Browsing Brian Garland's auto photography portfolio is like walking into a future where the angles and lines of new models converge with grace and poise, and where everything has that new-car smell. You can almost feel the coolness of the metal, take in the machine-oil-scented atmosphere of the set, and hear the low growl of the cylinders as they work in synchronized harmony. The cars look sexy—and that's the plan.
With a client list that includes most major automotive manufacturers, Garland is on track to keep growing as he helps them promote their latest offerings. On the road and in the studio, Garland photographs cars with passion, technical precision, and the learned business expertise that keeps him busy year-round, in the States and overseas.
The Road to Success
Garland's photography has always featured prominently in his life, though he's sure it's his love of the job that's gotten him to where he is today. And he likes to dispel any ideas that his career may be the result of being an expert on the cars he works with.
"I'm not a gear head—I couldn't tell you how a car works," Garland laughs. "To make cars great photography subjects, though, what I look at are the lines, the paint, and the car's attitude. I ask myself how I'll bring life to the car. I want to make it look sexy, like it's a beautiful model."
To create that edgy look (what some of his clients refer to as "that Brian look"), Garland applies a process that's never failed him. "My philosophy is simple," Garland says. "I just approach every job as a new experience, as something I've never done before or never tried before. I enjoy a large, multilevel production on a new set, a tough situation, and long hours. A challenge. From that, I focus a lot of positive energy, which includes believing in myself, on the shoot."
The payoff of that philosophy speaks for itself, but he's quick to remind that it takes more to excel in the business of commercial automobile photography.
Garland feels it is also a matter of how you present yourself, whether you're a portraitist, a small-product shooter, or a car photography specialist. Precision and confidence are character aspects he considers pluses to his clients, and emphasizes that arrogance is not something he's seen well received in the industry.
"No matter where you are in your career, people appreciate integrity and hard work. I know I'm hard on myself, and I expect a lot from other people working with me, but in the end, we're all on the same page, looking to make the best image possible."
And, as in any business, the better the interaction between photographer and clients, Garland suggests, the better you're likely to do. "When developing a foundation with a manufacturer, it's often a lot about relationships—relationships between the photographer, the rep, and the agency and art directors," he says. "If you've worked for someone in the past, and they know someone, it's a small network. If you're honest and hard-working and really want to work with an agency and client as a team, they will see that. My livelihood depends on being able to make those relationships flourish."
Start Your Engines
Initiating shoots for a manufacturer's ad campaign or brochure begins the slow dance of preparation. Once his bid for a project has been accepted, Garland starts talks with the ad agency's art director for consultation and direction.
"Location scouting is an extremely important part of the job," Garland says. "It can be a simple location that I mold with lighting or a whole lot more. Whether I use natural or supplemental lighting, the idea is to bring the set alive. Sometimes we're waiting for the right time of day, looking for backlight and shafts of light for details. Other times we're starting with a blank canvas, creating the atmosphere artificially to bring out the character of the car.
"Outdoors, we position the car for the available sunlight, hanging black cloth to reduce or eliminate [features] that would show up in reflective surfaces, or even taking care of it in post-processing. Often, though, I'm using Kino Flo tube lighting for many of the shots, giving a beautiful glow to a car and adding character."
Some of the bigger challenges on location are that you actually need to work faster, which can give way to some happy accidents. "It's a very narrow window for success," Garland says. "But I love that shooting where there's little to no ambient light. This allows you to not only sculpt the car, but the environment, too."
Though one may think that shooting such aesthetically perfect, though vulnerable, cars might spawn some tragic tales, Garland assures that he's never had an unfortunate ending.