Shoot First: An Interview With Automotive Photographer Kevin McCauley
We get personal with a talented automotive photographer.
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Welcome to the inaugural post in an ongoing series of interviews with some of the best photographers in the world. Our first subject is Kevin McCauley, a Texas-based automotive photographer whose work has been featured by Houston's CultureMap as well as Jalopnik and he's even shot for Cadillac.
Who are you?
I'm a Houston-based photographer and designer specializing mostly in cars. What fascinates me about this medium is using techniques to create imagery that looks different from what the naked eye sees. Processing, strobes, light-painting, using a rig-mount setup—they're all sort of a visual "2+2=5" equation. You see the setup and you see the shot, but the result feels like something else entirely. I love that, it feels like magic.
How long have you been a photographer?
I took a lot of photo classes in college while completing my design degree, but never loved shooting for school assignments. It was a couple years later that I started shooting work samples for my graphic design portfolio, and learned off-camera flash, that I got really into it. I started to experiment with bringing the strobes outside, and somehow it all kind of merged with my lifelong automotive obsession, and I've been shooting cars since 2010 or 2011.
What is your process when you shoot a vehicle?
Usually I have a location in mind, which itself can be a challenge because the part of Texas I live in isn't known for its beautiful landscapes. For editorial projects, I set up and look for the angles that feel 'right' and let the shots sort of come to me, it's pretty organic. In the past, I tried to work with my lighting setup so that I got the whole shot how I wanted it in-camera, and then moved to the next, mostly improvised shot. I've stayed away from doing composites, but that's changed lately. Now I've been planning more, keeping the camera in a fixed position and trying a lot more with the lighting. I end up with fewer, richer final shots. It's been interesting to explore, and while I see some drawbacks, there is greater control and more room for growth.
What cameras do you shoot with?
I mostly shoot with my Nikon D800. It does pretty much everything I want it to, and astonishingly well. I also recently acquired a Rolleiflex TLR — it's simply in a different league from any other camera I have used. The way it functions and feels, it’s simply gorgeous. So much thought was put into the way everything moves and clicks and operates; it's no coincidence that it functions perfectly 60 years later.
What accessories can't you live without?
My PocketWizard Plus II/Plus III flash triggers. They’re bulletproof, and aside from remembering to change the AA batteries occasionally, I don’t have to ever think about them. Lately I’ve been using them as a remote camera trigger as well, and it's the best remote shutter system I’ve ever used.
Now I can be standing anywhere, trigger a PW in my hand, it sends the signal to the one on the camera, which then triggers the lights and takes the shot. It’s incredible. Not having to hover around the camera frees me up to try different things or explore new angles. When the flash goes off, I might see how the light reacts to something on the car's bodywork that I wouldn't have seen if I were standing behind the lens, and I can explore that.
Which photographers do you most admire?
James Lipman is my favorite automotive shooter, his style is so crisp and refreshing. It seems too good to be real, but somehow avoids looking fake, if that makes sense. He picks superb, unexpected angles and perspectives, and brings out the life in the machines he photographs. I also love Laurent Nivalle, he's got such a brilliant eye for beauty and his work just oozes cool. His portfolio seamlessly weaves fashion and motor racing— unbelievable.
What's your favorite photograph you've ever taken?
For any photo to be a favorite, it has to surprise me a bit. Most photos of mine have lost any sense of surprise after reviewing, editing, uploading, and seeing them over and over again. Oddly, the ones on Instagram still offer some surprise, since I only remember them as brief moments. So, maybe this one:
What's your dream project?
I'd love to spend a week or two driving a car across the southwest and create beautiful images along the way. I'd bring 2-3 friends, with different ideas on creating art, and with just a rough agenda we'd collaborate and make some exciting things. We'd stop at all the places you see that you would usually drive past if you were heading to a specific destination and didn’t have time. We'd create a series of images that tells a story.
If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Can I say two things? Never waste an opportunity. If you make the most of it, it will lead you to more. And also, get out and be inspired. Find work out there that you love and find out what makes it great. I spent way too long in sort of an inspiration vacuum unaware of what I was missing.
Check out more of Kevin's work on his personal website.