Published on May 31st, 2011 | by mrgrumpyninja4
Life through a lens…12 rounds with a pro-tographer
When I first decided I wanted to do this 12 Rounds interview gig, I was hoping that I’d get some insightful shit happening, some real no holds barred just say what you feel stuff. I thought long and hard about who I wanted to talk to and one man whom I have gotten to know a little over the past few years is Parkside head snapper Adam Croy.
Adam intrigues me, as he has a little bit of an aura of a dark tortured artist, and if you don’t know him, you might think hes possibly the angriest man on earth….actually maybe he is…you can decide.
MGN went 12 rounds with what I would hazard a guess at is the New Zealand automotive communities most viewed photographer. I personally found it a very interesting interview and I trust you will to.This interview is 100% unedited at Adam’s request , and you start to get a feel for the creative soul and dry humor that reside within a very very talented man, with more than a little to say about things he loves.As perhaps expected, Adam provided his own images, which I placed throughout the interview, with all images being supplied as part of the answer to his favorite images question.
Adam, most of us see your name all the time, but probably can’t place it. You’re the man who produces most of the images adorning the pages of NZPC, NZV8, NZCC and other publications. Tell us how you got into being a “pro-tographer” ?
Are you saying people don’t know me? I’m kinda a big deal.
I’ve always wanted to be a photographer for as long as I can remember. When I was really little I used to play with an old box brownie that my grandparents had and I still remember the very first photo I took. Not really sure why I was so drawn to it though, there’s certainly no family history. I just was. When I was younger I was a very keen drawer, but when I got to high school unfortunately my artistic side hadn’t so I concentrated on graphics and design. In Form Six (Year 12 now) you were allowed to take photography as an alternative to art. I had never done art but luckily I had a friend in influential places and they agreed to let me in due to my marks in GAD. That year I came first in the school and thought to myself that there might be something in this. For my Bursary year I failed photography but it didn’t matter to me ‘cause by then I knew what I wanted to do with my life. From there I managed to get accepted into UNITEC’s School of Design and spent the next four years studying photography. I was very lucky to be tutored by some of NZ’s best photographers, artists and art theorists. These four years really helped me not only to understand the technical side of photography but also pushed my limits of how I see the world around me. My personal style developed greatly during this time and I still carry that with me. I spent a lot of time looking at other photographers’ work and was able to broaden my knowledge and interest in photography as an art form. Even now I still like to research before shoots and am always collecting photos I like. After UNITEC I stuffed around for a couple of years until I decided to do some travel and ended up getting what I consider to be my first professional photography gig. I worked as the photographer for a summer camp in the USA. I did two years in a row documenting the various activities and day-to-day life of the 250 kids that were there. This time really tested my abilities as from one hour to the next I was dealing with different subject matter. Everything from soccer to sailing to dance to portraiture. It was also my first experience with digital cameras. At the end of each summer I put together a 42-page yearbook and an hour-long slide show. It wasn’t long after I got back from my second trip that I had to have an operation to remove some of the disk between the vertebrae in my back. Whilst I was recovering from this my mum brought in a copy of NZPC and threw it at me with the page opened on an advert for a staff photographer. I believe her words were “get off your arse and do it”. So I did and I got the job. To be completely honest I was fucken stoked. I had been a reader for quite some time. When I first started I was only a part-time studio photographer, shooting products for Tone and D-Photo magazines and the rest of my time was spent as the storeman / gofer. I wasn’t allowed to go near the cars. But I waited my time and over the last five and a half years I have managed to work my way up to Head of Photography. Does that answer it? Hopefully it’s not too boring
Most of us seem to think we can just grab a camera and give it a go, but what’s the difference of a pro (getting paid for shots) from an enthusiastic amateur?
Kinda answered your own question there. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA This is possibly one of the things that pisses me off the most at the moment. Fuck it seems like every muppet and his dog is picking up a camera and calling himself a photographer these days. Don’t get me wrong there are some very talented amateurs out there, but there are a lot of average ones too. As we speak I have discovered two new Facebook pages that people have set up to display their photos. The internet has given people the ability to showcase photography like nothing before it and because of that it’s swamped in mediocre snaps and pics. Two words: Miley Cyrus. And when someone posts up something that is new or different there are a thousand people who are more than happy to shit on it for them ‘cause they didn’t do it a certain way. Especially in the automotive scene, latest trends and copycat photos are everywhere. Now I’m not saying that all the photos are necessarily bad. But if you see a photo you like, learn the technique and bank it. Pull it out on the right occasion but don’t fall into the same patterns every time. If I had to choose something to differentiate the two I would say it is consistency in achieving great photos and the ability to learn from your mistakes. Rant over ‘cause what differentiates a pro from an amateur is very little and like I said there are some very talented amateurs out there. I am lucky enough to call a few of them friends.
