Max, you sort of got your big break in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, didn’t you? … But now you take official shots for brands like Aston Martin, Porsche, Bentley and Ferrari. How did it all lead here?
I'd been shooting big wave surfing and windsurfing in the Hawaiian Islands for a few winters, then I moved to Australia and got into Ocean Yacht Racing and whilst that was great fun I knew cars and motorsport were the way forward ... I went to the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone back in the days of Ferrari ruling the races, got a few pics and made a business card, and started sending it around… I'd not really shot any cars at the time but to cut a long story short, a small publishing house gave me a break and a freelance automotive career was born. Having established myself, I took a lesser paid staff position in a car magazine really to meet the PRs and manufacturers, again great fun but sadly short-lived as the magazine was closed within two years, importantly though, I'd made some contacts and my first launch was with Bentley and the Continental GT V8 in Spain.
What does it take for someone to specialise in automotive photography, in terms of special skills and attributes, as opposed to any other photography niche?
I'm a great believer that you have to understand and enjoy the subject you shoot, and this applies to any genre of photography that you undertake — shooting cars in locations that suit the model is a skill that comes with experience but due to time and budgets this is not always possible, and there really are no hard and fast rules. For me, I am conscious about backgrounds and reflections, I see so many images that have street signs, electricity poles even other cars distracting the eye from the subject, and in so many cases this can be avoided by just moving slightly and taking a few extra seconds to look at your set-up. Equipment plays a part in capturing the action for sure but these days it's not the mega pixels that count as print reproduction has come so far. Fast lenses are a better investment than the latest 50 mega-pixel camera body. Autofocus abilities of the camera and lens system are a must although having been shooting in the days of film, the ability to manually focus on a moving subject is a great back-up skill to have.
Many of our readers would love to know how to get started in it all, maybe teenagers who are just picking up a decent camera for the first time. Can you give young enthusiasts some advice regarding how they can strive to forge a career in automotive photography?
Look at various car magazines and see the types of images they use, some favour wider angles, fuller frames and some smaller cars in great locations, then simply take a car out and start shooting — make sure the car is clean, think about the wheel position, for example if the wheels have badges or logos make sure they're the correct way up if possible. Look at your backgrounds and the height you decide to shoot at and then shoot... Build up a portfolio and be tough on your selection as it’s way better to have 10 great shots than 20 also rans, and finally, make sure you use a polarising filter all the time. Then contact a few art editors and show your book — many young photographers try to offer their services for free but I can't stress enough that this is not the way... Offer your services at a competitive rate and be confident, you will get turned down at times but stick with it and try again.
A decade ago when you were shooting cars things were quite different — how has your job changed today in a market with Instagrammers and Snapchatters and Facebookers, and particularly in this age of the ‘digital influencer’?
Having just spent a week on tour with various lifestyle bloggers and influencers for Aston Martin, the biggest thing is turn-around speed. Whilst many of them will broadcast live, having the ability to shoot and transfer an image directly from a camera is a huge plus in the world today. Where this is not possible being able to edit on the move and provide better-quality and better-composed images within a short space of time is a must. Phone cameras are getting better and better but they will never match an image in quality from a camera... We still all shoot RAW images for our clients as print demands a higher resolution but when I'm working with the online journalists I'll always shoot RAW and jpeg.
Are there any surefire rules/tips when taking a car photo that are good to follow, that you can share with us?
Not rules as such, tip. As I said earlier, a polarising filter really makes a huge difference as well as your location choice. Other than that it comes to personal preference and the style of shoot you're doing, so planning and weather research is a great help. Are you shooting for editorial, online, brochures? Will you light the shoot, will you shoot and blend multiple exposures? There are so many variables. Personally, having done all the lighting in the past I much prefer a natural and real picture shot in a good location. For me, sunrise and sunset, an hour or so either side, are the best times of day. I also prefer to shoot with a telephoto lens and I tend to shoot from low to medium height, paying attention to the stance of the car. Much of my work these days tends to be with high-performance cars, which in my opinion lends itself to this style.
What is the most beautiful piece of metal on wheels that you’ve ever shot, and what is the dream shoot that’s still out there somewhere — as in, you pick the dream car, dream location, everything…
Difficult question as I've been lucky enough to shoot with some of the finest cars in the world, jobs that stick in my mind — seven Bugatti Veyrons on tour through Dubai and Oman; six Aston Martin Vulcans at Yas Marina; the DB5 from Skyfall; a prototype DB11, which we took from Sweden to the Northern tip of Finland some 300km within the Arctic Circle; Sydney to Bathurst, and so the list just goes on, sorry! As for the future I'd give anything to take the next-generation Aston Martin Vantage to Iceland with no time pressures...