Monday, November 8, 2010

So you want to be a pro automotive photographer?

An aspiring automotive photographer recently contacted me on a photo site, asking for advice, contacts, anything, to get started as a pro car photographer. I responded honestly - while I've been shooting at car shows for about five years, this is only my second car show season (in the US, November to April/May) shooting press/editorial. I'm still the noob tagging along to the industry parties with all of the connected people, thrilled when the writers on my own team actually remember my name, and always nervous that I'll screw something up royally and my client won't hire me back for the next show.

The Pony Car Girl blog is mostly to show my photos with a little bit of writing, and I don't know if anyone other than my Dad actually reads my blog... but hey, I thought that I would publish my response here in case anyone else is curious.

Here is what I do (or try to do):

  • Go to local car meet-ups/shows: Mopar, classic, swaps, Corvette, whatever, and take photos of different types of cars. Photograph a lot. The more cars you photograph, the more you learn what works and what doesn't. Your camera needs to be an extension of you arm, and you need to know its functions intimately. (READ the MANUAL.) You can find your local car club on Facebook, most likely, and if they are savvy enough, will post about upcoming events. Chat with the car guys/gals. If you take a great shot of their car, get their contact info and send them a freebie. You won't make money, but you have a new contact; car people are very proud of their cars. Don't be that photographer that says "Yeah, yeah, I'll send you a shot," then doesn't (oops, I owe someone a shot. Note to self...) 

  • Read magazines. There are still a lot of car periodicals out there. Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Hemmings, etc. etc. Go to a local book store and pick up a few different publications; learn the publishing players. Read the content. Look at the photos. Get the super-slick special quarterly edition for the larger and more creative shots. Try to do what the published photographers did in their shots to strengthen your creative muscle, learn how someone else sees, and ultimately, develop your own vision/style.

  • Read the business section of the NY Times to keep up on the industry. Read the Automobiles section; look at the photo galleries to see how the NY Times photographers are shooting. (Even though sometimes I am sitting right next to one of them, yes, I look at their shots to see what they got of the same event.)

  • Read the blogs. Autoblog, Jalopnik...
  • Go to the consumer auto shows. Fill your memory card with shots of everything. Cars, people looking at cars, engines, displays, whatever catches your eye. Learn how to use a TTL flash; the lighting situations are rarely optimal on the show floor.

  • Say yes, smile and play nice. Even if it's some video jerk at the [unnamed German automaker]'s booth threatening to kick you out of the press conference before it even starts for no apparent reason other than the fact that he has to share the press conference with other shooters... oops, sorry*... yup, smile and be nice, even if you want to go New Yorker on him. Oh, and say yes to possible shoots, even if it's "not really your thing." It's always a learning experience and possibly a new contact. (It's also how I ended up shooting at car shows in the first place - sometimes it is exactly your thing.)

  • Always carry your camera with you and keep an eye out for car events/promotions in unexpected places. A local blog, paper, or even the PR department might be interested in the shots.

  • Get a paid Flickr account, upload your shots, keep them public (lo res/watermarked though, don't want people stealing them) and tag them well. Sometimes publications (web or print) will need shots of a car or an event, see yours, and will buy it.
  • Have a web presence; a professional website, a professional sounding email address, ( is not professional), a page on Facebook, even start a blog that only your Dad reads.
  • Have business cards with a great car shot (that YOU took) at the ready. I like because you can get many different shots in the same batch.
To sum it up: do your homework, take lots of pictures, talk to people, play nice, put it out there... and be over-prepared for opportunity.

Later this week: a few shots from SEMA
*I remember you, baldy...

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