Anyone who wants a high-quality photograph of a prized automobile quickly finds that geting it is not a simple task. It generally takes strobe lighting by the megawatts, a huge photo studio, a 4-by-5 camera--or somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000 to pay a professional to do it.
If you want to spend a lot less--and you're not a commercial enterprise--Kelly Herrin will do the whole job for about $350. Herrin operates what he calls the largest one-man photography studio on the West Coast, an 8,000-square-foot operation in Santa Ana that will accommodate any size automobile and is always set up to take a picture of one.
His busiest times for personal auto shoots (which represent about 5% of his business) are Valentine's Day and Christmas, when women want to have their pictures taken with their husbands' or boyfriends' cars. In fact, almost 70% of his car portraits for individual customers are taken for these holidays, he said.
It takes about 90 minutes for Herrin to photograph a car. Herrin's setup includes a Sinar 4-by-5 inch camera, a 4-foot-high custom-built light bank, eight strobe heads of 1,000-watt seconds each, and a black backdrop.
First, the car is wiped down and its chrome is polished. The tires are placed on blocks and rotated to get the logos on the hubcaps right side up. Baby powder is then put on the windshield to catch the light.
Herrin then shoots a Polaroid to make sure everything is in its proper place. He takes the final shots--an average of 10--with the 4-by-5 camera.
Herrin, who is now 28, opened the studio in 1984. He has a varied background that includes modeling, sales and training as a race-car driver and mechanic.
And he is quick to credit his success to his knowledge of sales principles. "A lot of guys who come from a fine arts school background are lacking in the skills to sell their commercial and advertising photographs," he said. "That's where I'm fortunate. Commercial photography is about 60% sales, 20% business and 20% photography. A lot of the guys who go to Brooks (Photographic Center in Santa Barbara) or Art Center (College of Design in Pasadena) are excellent photographers technically, but not much into sales.
"You have to realize that you are self-employed. That's what separates the successful photographers from the unsuccessful photographers. You are selling an intangible. It's not like going door to door with a vacuum cleaner; you're selling them an idea that you're going to create an image that's going to help sell their product."
For those who want to improve their own photographs of cars, Herrin offers a couple of tips:
Choose as simple background. It should have one or two elements at the most. A brick wall and a gravel street, for example, are enough. Although you might want to shoot at a park (many people do), that background will create unwanted clutter in your picture.
Shoot on overcast days or just before sunrise or after sunset so as to avoid getting a reflection of the sun on the car. Under these lighting conditions, you will need to use filters to correct for the bluish cast.