. Limited light can be great fun to work with because you have to make it work for you and that makes your creative cogs start turning. Sometimes your location does it all for you – the Bonneville Salt Flats, for example, were a giant white reflector, so everyone’s faces were lit perfectly!
There is no right or wrong whether you want to use artificial lighting/additional equipment, I just know this is how I personally like to work.
To shoot cars, I usually just use my 35mm and 85mm. 24mm can sometimes be a little too wide and distort the car if you get too close (especially during tracking shots) and 85mm is a great lens for closer stuff. The whole Ferrari P4 images were shot with my 50mm.
I have upgraded my camera every two years so far, but that’s only due to my D600 breaking on me so having to buy the D750 quickly, then once it was repaired I shot with those two cameras for a long while. I’ve only just moved to the D5 this year and have already cracked a small screen and scratched the top screen.
I’m one who really doesn’t care about the technical specs of the gear I buy, it’s just not my interest. I’m not bothered how many megapixels the camera is or the slight changes in bokeh between two almost identical lenses. If I need a new camera/lens/piece of equipment, I Google ‘best [item I want] on the market’ and read a few reviews and then settle pretty quickly on what I want.
What are your thoughts on gear vs. skill? Do you need to have a talent for composition or can it be learnt?
TL;DR – Skill outweighs gear any day. You can learn composition but it’s something that has to then occur naturally.
You can have a crap photographer with the best camera on the market and they’ll create high-quality crap photos. Or you can have a fabulous photographer only shooting with their mobile phone and get more Instagram followers than you or I will ever have because their ‘eye’ for an image is amazing. Take @supersangron, for example, all shot on an iPhone!
You can learn composition, yes, but it will take a lot longer for you to naturally get the gist of a good image. I have always been artistic and think I’ve always had a talent for photography. The best way I can describe it is like looking at my subject through my lens and feeling like any one of these images, and once I ‘see’ the image, I know it’s right because suddenly it feels like all of those annoying, uneven things are ironed out. My compositions are more of an innate feeling than a decision. Yes, we all know about the golden ration and rule of thirds, but sometimes and image just feels right. The colours, the composition, the subject – it all just works.
A lot of the time you get thrust with a location and a subject and you just have to make the best image you can from what’s in front of you. Like Goodwood for example, everything is go go go. No planning, just shooting. It takes me a good hour or two to really get into the swing of it and get my photography ‘eye’ warmed up and working. You can plan and plan and plan a shoot, but your favourite shot of the day ends up being something you shot one frame of because you liked the look of it. I will plan basic locations of places I like the look of on Google Street View, but after that, I usually just show up and go for it. ‘I like that location > that angle feels right > shoot angle and see what else happens’. Overthinking can lead you to doubt yourself and not to capture the true, honest moment.
Do you believe it’s important to be professionally trained?
TL;DR – No way.
As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t have a scrap of a photographic qualification to my name. From what I’ve seen from students at photographic colleges and universities, I wouldn’t rate being ‘taught’ at school but then again, I may have just seen bad courses. What is needed though is the experience. I honestly don’t have a clue when it comes to lighting but that’s because I’ve never had to learn it or ever wanted to. I’m just not interested in the look. But if you want to learn about lighting, watch online videos, hire some kit to play around with, see if you can be a second assistant on lighting to learn how they all work. If you only want to work with film and darkrooms, a college course may be perfect for you. Experience is worth a hundred times more than a paper qualification in the photography field.
How do I strengthen my photography?
These tips will probably be more tailored to car photographers but I’ll try my best to extend tips to more general areas. Like anything creative, these are only rough guides. All of the points could be countered with a number of beautiful images to contradict them, so think on your feet, too.
- Move. Don’t use a super zoom to capture intimate, exciting moments from afar. Get a wider lens on and dive in. Keep longer lenses for moments where the viewer really does need to feel like an onlooker. Picking out some car details on a longer lens – such as wheel arches and rear quarters – can work beautifully. Wider lenses should be avoided when shooting cars as they will distort the car that a bunch of people have painstakingly designed every inch of.
- The whole car doesn’t have to be in focus. I love shooting at f/1.4 because that’s what our eyes do. We focus on a point and the rest is lost. Sometimes shooting at f/8 has its place, sure! But it depends on what you’re trying to achieve from the look.
- Give yourself space – subjects that are cropped too closely, like missing off someone’s feet or clipping off the back of the car from the frame, can ruin a great shot. Either crop more to make it deliberate or come right back and give yourself space, sky, a background to the subject. A photo is not all about the subject but everything else around it.
- If you love cars, forget you’re shooting a car. I couldn’t count the amount of bad car photographs I’ve seen because the photographer was only interested in the car because that’s what they were looking at, not the photograph they were about to take. I think I’ve done well with car photography because I was never into cars when I started. It was purely an object that I was attempting to highlight the best features of. I didn’t care about wanting to show the whole thing off. So if you’re shooting something you love and are distracted by, try to look at it as a subject, not a love.
