A Different Approach:
A comparison between advertising vs. sport photography

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Photo by Jefferson Graham

I have been shooting cars for over two decades, first as an advertising photographer and more recently, photographing motorsport for Rolex. The difference between the two types of photography is striking.

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When I do advertising, I bring everything to the shot and I’m almost in total control. At a race, I use all the same creative skills, but the package is reversed: I have to use the light given to me and have to wait for the moments to unfold in front of me… in short, I have no control.

One thing never changes, whether it’s a race or an advertising shoot, the cars have to have emotion and they need to look sexy; that’s our job. Now let’s take a look at these two different approaches.

For advertising, let’s imagine an action shot in the city, like one of these.

My typical crew for a shoot like this would include a producer, first assistant, second and third assistant and a digital technology manager. We also need a grip truck, motor home, rig, water truck and a car preparation/transporter (which also means you need to find a staging area not too far from the shooting spot for all those vehicles).

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The first step for mounting the rig onto the car is to establish the angle and the lens draw. This can take up to two hours, but once the rig is on, you are ready to start. The police will take care of traffic control while you take care of the car. If additional light is needed, I like to use HMI lights. When it comes to speed, we often let the car just roll along, depending on the road surface. If we need to avoid vibrations in the shot we can also pull the car with a cable. There is a fine line between having a comfortable speed verses a 200-mph look in the shot.

The cameras I use are medium format with digital backs and I will often rent a second camera and lens for the job. Seeing as the car does not have to go very far, we just go back and forth until all different speeds and effects have been captured.

Throughout the day we will review the shots with the art director and client. By the end of day we have the “hero” shots organized and a rough composite of a low-resolution file. When my clients leave the set there are no surprises.

The final step falls in the hands of the digital artist to put it all together.

We then go back and forth again until everyone is satisfied.

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In car advertising we work really hard to show motion, whereas at a race the motion is all around us. This is now very different: exciting moments are happening very fast, in split seconds, and maybe only once. You have to be ready to capture it all.

I recently shot the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and what makes this event particularly exciting is the length of the race: 24-hours long, thirteen of which are spent racing at night.

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I also like the variety of shots needed since we cover the whole event: night shots, portraits, details, ambiance, receptions, cocktail parties etc.

The crew for this type of event can vary, but typically we have an event manager, copywriter, webmaster, photographer(s) and digital photo manager(s) on-site, along with up to five translators usually working as part of the “off-site” support team. I generally have multiple photo briefs that can include an advertising focus, a PR focus and additional requests that come through the media, event manager or copywriter.

We use all these photos to create an event image gallery that accompanies press releases posted online in the team’s “virtual media centre.” The interviews, writing, editing, image selecting and editing, the posting – this is all happening at the same ferocious pace as the race.

At these kinds of events I use everything the camera has to offer in regards to top shutter speed along with low and high ISO. For the shots shown here, I used the Canon 5D and 7D, with 600mm, 100-400, 28-300, 20-135, and 16-135 lenses, then processed the images in Photo Mechanic, Photoshop and Lightroom. During a race like this, we have to move through 1200-1600 pictures a day and at the end of the event we end up with an average of 5000-6000 pictures per photographer. Once the race has ended we make a final clean up and caption all pictures, ending up with 200-1500 selected images for the archives, depending on the client’s needs.

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So each approach has its benefits and drawbacks, but in spite of all these differences at the end of the day the satisfaction is the same.

You can see more of Stephan’s work at his website.

About The Author

39 Comments

  1. Stephan, you’ve been a great teacher over the years. You taught me so much about seeing light and how to control it. The good old days of 8 x10’s and hour long exposures to get it all on piece of film. It’s great to see the fun you’re having now. Advertising has been a great experience and now i see you’re traveling the world shooting these amazing events. Good Stuff! I hope people check out your website. The sailing images are every bit as good as the car work.
    Life is Grand, thanks for sharing
    P.C.

  2. Steve, You are more than a talented, experienced photographer. You have shown to me works that the Web can only give one a glimpse of your art, and seeing your folios for real has been a source of inspiration and true admiration. -P.

  3. Fantastic photography, both his advertising photos and his “real time” work show what a great eye he has for capturing the beauty in all forms of life. His web page confirms this. Autos, people, or landscapes,Great photos!

