Featured Photographer: Chris Amos
Some people go through life waiting for chance and good luck to bring their dreams to a reality – others go out and defy life to give them anything less than what they desire. Chris Amos is the later of those two people. At the ripe young age of 21 hes already a professional photographer working with a leading online car journal, Winding Road. Frankly, we can’t begin to imagine what he will have accomplished in another year.
- Name: Chris Amos
- Age: 21
- Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan
- Occupation (Photographer, Distracted College Student):
- Website: www.chrisamosphotography.com
How did you get started in photography?
Growing up I always had an interest in taking pictures. I just liked holding cameras and loved the sound they made when the shutter snapped and the film advanced. The pictures I took early on in my life were mostly rubbish. I didn’t think about taking photos seriously until high school. Freshman year I took Latin as a (dead) language and came to know The Maestro. The Maestro, or Mr. Rossi, was the Latin teacher and the highly esteemed school photographer. I took four years of Latin with him and helped finance his retirement with the purchase of a Nikon 300mm f/2.8.
Throughout high school, I shot & designed for the school paper, photographed sports for a bunch of different high schools in Metro Detroit, did a few weddings, and traveled with my parents throughout Europe and the States taking photos. I also worked with some beautiful, talented models, getting them a portfolio to help launch their careers in the entertainment industry. Throughout all of this I was shooting cars at weekly cruise nights in my hometown. I didn’t start shooting cars seriously until the last couple years in college.
You’re still in school; tell us a little about your educational background.
I’m in my senior year at Albion College, and have one semester left to finish up my geology degree. I wanted to get a good education no matter what I did in life. What college did for me was teach me how to think. Most of my education has been out of class, but the things I’ve learned while at college have been invaluable. There are a lot of successful businessmen and entrepreneurs out there who have left college early to start their businesses and make their fortunes. I could have easily gone the same route with my photography business, but I wanted to finish what I started in school and follow through with my commitment to my own education.
I know that when I graduate is when my real education will begin, but the people I’ve met, networked with, and learned from while at school has been invaluable to me so far. I put my energies toward building a life for myself while I was still in school. In the mean time, my background in science was always something to fall back on to. More than anything I think it’s important to learn as much as you can about yourself at a young age so that you can know how to apply your talents. If you are always learning and pushing yourself you will never be “bored.” Having a legit lifestyle is a choice you make when getting up in the morning.
Do you work professionally outside of the Photography industry?
Not really, I’ve never had a “regular job.” When I was young, would do a few odd jobs here and there like dog sitting, but that was it. I’ve always made most of my income from taking pictures. My family has helped me with some bigger purchases over the years, but my parents taught me how to manage my money well (my mom: how to save/invest, my dad: how to spend).
Did you always know this is what you wanted to do for a living?
No. There was a time when I doubted that I could make a living from photography. I went to a Nikon seminar in high school and asked the speaker what type of educational path he would recommend for someone like me. He suggested that I get a good education and focus on something like business, science, or communications in college (to fall back on). I ruled out business and communications as majors and decided to go with geology. For a while I put photography on the back burner and tried to learn as much as I could about what was like to be a professional geologist.
Honestly, I don’t think I would have been happy working a 9-5 job at a consulting firm, or in a room making calculations on a spreadsheet. I could see myself doing research or becoming a field geologist, but the passion just wasn’t there. With that being said, though, I don’t think this is the last I’ll be seeing of geology and science in my life. My interest in the field has grown over my years at Albion and I wouldn’t have rather done anything else with my time there. I say this now, because I’ve ended up exactly where I want to be.
Looking back on my experience, though, I think our education system can easily discourage us from pursuing creative ventures in the arts. Math and science take precedence, but these fields are driven by creative individuals who know how to think.
What kind of equipment do you use?
Nikon. I started shooting Nikon in high school, my dad bought an 80-200 2.8 and a flash that I borrowed permanently, and I’ve stuck with the brand ever since! Right now my bags carry D3s and D300 bodies, 24-120 f/4 VR, 16-35 f/4 VR, 80-200 2.8, 300mm 2.8, Sigma ‘Bigma’ 50-500mm f/4-6.3, and the 50mm 1.8 lenses, two SB-600s + SB-800 speedlights, and an SU-800 wireless transmitter.