Photography is one of those careers that some people train to do, whereas others find a career through years of learning as they go. How easy is it to tell the two apart? Is it something you simply can learn as you go?
It can be very difficult to tell the two apart. Some people are born with the ability, some people learn it. It can take many different paths to discover. There is no real right or wrong way. On the other hand you can buy all the top of the line gear you can find and never take a good photo in your life. Some people may take technically perfect photos but in my opinion that isn’t enough. It is definitely something you can learn as you go but I think one of the main differences is the process. A lot of enthusiasts are very good with the technical side of photography, which is a completely admirable quality. But I feel they might lack the understanding of what a photo means. Joining a camera club or forum is great. You get to talk shit with like-minded people. But are you getting the right sort of feedback that you need to push your abilities? If all you concentrate on is ISO and F stops then I don’t think you will get far.
Has it been a long journey for you to get to where you are? You must have done some crap jobs before you got paid to take photos, surely?
I feel very lucky to be where I am. I owe a lot to my parents who fought very hard to get me into the classes and courses that I wanted to do when I was younger, when maybe I shouldn’t of been there. So in some respects it has been a difficult journey but it has paid off both personally and professionally. There were a few interesting and difficult times at Uni, so for all those unshaved, unwashed Jesus look-a-like-beatniks, who told me that if I didn’t listen to bFM I was selling out, you all can kiss my pasty white ass. But I digress. Jobwise I have done a lot of different things. Mostly within the fast food genre. Some were crap, some were great.
What drove you to head down the direction of automotive photography vs. all of the other possible paths a photographer can take? If you could turn back the clock to when you started in automotive photography, do you wish you’d headed down a different road?
To be perfectly honest with you I don’t consider myself to be an automotive photographer. I feel more like a photographer who works within the automotive industry. It’s quite possible I will stick with shooting cars forever ‘cause I fucken love it and it is constantly changing, but for me I just consider myself to be a photographer. Also my job at Parkside Media allows me to work with different genre magazines (Tone, D-Photo, NO LIMITS) and experiment with different types of photography. I have done a couple of weddings in the past and have a few people that I do work for outside of my nine–to-five. I don’t think I would do anything different if I was given a second chance. My job has given amazing opportunities and experiences, and introduced me to friends that I will keep for life.
Talk us through your typical shoot planning process? Who picks locations, etc? And how does a cover shoot differ to your typical feature car shoot?
Usually the Editor comes to me with the car to be shot. I figure out where in the country or city the car is located and then think about what sort of look I want for it. This can be affected by the type of car, what it has been built for (show car, audio, race, drag, etc). Once I have this information I do a bit of searching on the net to see how others may have approached similar situations and talk to the designer and Ed to see if there are any directions they want me to go down. I try to plan locations before the shoot but sometimes (especially if you are out of town) finding something on the fly is the only option. This can work out pretty damn good tho and on those occasions I like to let the environment dictate the style of the shoot. Cover shoots require a bit more planning and often we will find a location days or weeks before the shoot, go there and get an idea of the space and the different angles, etc that we can utilise. I’m not a big fan of using portable lights for every shoot so generally just save it for covers and cars we have to shoot indoors.
How do you use a car’s defining features to dictate the direction of your shoot?
Every car is different obviously, so when I shoot I try to take into account everything that I see through the viewfinder and not just the car. Getting a car to look right in its environment is possibly the biggest hurdle I face. Placement is key. Someone might come to you and say they have an awesome place to shoot their car but when you get there it doesn’t look right. I like the lines of the location to mimic the lines of the car. It’s pretty hard to achieve though on a day-to-day basis. Angle is also important. Sometimes a car will look better shot from above; sometimes they will look better shot from ground level. Often I do a walk around the car before I start shooting to get an idea in my own mind of what shots and angles I will focus on. Even shooting two examples of the same car can be different due to body kits, wheels, ride heights, etc.
Does your shooting style differ between magazines?
