You do it, I do it, we all do it. You see that gorgeous new Italian supercar or custom built muscle car at your local Cars and Coffee event. Naturally, after staring at its lines of beauty, you whip out your cell phone, or digital camera and take a picture. It’s something many of us do and for me it led me to a hobby and passion that I pursue today, and will continue to improve on in the future. Also as a car enthusiast, browsing the likes of Jalopnik, Speedhunters, Stanceworks, etc. was something to do on a daily basis. And all of these had something in common: fantastic automotive images. Combine the inspiration these sites provided via stunning photography, the local car meet with tons of gorgeous automobiles, and the start of my photography hobby, and I knew entering the world of automotive media would be my next passion.
Every weekend was spent improving my skills in composition and finding the lines and angles that made these cars beautiful. However it wasn’t until nearly a year later that I discovered the many other people who shared the same passion in the automotive photography community. A good friend of mine, who ran a popular Instagram automotive photography account and who, like me, shared a new found passion in this art, pushed me to create an Instagram account myself, as he believed it could give my work the exposure it deserved. Now, both of us knew at the time that this social media platform would in no way lead to anything like a professional career in automotive photography, but it was a great starting place given its popularity, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it. Upon the creation of my account (Which you can find here) I found that many other people around the world were doing the same thing I was. Accounts with hundreds, thousands, even hundreds of thousands of followers. With varying style, follower count and skill levels, what I had come across was the Instagram car culture.
So who are these people anyways? Well the majority of them, like me, are teenagers from all over the world who have a passion for cars and have taken up photography to share on social media with car enthusiasts and other photographers like them. But why photography? One could argue that its because of Instagram, which bases the sharing of news from others strictly through photos. Plus, who doesn’t like seeing cool car photos on social media, right? But others have a different theory. Let’s look at a few influential people in the automotive media industry, specifically, Youtube. I’m sure a lot of you have heard of Youtubers by the names of Shmee150, BrianZuk, Marchettino, etc. Or if we go back to Instagram, popular semi-professional automotive photographers such as Alex Penfold, Gordon Cheng or Spencer Berke. These are people have been in the automotive media community long before the rise of the Instagram Photographer, and have built up a reputation and following because of their skills and opportunities. If we take Youtuber Shmee150 (Tim Burton) for example; he is a supercar owner and car spotter in England who makes videos of the experiences he has with exotic cars, as well as cars of his own. The success of his Youtube channel has grown him a huge fan base, with subscribers traveling long distances to meet him or see his cars. So what does this have to do with Instagram? Well photographers like myself, who see the media created by Shmee150 or any of the other Youtubers/photographers, think: “Well, if they can make a living or become successful doing something I love doing too, why can’t I do it as well?” Countless teenagers seeing the media of these semi-professionals decide that they too can have the fame and followers if they pick up a camera and start taking pictures.
Now before I continue I want to say that I do respect people with this mindset. I appreciate that people are willing to take up this passion that I share and I have made friends through social media from all over the world because of this.