For people just starting out what kind of equipment and software would you recommend? What gives the most “bang for the buck”?
Any entry-level digital SLR will be great for just starting out. There are some incredible little cameras out there today. Don’t get all hung up on what equipment to buy. Learn to recognize your needs, invest in equipment accordingly and go out and take lots of photos. If you do see the need to spend money on equipment, buy good lenses! These generally don’t go obsolete within a few years. Also, depending on their condition, they hold their value. You can usually sell a lens for more than 75% of what you bought it for.
Learning photo editing software is also extremely important. Not a single photo on my website or in my portfolio has been directly out of the camera. They’ve all gone through some adjustment and tweaking in Photoshop or Lightroom to achieve the “look” that I feel is right. Right now I use Lightroom 2 for post processing and Photoshop CS3 for anything Lightroom can’t do.
You’ve worked for Winding Road! Can you tell us more about how you came upon the job and the entire experience? Anything you were surprised by or challenged by?
Working for Winding Road is my dream job. Really. It’s a funny story how I got involved with them. Basically, they moved into our old location for the Nelson Amos Studio (the family art studio). My mom went over there one day to see what they did. When she found out they were a car magazine, she said, “Oh, my son is really into cars and is a photographer!” They were like, “oh mmm yeah, that’s nice.” Shortly after that encounter I went over and showed them some of my work (the 2005 Dodge Viper shoot). A couple weeks later they called me and asked if I’d be willing to shoot the new Jaguar XKR. I was in.
Working with Seyth and the guys at Winding Road has been hugely rewarding. The most challenging thing for me has been polishing up my work. I’m still working on this, but I’ve come to learn the level of professionalism and consistency that is required in commercial/editorial photography.
Some of your Winding Road shots were done in the rain – what kind of difficulty does that add to a shoot? How do you deal with it?
John and Brandon at WR were more than happy to put aside their egos and hold multiple umbrellas over me during those shoots. I felt like a Pasha. Later on, for the moving shots, I found that Nikon’s weather sealed prosumer and professional cameras are a lot more water resistant than I’ve ever given them credit for.
I’m always intrigued by artificial lighting used in shoots (largely because I’m too ignorant to know how to do it myself). Can you explain to us a little bit more about why and how its used and maybe walk us through the requirements for setting up a shot like your Jag XFR / E63 shot?
Gladly. The technique I used for that shot is called light painting. I set my camera on a tripod and get a 20-30 second exposure. While the shutter is open, I use a light source to walk around the car and “paint” light onto the subject. In the case of the XFR/E63 I just walked once around the two cars. For my light source I use a 48” shop light with two 40-watt fluorescent bulbs. That is plugged into a portable battery in my backpack. Light painting is a lot of fun because every time you flip the switch there’s a different result. In many ways, I prefer it to setting up lights on location. I’m still working on perfecting this technique; it takes a lot of practice.
Whats the key to getting these gorgeous moving shots of a car on a road with the background blurred (The Porsche GT3 for example)? I’ve never been able to pull it off perfectly myself.
Having a good Vibration Reduction (VR) lens makes a big difference when doing car-to-car shots. For many of the ones on my website I just used a $100 Nikon 18-55 kit lens I picked up on Craigslist. Recently, I bought the Nikkor 16-35 f/4. I can shoot car-to-car at 1/10th of a second all day with that thing; it’s an awesome lens. You also need a smooth road, a pillow, and a good set of lungs.
The reasons for a smooth road are obvious, the pillow is to help cushion and reduce vibration to my body/arms when I’m shooting out of the car (Temper-Pedic works great). I’m always shouting at my driver to speed up/slow down/keep pace. Communication and maintaining the same speed between both cars is very important. Moving shots are a lot of fun, especially at highway speeds. Ever seen that Top Gear episode where JC drives the Ariel Atom? Yep, moving shots will destroy your face.
Have you ever been able to drive any of the cars you shot?
I get some pretty incredible ride-alongs, that’s always nice!
What are the basic elements of a great photo?