- If you want to shoot a car well, take it away from crappy cars. Shooting a car in a car park next to average cars will not make a good photo. Network at car and coffee meets, and take the car away from the meet to actually shoot it.
- Get a polarising filter.
- Don’t worry about ‘how it should be done’.
- Make sure you have a clear subject. Something the viewer’s eyes are drawn towards. Things can be in a photo but it doesn’t mean it’s a photo of them.
- Light, colour, shapes – that’s all you’re trying to arrange in your picture. If it’s a dull day, focus on colour and shapes. If you’re lacking colour, focus on light and shapes. Look for things to shoot through, frame your picture.
- Wonky horizons have their place, like banked tracks, exciting EVO cover shots, or gorgeous Tim Lazell paintings. Don’t do them when the horizon should be flat, please. It just looks daft.
What is the one piece of advice you’d give to an amateur photographer who would one day break into the professional industry?
Never stop trying to improve yourself but stop comparing yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy and it can strip happiness away from something you love because of competition. Be inspired by others but don’t be put off by their triumphs or compare your beginning to their middle.
These questions were asked more about me or were more generic. I’ve answered them as honestly as I could!
How do you walk on water?
Go to the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, when it’s rainy season. Go again in the dry season for Speed Week.
Do you think the car photography market is slowly getting oversaturated?
TL;DR – No.
Does the music industry get oversaturated with rock bands? Or the writing world with mystery thriller authors? I think every creative industry has a hell of a lot of competition and people wanting to make their creative love their goal, so it will always feel like it’s oversaturated, however, there are still always from songs to compose, stories to write and machines to photograph. The car world isn’t just about cars. It’s about anything on wheels, it’s about the stories people have of their machines, the adventures these people go on. There will always be something new and exciting going on and there will always need to be fresh eyes and talent to document it.
What if someone uses your photo without crediting you/paying you?
TL;DR – It happens, watermarking is your best option.
This happens and it sucks. I recently had my Land Rover friend tell me that a friend of his saw some canvases being sold on eBay of the photos I’d taken of my friend. I contacted the guy and sent him an invoice along with it, telling him he’s seriously not allowed to be doing what he is and I’d take him to court if he doesn’t take canvases off the site and out of his shop. Or he could pay my invoice (which I didn’t expect him to do) and we’d be square. He made me prove that I owned the photograph (I had to get a photo of my camera serial number from the bottom of my camera and show it matching with the metadata of the original image) before he agreed to take it down.
It’s a shitty thing to happen but the best you can do is contact the person that put it up and ask them to take it down, take them to a small claims court, or watermark all of your photographs. I personally don’t like watermarked photos as I see them as a distraction, but sometimes it’s the only way you can stop these things happening.
If you woke up in an alternate universe where nobody knows you or your work and you wanted to re-become a shooter and charge the same $ you do now, who would you contact first, how and why?
I would take all of the information I’ve just given you and repeat. I’d shoot a bunch of cars, go to a load of events, portfolio myself, social media shout about myself, do free jobs for poor people, have fun and make friends. I don’t imagine I’d necessarily get the same lucky breaks as I have done in this universe but I expect that I’d get different breaks and meet different people, possibly ended up photographing more pre-war stuff instead, or more of the motorcycle scene. But my method to getting there would still be the same.
What are some good first steps to go about shooting some of these prestigious events? ie. Members’ Meeting? Are there any unspoken rules regarding photographers in the paddock, such as how to stay safe, when it’s OK to interact with drivers or mechanics and when should they be left alone, what not to do at all cost…?
TL;DR – Be considerate, never stop looking around you.
The first piece of advice I’d give to anyone at one of these awesome events would be to arrive early. Give yourself time with minimal crowds to find out where everything is, what aspects you think you’ll enjoy the most and want to see. Shoot lots. Shoot ‘filler’ shots that tell the views about the event like dirty oil rags on the floor, people sunbathing in their retro outfits, signs, tools, feet, hands, umbrellas – things around the event that are not cars! And always be watching everything. Take in every possible inch of your surroundings, looking for photographs that are about to happen. You walk through the tunnel, see a girl in a great hat, be prepared to photograph her hat as she walks past. You see a couple looking close, expect they’re about to kiss. You see a car being pushed, look ahead to where they’re going and run to that spot to be ready to compose your image.
When it comes to interacting with the drivers and mechanics, just use your head. If they look super busy, keep out their way. I usually say to mechanics that are working ‘If I get in your way, just tell me to bugger off!’. If they notice you photographing them, just give them a smile and carry on. If they don’t want you to photograph them, they’ll tell you. If someone looks confused as to why you just photographed him or her, explain why you’ve just photographed them. ‘I like the way you have grease on your face and the way light is hitting your face from the lamp above you – you look cool!’. People like compliments and let’s be honest, we’re photographing people because we find them interesting. Who doesn’t want to be considered interesting?!
Finally, if a marshal shouts at you, you’re probably doing something that’s not safe. Listen to them, they’re just trying to keep you from getting splatted in the pit lane.
Was your progress ever hindered due to sexism in the industry, and if so, how did you manage to process that? Do you think being female has meant you have to work harder than most – or has it helped you stand out? Or… is it no different?