Absolutely. I try to change up my shooting style as often as I can. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But from that you learn. Between the three car mags I shoot for the, styles are quite different. Most notably Classic Car, which requires a more elegant look so I generally don’t shoot with low depth of field. Whereas with PC and V8 you can get away with a lot more of that. The locations are different too. You look for a more scenic backdrop and often something that compliments the era of the car you are shooting. V8 is the mag I probably like to shoot for the most. Todd and I have been teamed up for nearly four years now and he has given me free reign to shoot as I please. The variation of cars is huge and can put you in some very interesting shooting scenarios. PC is the most experimental and gives me the opportunity to push the limits of how you look at a car. Style can be dictated by how the designer likes to put the spreads together, but I feel very lucky to be working with a team of people that trust in what I do and are happy for me to just do my thing.
How much difference does quality of gear make? SLRs are cheap these days – what was it like when you started out?
Quality gear will always be an advantage but like I said good gear doesn’t necessarily make a good photo. When I started film cameras were still the norm and for that I am thankful. Learning to shoot on film and not being able to see your photo instantly gave me a better understanding of light and exposure, and how to use those things to your advantage.
If you could give me one tip to make “my” photos better, what would it be?
Your photos? Get a grown-up to help you? I believe the biggest photographic faux pas on a day-to-day basis is incorrect framing and misuse of the zoom function. Doesn’t matter if you’re using a large format Hassleblad or a cellphone camera. Never zoom if you can move closer to your subject and take a couple of seconds to move your eye around the view finder or screen. Take note of the borders of the what you are shooting. Fill the frame. Aside from that I strongly advise people to experiment. Try shooting a photo upside down. It will probably look like shit but you don’t know till you try.
What’s your “hit” rate? How many images do you come back with from an event?
HAHAHAHA Yeah, certain people have given me shit in the past for excessive shooting. For a feature car around 150 shots is average for me. If it’s a cover then maybe 200. I like to try and get a good coverage of angles. Within those shots I will definitely have my favourites, but sometimes the designers like to mix it up so it helps to have a few extra angles and different exposures. For an event I think my record was from Powercruise ‘09 where I bashed out around four and a half thousand photos over two days. Shooting events can be hell, especially one like Powercruise where you are shooting for two or more mags plus web galleries and promotional material. You really have to plan your day. For events I also like to bracket my photos to make sure I don’t miss anything. There is nothing worse than hearing the sound of a car slamming into the wall when you are deleting photos off your camera.
Do you have a favourite shoot you have done? What made it special?
I have so many favourites for heaps of different reasons. Too many to mention really. Can I just show you some of my recent favs?
If you could shoot anything, anywhere, what would it be?
There are so many areas of photography I would love to have a go at. Live bands, fashion, and documentary have interested me for a long time. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to photograph in a war zone. Travelling around the world and getting paid to do it would be great. Probably my biggest interest at the moment is portraiture. For me people are the most interesting subject matter. Being able to see someone’s past just by looking at their face.
That’s something I hope to achieve in my photography.
If I had to choose something to shoot at the moment tho I’m not sure if I could. Photographing Group B rally cars during the eighties would have been cool. But so would shooting a portrait of someone like Snoop Dogg. Or volcanic landscapes… Shit, I don’t know. Too hard. Next question.
Outside of photos, you’re also an enthusiastic racer. Tell us about your car and its class?
Yeah, I’ve always been into racing. My Dad and my brother both rallied so it was only a matter of time before I got behind the wheel. My car is a 1988 Nissan Silvia Ks. When I got it, it was a road car running a CA18DET but now it’s a fully caged race car and runs the bigger bro SR20DET. The class I race in is called the All Classic Japanese Race Series. It is for Japanese cars 20-years or older that still run their factory (or factory optioned) engine. Some modifications are allowed to things like brakes, suspension and aftermarket computers, but mostly the cars are kept to their factory form. It makes for very close, enjoyable racing.
How hard has learning to be a “racer” been? Is your class about fun, or is it serious?
Learning to race a car I think could be considered very similar to learning photography. You can pick up the basics pretty quickly and from then on you are constantly learning and changing your techniques to suit the situation you are in. Every time I go out on the track I am confronted with new scenarios and have to make a split-second decision. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. ACJS is definitely more focused on fun and getting people involved in motor racing. It’s a very cheap way of getting a start in racing. That’s not to say it isn’t competitive though. Every time I go out there I want to do the best I can and will push myself to do so.
