Five Photography Tips: Sean Klingelhoefer

Automotive photographer Sean Klingelhoefer is a former mechanic. His deep regard for all things automotive has helped shape his craft, new career, and photographic subject matter. He was kind enough to take the time to participate in our ongoing Five Photography Tips series. Here is his advice on the art and practice.

©Sean Klingelhoefer

1. Invest wisely.
One mistake many photographers make is buying copious amounts of cheap gear. While this can be necessary at times, most of you will learn you really do get what you pay for. If you invest in solid gear now, you’ll be using it for the rest of your career. It might seem like a lot of money up front, but by the time you replace your broken knock-off gear three times, the good stuff would have already paid for itself. An added bonus is the good stuff, like PocketWizard radios, work every time and often offer substantial freedom (added range, for example) over lesser products.

2. Know your subject.
Understanding what you’re shooting—and more importantly, lighting—might sound like common sense, but for many it isn’t. I often see people using the wrong types of light shaping tools for their subject, either because they got fooled into thinking they needed a certain piece of kit or they simply don’t understand the way the subject reacts to light. Shooting cars is particularly tricky due to the variances in textures (glass, chrome, metallic paint, rubber, carbon, etc.) and often different portions of the car need to be lit separately.

©Sean Klingelhoefer

3. Shadows are important.
These days photographers, even newcomers, are putting more emphasis than ever into artificial lighting, which is great. What isn’t great is many of them are more concerned with having an impressive kit than learning how to use light properly. Photographers are often thinking of where the light is and forget what is equally as important is where the light isn’t. Just because you’re using strobes doesn’t automatically make a photograph interesting. A complex balance of highlights and shadows is what creates drama.

4. Following motivation.
Motivation is the term photographers give to the direction of light in a scene, which is very important and also often overlooked. While it can look great to shoot into the sun and then create tension going against it with strobes, it needs to be well thought out or it will appear too unnatural. Extra attention should be paid to any voids between multiple light sources (i.e. the sun and a strobe), as quite often bizarre looking cross-shadows will result. I find it’s usually best to go with the grain in terms of your main key light source rather than to fight it, but again there are exceptions to every rule.

©Sean Klingelhoefer

5. Less is more.
It’s all too easy to get stuck into a routine and forget sometimes simplicity can work just as well, if not better. If you find yourself looking at a subject lit by the sun that looks great, don’t find an excuse to bring out the big lights, just leave them in the case. Furthermore, while it might look cooler in your behind-the-scenes video to have ten lights set up, often times one properly placed light will actually be more interesting.

©Sean Klingelhoefer

Special thanks to Sean for his eloquent insights into what makes him passionate about automotive photography, and his willingness to share with our readers. You can see more of Sean Klingelhoefer’s work on his site, his blog, and on Instagram.

All images and quotes in this post are used with permission and are ©Sean Klingelhoefer, all rights reserved. This story is ©PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or re-post elsewhere without written permission.

Bookmark and Share

One Response to “Five Photography Tips: Sean Klingelhoefer”

  1. CV says:

    I don´t like that rims and fronts are dark. Maybe making of pictures would be more interesting…

  2. […] PocketWizard guest blog… by Sean Klingelhoefer on Sep 13, 2012 • 2:13 am No Comments Very excited to be able to contribute to PocketWizard’s “Five Photography Tips” section on their blog. I’ve been in touch with the guys for a while but I finally got around to putting something together for them. Thanks again to Ron Egatz and the rest of the crew at the MAC Group! Make sure to check out my tips here! […]

  3. chris says:

    The cars look great. I think that it takes a lot of work to keep them in such good condition.