When shooting it’s always good to keep the seven basic elements of art in mind: Line, shape, form, value, texture, color, and space. All of that is great when taking standard photos of something, but when it really comes down to the money shot you want to capture something unique and special; a moment, a certain play of light, or a striking composition.
Which element do you find yourself focusing on the most when shooting?
When I’m shooting I try to be relaxed and open to anything that may present itself during the shoot. All the greatest shots I’ve made were done with a little bit of luck on the timing. A lucky shot is essentially a moment that presents itself that you notice (or predict) and capture. It’s that simple. You can increase your chances of getting lucky by creating optimal conditions for yourself (great light, having fast, responsive equipment). But really though, it’s all on you. That photo of the GT3 splashing a puddle up towards the camera was a lucky shot. I was hanging out of the Audi A8 camera car getting moving shots of the GT3 when I noticed that puddle coming up, I was ready for the moment and took a burst of 3 photos before I got it in the face.
Is there a certain time of day you prefer to shoot?
Lighting is everything. I really like working with natural light. Throughout the year this changes, but in the summertime the best time to shoot is early in the morning, with a slight fog or late in the evening at golden hour. During the winter, just about any time is good to shoot. Cloudy days are always nice, but can be a bit boring sometimes (unless if you have a bright red Porsche 911 GT3 to work with). Inclement weather is always fun to shoot in, just because it provides something different for the viewer.
Are there certain cars that you enjoy photographing more than others?
Not really. I used to drive a 1995 Volvo 850. If I can make that look sexy, anything is fair game!
For newcomers to photography – what advice would you have?
Take pictures! Find your style and cultivate your talent. Never stop learning and pushing your work to new heights. Look at a lot of other photographers’ work; try to decipher what they’ve done to make the photo look like it has. Get your work critiqued by someone who will offer constructive criticism! This was very important in getting me over my learning curve when I first started out.
How hard is it trying to find interesting places to shoot at?
If I had it my way, I’d want to live in a photographer’s paradise, like the west coast. But that would make my job too easy. In Michigan, good locations are few and far between. You have to learn to look for them. Locations are very important and can make or break a shoot, no matter what car you’re working with.
Do you always try new things in your work or have you found a niche of shots and techniques you really favor?
I’m always looking at other photographers’ work. This inspires me, but it also shows me what’s already out there and what’s being done. I’m working hard to develop my own style and eventually pave the way for the direction of automotive photography in the future. This is always in the back of my mind when I’m shooting. It’s a process of evolution and I’m still in the beginning phases of figuring all that out.
What’s the best perk or part of your job?
One thing that has drawn me into the car world is the people. All of us auto enthusiasts are guilty of “fetishising” cars now and then, but really I think the reason we put so much of ourselves into this is the type of lifestyle it affords us. The automotive world has a lot to offer. There are the business and networking aspects, the camaraderie shared by those involved, and opportunities to push ourselves creatively and grow with the industry. People have built their lives and empires around the enthusiasm for fine automobiles, it’s not hard to see why. I truly enjoy working with people who are driven and passionate about what they’re doing. It gets me excited, they get pumped up, and the ideas start flowing like you wouldn’t believe. It’s a lot of fun working towards greatness with a group of inspired people. This is what I enjoy most about my job.
What has been your biggest success thus far in your life?
I would have to say the past year in general has been a great success. I’ve had the honor of meeting some incredible people, learned a lot about myself, taken some great photos, devoured some inspiration/insightful books, and gotten involved in and tried a lot of new things. I’m more physically active now than I’ve ever been. I’m also learning how to eat well.
I’m no longer sitting back, waiting for a big break. I’m chasing after opportunities and learning to recognize where I can provide value to people and businesses. I feel like I have more endurance in my daily activities than I’ve ever had, this is fueled by my rekindled passion for photography. I get up in the morning and work hard all day, every day at what I’m doing. But I don’t see it as hard work because I enjoy it so much.
