March 25, 2015 by Tina Fischer
Sean Klingelhoefer is a Los Angeles based Car Photographer who is combining both his passion for cars and for photography in his job. All his life he has been obsessed with cars and motorsport, either in his former job as an automobile mechanic or nowadays as a successful car photographer. With his experience and his know how he stands out against all other commercial car photographers and therefore works for big names like Cadillac, Porsche or big magazines like Japan’s popular Motorhead Magazine.
We talked to Sean about the key to his success, the challenges of his job and, of course, cars.
Production Paradise: What came first: Your passion for cars or for photography? When and how did you decide to combine both?
Sean Klingelhoefer: While I had an affinity for both as a young child (particularly motorsport) it really wasn’t until my teenage years that my passion grew to a level that changed the course of my life. At age sixteen I bought my first car, which I was completely obsessed with. Simultaneously I enrolled in my first photo class and from my earliest assignments onward they’ve always gone hand-in-hand. Somehow that was half my lifetime ago and I have been very fortunate to end up where I am.
Production Paradise: What do you like most about your job?
Sean Klingelhoefer: This is really difficult to answer because I like pretty much everything about my job, but I’d say it’s the uniqueness of every day that excites me the most. I tire of things very quickly and suffer from wanderlust often, so having a career that feeds my creative human needs is extremely rewarding. Every shoot is different, every car is different, every sunset is different and I find that wonderfully refreshing.
Production Paradise: In your client list we can find some brands such as Cadillac, Lexus or Nissan. What are the key elements to your success?
Sean Klingelhoefer: I think the key to my success, as simple as it may sound, was just doing what I felt was right and shooting what I loved. Since day one I’ve focused my efforts towards fast cars and motorsport because that’s where my interest lies. In hindsight that’s translated into clients who are primarily selling high-end luxury and sports cars and it’s a nice demographic to be in. The course of my entire career seemed to unfold by itself; I’ve simply been there to document it. I think if you set out to better yourself and set some loose goals you’ll find they’re very easy to accomplish so long as you love the process. To use a cheeky car metaphor, if you love driving the destination isn’t nearly as fascinating as the journey, but inevitably if you drive long enough you’ll end up somewhere completely unexpected.
Production Paradise: What is the most challenging thing as a car photographer?
Sean Klingelhoefer: I can’t speak for everyone, but for me the most challenging part of car photography is coming out with a style and point of view that is unique. Cars are notoriously difficult to shoot and require a very technical approach, but anyone can learn that stuff over time and that doesn’t excite me. I don’t care about being the most technical photographer. I don’t want to ramble on about how many grip trucks we need or state-of-the-art this and that, I’m more concerned with how the final image makes the viewer feel – how it was lit and captured is irrelevant to the end viewer. The difficulty lies in that cars have so many varying surfaces that require special attention and techniques when shooting them and that, unfortunately, means the vast majority of car advertising tends to look exactly the same. I try to accomplish all of the technical necessities that a client requires to showcase their product but to wrap it all up in a very authentic and natural looking image, something that feels more like a well executed snapshot if you will rather than a heavily retouched CGI experience. All the while, unbeknownst to the viewer, creating this “snapshot” was actually an intricate and methodical process.
Production Paradise: To what extent does your former job as an automobile mechanic influence your work and the collaboration with your clients?
Sean Klingelhoefer: Obviously being a car enthusiast offers me a unique perspective where I am potentially the photographer and the target demographic simultaneously. This allows me to shoot “the ad I would want to see” and reinforces my place in the industry. More often than not, I feel clients are choosing to work with me because of this factor and they see the benefit in working with someone who is on both sides of the fence at the same time. Aside from a technical understanding of cars, there are a host of skills that I learned wrenching on cars that can be applied to my current line of work. I’d say the main attributes I gained as a mechanic are confidence, lateral thinking and creative problem solving. The latter of which is probably one of the most overlooked abilities of great photographers because, as we all know, things rarely go exactly as we planned but regardless of on-set hardships the client’s needs remain and when you can not only find a solution but one that actually improves upon the original concept that is what will set you apart from other photographers.
Production Paradise: What is your favourite car to shoot and why?
Sean Klingelhoefer: Porsche 911. The earlier the better. I’d argue it has the most iconic silhouette of any vehicle ever made; to me it’s the French curve by which all of automotive design can be compared. It’s timeless, it’s masculine, it’s feminine and it has no bad angles. It’s equally rewarding to drive as it is to admire from outside. When people think “sportscar” this is the image they conjure, and I can only hope when they think “sportscar photography” they envision my work.
Production Paradise: You have almost 10K followers on Instagram. Is social media a must-have in nowadays industry?
Sean Klingelhoefer: To be honest I’m not sure if it’s a must-have or not. It’s undeniable that my career was steered to some degree by the Internet in various forms – Internet forums, Flickr, Tumblr and Instagram. However I don’t try to go out of my way to be a part of social media and I’m certainly not flogging my work like I see a lot of other photographers doing. I’ve never had a Facebook account and I don’t plan to, for me Instagram is just the right amount of work – I can quickly and easily share my point of view without having to worry about looking at baby pictures or what people ate for lunch. If there’s a day where I’m not shooting I’d rather be planning personal work, playing guitar or listening to music than marketing myself – that’s what my amazing rep Paige Long at Fox Creative is for. Bottom line, I think if you do great work and continue to do great work, people will catch on one way or another.
Production Paradise: You’ve been a Production Paradise member since 2012. What benefits did you get from this?
Sean Klingelhoefer: The obvious benefit is exposure. However, much like advertising itself, it’s nearly impossible to say for sure what affect the exposure is causing but overall I’ve definitely seen a positive response. It’s not the end-all-be-all but rather a valuable piece of a larger puzzle that is promotion.
We would like to thank Sean Klingelhoefer for taking the time to speak with us and giving us insights into the world of Car Photography. You can see more of his work on Production Paradise and his website.
If you want to show off your latest work to the industry in the next edition of Production Paradise’s Spotlight magazine Cars & Landscape Photography + Motion get in touch with us and send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org