I heard you had a “mishap” a while back that helped shaped your car’s look, and the direction you took in motorsport. Is there any truth to this rumour?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I thought it was common knowledge? Yeah, I built my car with the intention of competing in drifting. To cut a long story short on my second drift day at Pukekohe I came through Castrol giving it everything I had and a car had spun in front of me. Unfortunately I could not take evasive action in time and I tore the front driver’s side fender off my car and left a little imprint in the other car. The damage was all cosmetic and I was able to finish the day off. There are some people around that like to stretch the truth when it comes to this incident but the truth is it wasn’t the only reason I switched to circuit racing. The move to ACJS actually came from seeing a news piece in PC and just thinking it would be a fun thing to do.
You’ve been with NZPC a while, what have you seen change and what do you like/dislike about it?
Yeah, five and a half years now. Seems like a lot longer when I look back on it. In the magazine world you can fall into the trap of living month-to-month a lot. I think the way people go about building cars has changed a great deal. Not just in NZ, but worldwide. When I first started drifting was something that not many people had heard of. I was fairly ignorant myself as to the in’s and out’s of it. As it grew in popularity there was a very obvious shift in the way people were setting up their cars. Whether it was a competition drift car, show car, or just a daily hack, the wheels were being pumped out and the body kits were becoming less ornate and more racy. Currently the movement seems to be heading towards the classic Japanese vehicles, and smashing them as far into the ground as possible, which is awesome. Unfortunately in my opinion the show car scene in NZ is very very weak at the moment. Aside from a small group, there are very few people building radical show specific cars like they used to. Without wanting to get too serious, my guess is world economics aren’t really helping the cause. What do I like or dislike? This is a hard one and could get me into trouble. I really am a big fan of the classic Japanese cars and the way people are styling them with retro wheels and super low stance. Part of this probably comes from my interest in rat rod pickups and the retro V8 scene. I love how my job takes me to new places and introduces me to awesome people. I have made some great life-long friends doing this. The whole experience has been amazing. What do I dislike? People who can’t understand that just because a car isn’t hellaflush doesn’t mean it isn’t rad. Super low slammed out cars are dope. I can’t get enough of steelies and beadlocks at the moment. But there are some amazingly one-sided ignorant people around who need to get off their computers and go outside into the real world every once in a while. Stop the hate for Christ‘s sake. Can’t we all just get along?
Finally – what is it that inspires you to keep doing what you do daily? There must have been times when you’ve thought about giving it away, but what is it that’s kept you coming back? What is it that you draw upon for your inspiration for photography?
Ah. This might take a while. Hopefully people read down this far. My inspiration comes from many different areas. Photography obviously plays a huge part in my life and I am constantly searching the net, books and galleries to find new ways to do things and new ideas. Not a lot of which is car photography. I am a big fan of American minimalism, comic art (Martin Emond was a huge inspiration and I encourage everyone to take a look at his work), celebrity photography from the ‘50s and ‘60s, graffiti, Japanese tattoos, I could go on and on. Music is also big one. I am a huge fan of most types of music. Punk especially talks to me. I love the way a story can be told in three minutes fifty and visually music videos heavily influence my photography. If I could take a photograph of music as a physical entity I would then happily put the camera down. Possibly the biggest influence on my life and photography is, for the last six or so years, I have suffered from depression. At times it has been very bad and is still something I struggle with today. It has caused me to really evaluate what is important in life. And for me that is my photos. I have thrown myself into my job with the hope that one day when I’m gone I will still be remembered. There are so many people that I have met along the way that have changed my life, I hope like hell that I can do the same for someone else. Most people won’t ever notice but for me I can go through old magazines and tell when I was having a shit day. I believe I have gained a great deal of insight into the human condition and because of that have been able to view the world in a unique way. It is a fucken nasty roller coaster sometimes but I strongly believe it has made me a better person. I have a very strong drive to be the best. I wouldn’t change a thing. Before I go I would like to thank a few people if I can who have helped me get to where I am. My family obviously who are always there to support me. Especially my Mum who gave me the camera when I was 10-years-old and said “take a photo”. Todd Wylie, who has always given me his complete faith. Gray “your mum” Lynskey, if I could reach I would of knocked you out ages ago. Clutch. The Parkside design team. Pedey. Brad. Joseph. Allan. Ash. Az. Jodi. Kym. Mrs Lynskey. And to all the people who never thought I could do it. I would like to thank you the most.
On behalf of MGNinc, I want to thank Adam for being brutally honest, and sharing what is a very special and honest story, it takes a bit of guts to say what you think and talk about personal illness. Since it seems appropriate, I think we might finish with an image. Heres to you sir….Job well done.