A huge credit goes to my parents and all the other people who have mentored me and inspired me throughout my life. My parents have financed my education, and helped me out with a lot of equipment purchases. They’ve always supported me in everything I’ve worked hard at. Their role in what I am today should not go unrecognized. There have also been others, like my Latin teacher, Mr. Rossi (the Maestro) in high school, who inspired me to get started with photography, and others who have played a role in getting me to get back into photography. Don’t forget to personally thank the important people in your life.
What kind of car do you drive?
I drive a 2010 VW GTI. Candy white, 4-door, with 3 pedals. Sometimes I find myself wanting a bit more rawness out of the car, but it was an excellent practical choice with some poke when I need it. The new GTI is easy to live with; it suits my image and needs perfectly. Here, you’ve got to see this video of me wringing it out on my favorite road here.
Any Plans for the VW in 2011?
Catback exhaust, Nitto INVOs or a lightweight 17” track/autocross setup with Direzza Z1s, and maybe more aggressive brake pads. Other than that, really happy with this car!
Do you have a favorite quote that inspires you?
Hell yes. I have a lot of them, but this one stands out above the rest:
“One who works with their hands is a laborer while one who works with their hands and head is a craftsman. One who works with their hands, head and heart is an artist.”
Any plans on eyeing up a different ride in the future?
I’ve never driven one, but I think an AP1 S2000 would be an awesome choice. Whatever I get next, it’s going to be a purpose built, white knuckled driver’s car that screams like all hell up to redline. On the other end of the spectrum, the other day I met a guy with a Volvo 760 that had a 500 hp V8 under the hood. Best sleeper ever. That would also be cool. Plus I grew up with Volvos, so there’s a big soft spot there. Either way, I need rear-wheel-drive in my life! That being said, since reading this site I’ve rekindled my infatuation with Porsche and I’d eventually like to work my way up to a 996 Porsche 911 Turbo. That’d make a nice 25th self-birthday present for when my insurance rates go down ;).
Do you set goals for yourself? Can you give us an example of a goal you set and achieved?
Goal setting, I’m glad you asked this. I try not to focus on individual goals. Instead, I look at my life as a whole picture and prioritize from there. As a young person, I believe it is very important to figure out who I am and what I want out of life. This year I’ve spent a lot of time “soul searching,” putting down in exact detail how I want to live, now and in the future: this means the kind of friends and family I surround myself with, the type of girl I spend my time with, and how I want to inspire, give back, and provide value to others. These desires have changed over time, but they’ve always been from the heart. This is what drives me and keeps me motivated every single day. Because deep down we all know what type of a person we are and can envision the “legit lifestyle” we want to live. We have to be honest with ourselves. It is not easy to cut through all the bullshit, prioritize, and stay on track without self-doubt every day. But man is it rewarding! This year, somehow, I found my step. I’ve been running with it ever since.
What car out right now (new or used) do you think provides the best value when it comes to performance, status, and looks?
I’d say the new GTI is pretty good bang for the buck!
What does the future hold for you? Are you planning or working on anything we should know about?
I’m working with a couple music artists right now, some beautiful girls starting their modeling careers, and Autolavish, a very talented auto-detailing company in the Metro Detroit area. Little by little I’m piecing together the type of business I want to have as a photographer. I’m experimenting a little with video now that I have that sweet D3s; but still-photography will always be my base. As for the rest, you’ll just have to wait to find out!
Some cars are just naturally gorgeous – others not so much. Is there a certain car that has been difficult to make “look good”? Or one that you couldn’t take a bad shot of?
The Spa Yellow NSX was probably at the top of the list. For one, it was immaculate. Autolavish asked me to photograph it after they detailed it a few weeks before. I’ve never photographed a car that clean…ever. I didn’t have to worry about dust, dirt, scratches… I could photograph every inch of it without shame. This is one of the reasons I look forward to working with them in the future!
Also, as a general rule, light-colored cars are a lot easier to photograph than dark cars. Take my white GTI in any kind of light at any time of day and you’ll get some great photos of it. The black 911 turbo, however, was a difficult car to photograph because all you have to work with is reflections. Still, I won’t complain!
We would like to thank Chris Amos for interviewing with us. Are you an amateur or professional automotive photographer that would like to have your work featured on Legit Lifestyle? Do you know of a photographer we should feature? If so – Contact Us!