TL;DR – It was tough to begin with, but has done me well.
Being a female in the car world has been both a blessing and a hindrance. Initially, it was a hindrance, as people wouldn’t take me seriously. I’d regularly get asked if I was doing this for a University project or I’d get the impression that they didn’t think I’d do a good job because ‘girls don’t do car photography’. I felt like saying to them ‘Trust me, I can do this. I may not know a thing about cars but I know how to make a few good photographs of them’.
I was on a job just 2 weeks ago and I had an older guy in a workshop ask what I usually photograph. He was surprised when I said that cars and bikes were my thing. He then told me to stand away from him whilst he was grinding (he was only commenting to make sure I was safe, which is completely understandable) but was once again very surprised when I told him that I studied metals at University, from forging to silversmithing. He said ‘That’s not a very girly thing to do!’. I felt like I had to defend my reasons for photographing cars, riding motorbikes and being trained in metals, all because they weren’t ‘girly’ things to do. I don’t think anyone should have to defend their hobbies and enjoyments just because of what sex they are. I’d love to try and get a large group of car girls together to do a cool road trip or something! I want to change the way women are thought of in the car world. We’re not just grid girls, drivers’ girlfriends or car showgirls in skimpy dresses.
It’s a slow changing world but I think the automotive world is really beginning to change in a great way. There are more female drivers, riders, enthusiasts, writers, photographers and mechanics all showing up and I think it’ll just be a matter of time before there are as many women in the industry as there are blokes. There are some amazing contributors to this cause though such as In Venus Veritas and She’s Mercedes.
It has, on the other hand, benefitted me, too. Because of the fact there aren’t may girl photographers in the car photography world, I’m remembered more. People are more likely to recognise me and know who I am, simply because I’m a girl with a press pass, photographing a car event. When it comes to being hired again, I am remembered which of course, is handy.
How did you life change mentally once you started to pursue photography?
I’ve left this until last because it’s the hardest question I got asked and I’m kinda banking on most people not reading this far down!!
When I first started photography full time, I adored it. I couldn’t be happier!! But after a while, it started to get me down. I got seriously stressed out and after about 2 and a half years, and totally lost the love for photography. I didn’t want to pick my camera up unless I had to. It was actually quite miserable!! The only way I got out of this was by taking less work, making myself shoot the personal stuff I based my love of photography on, and over time the love came back.
To have your whole amazing career based on whether you and your work are continually liked is a really weird thing to deal with mentally. Like any freelancer, you’re scared about when your next job comes from, I casually browse job websites to see what jobs I’d fancy doing if/when my career goes down the pan! I personally struggle with the whole ‘needing to be continually liked’ a bit more than the usual person, though. My mum tells me that I really shouldn’t give a shit what anyone else thinks which is all well and good if you don’t care about the outcome. Like, I don’t give a shit nasty things random strangers say about me on the internet. They are not going to end my incredibly fun career that I know I am truly blessed/lucky to be able to do and I will never, ever take it for granted. I do care, however, about what clients or potential clients think.
My therapist tells me that we all have a ‘professional self’ and a ‘personal self’ and trying to split the two is like attempting to split the atom. I end up second guessing everything I write, post, say, how I act, how my emails sound, how I look etc. because I believe that all of those things balance the ability for me to continue to do this job I’m so grateful to have. It puts a hell of a lot of pressure on me, and I know that it’s only in my own head. But in recent years, it’s been grinding me down quite severely. I’ve ended up becoming to the point of obsessive over my weight, my work quality, how I’m perceived both online and in person, and of course to clients. So to put it blankly, I’m working on giving less of a shit and just carrying on doing what I’m doing because I like to think that I’m actually pretty good at it.
I think part of this mentality is, as I said in the previous question, I felt when I first got into this automotive world that I always had to be proving myself to people who didn’t believe in me. You end up putting on a very confident, ‘I’m awesome and I can do this!’ act when truthfully, I’m wearing my motivational superman socks and I’m scared as hell because I’m about to work for the biggest client of my career so far and I have no idea how I’m going to impress them. After you’ve done it and the client is happy, it’s the best feeling ever!
I’m sure the older I get, the less I’ll feel like this. The more confident I’ll become and the less I’ll give a shit, because what old person actually gives a shit?! That’s why I love old people! I mean, look at Iris Apfel, who wouldn’t want to give such few shits as this lass?!
But on the flip side, becoming a photographer has changed my way of thinking in so many ways. I’ve realised how far I can push my ability to work, the pressure I can survive, the stress levels, the need to think of options fast and decide on one faster. I’ve also met so many people who are just trying to live their own dreams and achieve their own goals and I honestly know how hard that can be, this being one of the reasons for wanting to write this 10,000-word blog, to help other people also trying to achieve their dreams! I hope it’s helped, even just a little bit.
If I’ve missed anything, I’m really sorry! Feel free to drop me an email and I’ll try and get back to you with an answer! Of if you have any additional questions, I’ll add them to the blog too. firstname.lastname@example.org