Readers have been reaching out to me via social media and email, both thanking me for these posts, and asking some very good questions. I thought I’d answer some below in the hopes of sharing knowledge. Here we go…

Did you go to school to learn the technical aspects of automotive photography? Very curious how it all started for you – Sue_f87m2

Although I had a slight advantage compared to a typical person just starting out because I went to The School of Visual Arts for graphic design, for this specific purpose, my training before picking up a camera was zero.

During the day I’m an art director for an advertising agency in New Jersey, and I’ve been a graphic designer for 15 years at various agencies. Photography is one part of what I do, but it also includes designing, writing copy, coding websites, and on-set art direction for other photographers and videographers.

I’ve always loved cars, and I had been looking for a way to bring that passion into my career. Once I had my E92 M3 in 2010, I fell in love with the brand and looked for ways to design for them. BMW is based in New Jersey, so I found advertising agencies that worked with them and before long found myself designing brochures, vouchers and websites. Writing about the topic came natural as well thanks to years of car magazine reading.

As far as photography goes, I’ve said how I bought a basic D5200 at Costco in 2012 and basically never looked back, teaching myself and practicing with my own cars. After searching for stock photography, or wishing I could find images from BMW that suited what I needed for my designs, I just decided to start making my own.

Though it’s dated, you can see some of what I’ve done at the current BMW Performance Center website, including design, art direction and copy writing. A new one, with my own images, will be released soon. One other example are the digital M books on BMWUSA, which I’ve designed and written.

Regardless of whether it’s through an agency or on my own, I’ve never been afraid to ask for the opportunity to do the work. Once you feel confident in your abilities, you shouldn’t either.

Is there any 1 car atop a bucket list for you to shoot? What’s your favorite shot to date? What hardware do you use for your editing? And will you consider taking on an apprentice? – mdpphoto

Working with cars all the time can make you somewhat jaded to them. A Lambo Aventador is an awesome, beautiful car, but after spending so much time around them, you become used to them. Yes, sometimes M cars too.

But what still geeks me out the most? 90s Japanese coupes like the Supra, 300ZX, and my favorite, the Mitsubishi 3000GT. All are rare, so you almost never see them at a show, and all are older with much less aftermarket support than a 911 enjoys, so seeing a clean one is also rare. For me, a dream shoot would be with a 99 VR-4 in and around New York City. Right now, the only place I can do that is inside an ancient Gran Turismo video game.

I edit on an 10-core iMac Pro with 64GB of RAM and an 8GB Vega card. I have attached an Apple Thunderbolt display to the iMac and hope to get a third monitor in the future. No, you don’t need such a big machine to edit – the Nikon Z7 files are large, and I edit in RAW while always using smart objects, but even a base iMac can handle Photoshop images, albeit not as fast. A camera with fewer megapixels will produce smaller files, and be much easier to handle.

Picking an all-time favorite shoot would be difficult, but if I had to pick just one image, it would be the E92 against a backdrop of the NYC skyline. I had that image in my head for years, literally, and being able to achieve it from planning through retouching is something I’m very proud of.

BMW E92 M3
What is probably my favorite shot ever. The fact that the car was identical to my own just happened to be fate I guess.

An apprentice? Probably not, if only because I couldn’t give you my full attention while shooting. However, private lessons are available. Email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com if you’d like to know more.

You’ve done what I hope to do, combining design and photography with your automotive passion. I’m a 22 year old business school graduate who will be returning to school next fall to earn my master’s in Graphic Design. I’m hoping to make the most of my time as I wait for that semester to begin. Do you have any advice on how I could make this time productive? Or any advice in general? I hope to end up in a similar position as you, so I figured you could be a great resource. – Seth

Congratulations on making a move to do what you love Seth! If you’re just starting out, I would do three things right away:

  • Buy a decent camera
  • Buy a decent computer
  • Buy a Photoshop license

It’s possible you have some of these already, so you might be halfway there. But from here, it’s just practice. There are no short cuts. Learn how to use the camera, aim it at your car in a scene, and shoot! Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, we all do in the beginning (and I still do). Turn on Photoshop and play with it – that’s always the best way to learn.

There are also online courses you can take to help, one being from Easton Chang, which I found excellent and one of the few I recommend.

As far as school goes, it can make learning your craft easier, and faster, but the trade off isn’t always worth it. I have no Master’s degree in design, and never taken a single photo course, but I have the experience. But, I will also admit that the name “SVA” got my initial foot in the door of an agency. Like anything else, balance your experience and education together, work hard, and you’ll get there.

Feel free to email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions.

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