We all love taking pictures of our cars, especially when they’re freshly washed and waxed, but becoming a professional car photographer takes more than a smartphone and a couple of strategically placed Instagram filters. If you want to take your show on the road — pun only partially intended — and become a professional automotive photographer, here are a few things to keep in mind.
For most professions, your first step might be heading back to school, but that isn’t the case for automotive photography. Sure, a photography degree might look good on your resume, but many of the best automotive photographers are self-taught. DW Burnett, who has shot the covers of prestigious publications like Road & Track magazine, is entirely self-taught.
If you’re a total newbie to the world of photography, taking a couple of classes might be useful. If you know your way around a DSLR camera, you’ve got all the tools you need … well, almost all of them.
Expect to Invest in Good Equipment
While your iPhone might take pretty good pictures, they aren’t the high-resolution images you’ll need to succeed as a car photographer. If you don’t already have a good camera, expect to spend some serious coin on the equipment you’ll need. You might even want more than one — a camera for still shots and one for motion, or one that is designed for low-light photography so you don’t wash out the colors of a car with the camera flash.
For beginners, a good DSLR camera should round all the bases, because it gives you the option to adjust your exposure depending on the situation. If you’re going to do this professionally, it’s a good idea to have extra lenses or flash tools to help you get the perfect shot.
It’s More Art Than Science
You can take every photography class known to man and still not be able to compose a professional photograph. That’s because it’s not just something that can be taught. Car photography is as much art as it is science, and if you can’t reconcile the two sides, it becomes difficult to succeed in the field.
There is also more to it than just taking good pictures. It’s up to the photographer to do his or her research, to discover what is special about each car and what makes it great, and turn that vehicle into a great photograph. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the newest or highest-quality car — you can turn a photo of a junker into a prize-winning piece with the right tools and a touch of artistry.
While you can send your resume and portfolio to magazines around the world, this isn’t an industry that will normally hire you sight-unseen, even if your work is exquisite. The only way to get your foot in the door is to start networking, and that means getting out of the house.
Start traveling to car shows and talking to other photographers. Put the best photograph you’ve ever taken on your business cards and hand them out like they’re going out of style. You might not get a lot of callbacks, but you don’t need to worry about the ones that you don’t receive — just the ones you do. Take your portfolio with you but only bring it out if someone asks you about it.
You can take the best pictures in the world, but they don’t mean much if no one gets to see them but you and a few close friends.
Don’t Give Up
The last piece of advice that we can give you is not to give up. This is not an easy industry to get into. It requires skill, money, networking and more than a little luck, so if your first leads don’t pan out, keep trying. If this is something you really love to do, don’t give up and you might be able to turn it from a hobby or a side-gig into a full-blown career.