  4. Steve,

    Great blog and I think you need to blog here on other photography as well, so the rest of us can learn more from you, you have so much to give. You are truly an inspiration.

  5. Great stuff here! I love the integrated links to see examples of the different kinds of work. Keep it up, I’m so curious to see what comes next… best of luck for Steve from a very big fan!

  6. Great article Steve. I enjoyed reading the comparison of your two different mediums.

  7. Thanks for the amazing article Steve. What a nice in-depth overview of what goes into creating such amazing photographs and advert’s for these babies. Who doesn’t love cars. And they should look good. Photographs on your website are super cool. I happened to visit your website some weeks back, glad I did !!

    5000-6000 per photographer and you got to pick 200-1500..speechless.

  8. Big mistake, very sorry…I messed up the name..sorry. It should be amazing article, Stephan. (gawd knows what I was thinking..)

    • You know when I did set foot in this great country I did started buzz….
      under Steve Cooper. Many people know me as Steve as well…
      the change of name was a re invent the all persona…..
      So no problem….

  9. WOW, that is honestly my first impression. As a novice photographer, the world which I have just glimpsed through this post by Stephan is just amazing. I already have a great deal of admiration for professional photographers but Stephan you have just bumped that admiration to a new level.

    Its all so overwhelming and beautiful at the same time.

    love it!

  10. Stephan, great blog! I wished every blogger would include a video because it makes it more personal. I love that term “hero” shots, willl have to remember that one.

    • I agree with you about the video and being more personal I enjoyed that.

      Mr. Cooper,

      I enjoyed this article I saw the word advertising and then I go sucked into your article :) I love everything about it. I love your work and your article!

      Scott,

      I hope everything is going well with you stopping by the blog to see what’s going on in here…still great content as always :)


      DT.
      Nassau, Bahamas | Miami, Florida

      • Dwayne,
        I’m glad you did enjoyed my video(sooooo much work)
        But your comments made it worth it…
        Thanks.
        Stephan

    • Thank you for your kind comments….
      Regards,
      Stephan

  11. Stephan, What an honor to get a glimpse into the brilliant, talented, artistic and creative world inside your brain. I’m always curious as to “the process” of photography and now I know a little bit more about what you’re doing when you’re not in the media center editing. Thank you for this fascinating post – the video was a fantastic addition.

  12. I always admired the photography that you see in the brochures at Car dealers… Beautiful… Now a face and a name to go with the amazing shots. Congratulations – Thank You for sharing here.

  13. Stephan…I loved the video touch on your blog. What a great way to display your art. Nice work.

  14. Finally! An automotive photographer as guest blogger! I’m feeling ultra inspired this morning so thank you, Stephen!

    I hate to admit, I had not heard of Stephen until now but I’m pretty new in the game so that’s not surprising. He is my new idol now though. Absolutely loving the advertising work and hope that one day I can be even a fraction as good.

    Thank you inspiring this newbie automotive photographer.

  15. Very cool post.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Beautiful work…

  16. Details,details,details. Stephan you have demonstrated what it takes to produce beautiful images and create the emotional that you have planned. Even the video shows the care you take in your work. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Stephan,

    Thanks for sharing your approach to automotive photography. You’ve DEFINITLY stimulated my juices in this genre of photography. The video depicting the differences b/w advertising and racing shoot environments was so educative. Kudos, sir. Your website is a joy to view. All the best to you!

    Cheers,

    -Ade

  18. Stephan,

    Good work! It sure keeps you busy. I like shooting sports & action and have done very well in a few cases.

    In 1962 I attended the 24 hours of Sebring and it was not easy to be a spectator let alone trying to photograph an event like that. Steve McQueen raced in that one and was the most popular driver even though there were many top racers participating.

    Good luck with your next event.

    Frank Goroszko

  19. As shocking and intensive as the races may be, whole loads of info, delivered in an strict- direct-fast form, have to digest it still. Thanks for sharing.

  20. I have been following Steve Cooper’s work for almost 25 years and it has always been stunning. We are both car nuts but Steve’s non automotive photography is as interesting and expressive as his car work. I strongly suggest that you visit Steve’s website as listed in the blog and see what breadth this man presents to you with all of his art!

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