But here is where the problem arises. These teenagers, picking up cameras their parents bought them for Christmas, start their automotive Instagram pages, and go out to their local Cars and Coffee event to start taking photos. Now this can lead to a whole new problem entirely, which I may cover in a separate article. But for now, there really is no problem with this. If anything it’s exposing more people of a younger generation to expand or create a passion for cars. The problem really becomes apparent when these teenagers begin uploading their content to their respective social media pages. In my three years being a part of the automotive photography community, I have seen the amount of accounts grow from a few hundred (the number was obviously in the thousands, however I only want to take into consideration established, active accounts that post at least semi-regular content with a few hundred followers or more, because in this community, less than that and your account is more or less considered dead) to an overwhelmingly insane amount. I cannot emphasize enough how massive the community has grown in the past three years. Now of course this does mean much more content, many of it being quality. It has created many semi-professional and fantastic photographers who would never have been known without this social media platform. However, in a world where all accounts are created equal, and your popularity is not based on your skill, but the amount of irrelevant hashtags you add, there comes the issue of exposure. I’m willing to estimate that at least 70% of these people actually have no idea what they’re doing. They have no sense for composition, barely understand how the functions of their DSLR work, and don’t understand that you can’t be a professional simply from taking an amateur photo of an Aventador at a car show with your Canon T3 and kit lens. A majority of them believe that anyone can be pro as long as you have the equipment. But as any experienced photographer knows, skill and composition always comes before quality. And that composition is what these people lack. Yes, there will be people who argue that “these people are just starting out, and I’m sure you were just as bad when you began, give them some slack.” To this I agree. I was at one point just as bad as these people, and worked my skills up to where I am now. However to counter your argument, a large percentage of these photographers who I’ve watched develop over a number of years, have not improved their skill whatsoever. Their cameras get more expensive, but their skills? Barely. Now, I don’t expect them to have perfect compositional skills and amazing editing talent, but I’m tired of seeing the same. exact. shot. every. single. time. None of them realize that automotive photography is more than just a picture of a cool car, it’s just like any other form of photography and takes experience and improvement over time.
I get direct messages quite often on my Instagram account, with people asking how they can improve, or if I can give them tips on their photography. I always try to give my best advice when these messages come up, so by no means do I want all these photographers to quit immediately and leave room for everyone else. However, by offering tips or sharing things we’ve learned about editing, I hope that more people realize they cannot advance with basic composition and editing. But it’s the stubbornness of these people, not willing to go to others for tips because they believe they’re “too good”, “don’t like that person’s style” or “He’s too good to learn from I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.” These are all things I have heard in the community and I personally can’t understand this mindset.
But the biggest issue with this, and the main point of my argument, is that your typical car owner, who wants to reach out to a photographer and get pictures of their car, does not understand the difference between these unskilled car show photographers and those with real talent and experience. If you ask any semi-professional/talented automotive photographer for a photoshoot, they’ll typically charge anywhere from $50 to $500. But these Instagram photographers? They’ll be excited to take photos of anything other than stuff at their local show. Because being able to say “I’ve done a photoshoot with a car” in this new social media based car community is a proud achievement...apparently. As a result, these photographers won’t charge a penny for their work (Not that they deserve it, but that’s being a little mean, isn’t it?). If you were a car owner looking for a photoshoot, and assumed everyone was the same skill level, would you pay the money for someone to take photos, or choose from the deep pool of those willing to do it for free? This is where the death of the community begins. The skilled, talented, experienced photographers are being drowned out by thousands of people who don’t expect a cent from their work. So when an owner does approach a specific person to do their photos because they believe their work is superior, they now question themselves as to whether it’s really worth the extra money over the other 20 people in the area that do it for free. This means there is no longer any work for those who shoot for pay, and it’s no longer worth being involved in the community. Plus there is always the handful of humble, skilled automotive photographers, who, like the semi-pros, charge for shoots, but are not nearly as popular as the Instagram users, and are completely ignored because they choose not to participate in the chaos that is Instagram. I’ve met several of these people myself, who have amazing skills, but aren’t recognized nearly as much as they should be because kids with cameras posting bright orange Mclarens with every single hashtag you could think of is getting more likes. I’ve seen many talented and experienced photographers simply drop out of the scene because they could no longer compete with the endless amounts of amateurs and their free prices.
So what about the future of the automotive photography community? The way I see it, these amateurs will eventually upgrade their equipment, and possibly improve their skills a bit, but I don’t see this trend of automotive photographers dying out any time soon. It’ll be an issue those with skill will have to find a way to work around. I’m not personally putting myself on the side of semi-professional photographers, because I do not have a huge following, nor do I have the level of skill, but I completely understand their annoyance with the community and willingness to abandon their passion because of this.
(Lead image photo credit: Rally Ways, all other photos are mine)