Photographer Spotlight Robert Kerian
Robert Kerian is one of our Los Angeles based photographers, enjoying the sun and great weather with a selection of automotive photography, and portraiture. With clients such as Lexus and Infinity, Robert’s high end auto portfolio puts him at the top of the game with some of the biggest clients out there. We were lucky enough to sit down and ask a few questions of him, and enjoy the images he shared with us.
As someone who got into photographing motorcycles in a backwards sort of way, I have to ask: Why automotive photography? Was it shooting friends’ cars and it snowballed from there, or did you have a different way for getting in?
No, I actually never set out to be a car photographer. I have always had a real love of cars and racing, but car photography seemed so unattainable. I really didn’t know much about car photography, other than it was impossible to do unless you knew the ins and outs of it, and had a way in. Anyways, to make a long story short, I was a Gaffer (lighting director) for films, and I got really hurt on set. The Workers compensation program sent me back to school, and I picked photography because of my love of light. It just so happens around this time my half-brother’s half-sister’s husband (yeah… it sounds crazy complex) Todd Johnson was shooting cars and needed help doing his book. I worked for him for a while as he was shooting and producing for Clint Clemens. An opportunity opened up with Clint and I jumped at the opportunity. I worked for Todd and Clint for a few years, and built my car book along the way. An Art Buyer, Sally Mars saw my book and told me to drop everything and start shooting full time. With 10 test shots in the book a rep picked me up and got me some global campaigns with Volvo, Mercedes, VW and few others. I guess I got really lucky. I don’t think I could do that nowadays.
How much prep and planning goes into your style of shooting? A lot of the major brands like Land Rover are turning to more of a lifestyle, minimal gear approach, and with CGI coming into the industry, it almost seems like the big budget, big name shoots are going the way of the dinosaur. Do you find yourself working more minimally? Or is it a big production with lots of strobes and reflectors?
Each job is different. I will saw that there is no substitute for planning and prep. Each shoot we do we produce, and scout, and tech scout until we actually shoot. Countless hours go into each shot, which is not counting post and retouching. I like to work minimally when I can, but each job has its own needs. Sometimes, natural light won’t cut it. I have to light the entire scene. With CGI things have been cut… but only in some areas. Big shoots still exist. On any given job I do like to have a team of assistants and a truck packed with gear for piece of mind. That way, I know I have the gear to adapt to whatever the scene needs. If it’s cloudy for instance, I need to light the car.
Why Capture Integration? What made you choose us?
You guys give great support. You guys were there, were very accommodating, and gave me incredible support. You came and brought me a demo back on a shoot, and that meant a lot to me. You guys are perfect for pro shooters, and don’t sell Instagram cameras to the masses. I’m a pro and I was looking for a pro company to give my business to.
Why the upgrade to medium format? What made you pick the Phase One IQ250?
I have been shooting large and medium format for so many years. First, it was 4×5, then a Pentax 6×7, then a Fuji-680. When the medium format sensors came out over 10 years ago, I dumped my cameras and got a Phase One P45+ back for the Contax 645 system. I still use the Contax as it has the sharpest glass. To my knowledge it’s the only medium format glass Zeiss ever made. The IQ250 is best back I have ever used. Maybe it lacks HUGE mega pixels, but so what? It has everything I need, and more. 15 stops dynamic range. Wi-FI tethering, the ability to tether while I shoot. Live view. It rocks. Just before the IQ250 purchase, I was trash talking Phase One because of the price, and I went out and bought a Pentax 645Z system. I returned it the next day. The cost of the IQ250 is worth every cent because it is a professional digital back, not a gimmick camera.
Do you find yourself shooting more for CGI applications? How’s the industry headed for car photography?
The end the world is here. Yes, It will all go CGI soon. Mercedes is doing about 95% of all its ads with CGI now. I hate it, but whatever. Maybe I’ll start shooting naked girls or something.
What’s the difference in your mentality between studio and location shooting? How do you approach each one differently?
I actually approach them the same in regards to lighting. I like to know where my source is, establish it, and then fill in from there. When I shoot on location, and lose track of where the sun is, I go a bit insane. Once I know where the sun is, I’m good. I try to think of this in the studio.
What’s currently in your bag? What are you shooting with, what are the go to essentials on your sets, or even for when you’re editing or lighting?
Phase One IQ250
Contax 100 macro
Canon 5D Mark III
Pocket Wizards MAX and the Plus systems
Really-Right-Stuff ball head
Modern Studio Equipment Grip
Arri 1200 Par HMI’s
I use a light I modified from Home depot and we call it the ‘Chopper.
I use my Mac Pro on every project.
So, the go-to stuff I use on every job and can literally shoot any job with:
I see that you’re shooting a lot of motorsport and action as well as still life shoots. They’re so wildly different in approach (reacting vs creating, etc.) Do you see a lot of crossover in clients who want motorsport/moving images vs the still work?
There’s no direct tie-in other than I love racing. But the problem with racing is that the money isn’t there anymore. I do see a lot of lifestyle and cars crossing over. I guess they want human connection to the cars.
You have a large films section of your website…how are you seeing the convergence of motion and photography affect your clients’ requests in the automotive photography side of the game?
It’s really a side thing. I think the whole cross-over thing has mellowed out. When the 5D Mark II cameras came out, everyone was like, “This is the answer to the world’s problems.” I know a few failed photographers who got a second life out the convergence of film and print, but yeah, whatever. It was great but the best directors are directors. I shoot video but my passion is in the single image.
What are you driving yourself these days? My interactions with bike or car photographers usually reveals they either love cars in their personal time, or hate them (strangely enough.) Are you driving anything fun? Has it featured in any shoots?
I drive an older BMW M3. It’s falling apart. I have a Toyota Landcruiser for work. I’m restoring an old 1971 Alfa GTV for fun. That car is my passion, and takes up a lot of money and spare time. I think I’ll get it done in about a year (I hope.) If I keep buying photo gear It will never get done, hah!
This last one is nothing do with the blog, but I have a soft spot for German Shepherds. How’s the rescue going? Given the high intelligence of the dogs, how’s the traveling for photography going with a high energy, pack conscious dog?
HAHAH My dog, Disco, she’s the best. She is great, but she really thinks she is a human. She is a great dog, and loves to go on shoots. German Shepherds are very needy dogs. She needs a lot of attention. Each day I leave the house, she goes crazy and tears the place apart. It’s ok though…I still love her.
You can see more of Robert Kerian’s work below: