Top 14 of 2014

2014 is wrapping up and after seeing Andy Carter's 2014 Best-of list, I had to try my hand at making one myself. As of today I've been shooting for a whole year and a half. I've learned an absolute ton thanks to my friends in photography and people willing to park their expensive car in sketchy parts of town at all times of day and night. Here are my top 14 of '14.

Click the thumbnails below to view the images in a Hi-Res Lightbox.

This shot of Lee's sweet burnout in a field in Downtown Macon marked my transition from shooting 16:9 to 4:3. It's not the sharpest shot I've taken, but for a crop frame sensor focusing f/1.8 in a nearly dark field, I love everything about it. This shot alone makes me think of every night of getting together with my friends to shoot our average cars in downtown Macon while hooning as much as stock NA 4 cylinder engines would allow.

Now this is technically cheating, but I have to add these two images as one for them to make sense. Andy inviting me out to shoot Justin's Rocketbunny was the beginning of a lot of learning I took advantage of this year. Watching how someone with much more experience than myself picked over details of a car, positioned and lit the vehicle, talked to the owner about positioning the car, and much more were huge points of enlightenment on this shoot.

The second thing I got from this shoot was the beginning of my "behind the scenes" kind of photography I love so much. Being in the moment in a shop or a shoot and pulling images from the experience (rather than bending the whole experience to my will to check off a list of images in my mind) has become my aim and throughout 2014 I've continued to focus on that relaxed shooting style.

This shot of Dai Yoshihara and Chris Forsberg at Formula D Atlanta was my first taste of shooting cars in motion and shooting at a major event. No, I didn't get to shoot from a press pit and no, I didn't have a super fancy camera but this shot and many others from that day really helped to teach me about tracking cars, the limits of f/4 lenses on crop sensor cameras, and how to overcome hardware limitations. Overall I'm pretty dang happy with this shot.

These two shots were from the same shoot and represent two large milestones in my shooting. The top is what bugs a lot of my photographer friends, centering the subject. Instead of putting the car off two one third or another, I nailed the center of the frame with the car, the lines in the road, and the road itself. The second represents my move to shooting wide open and forcing myself to slow down and stick focus and composition each time I shoot instead of relying on Photoshop or Lightroom afterwards.

I've come to love both of these techniques for how much they pull the viewer into a specific detail like "LOOK AT THIS THING, I WANT YOU TO APPRECIATE THIS THING AS MUCH AS I DO." In addition, this was also my first shoot coordinated with large well-known companies, people, and with an immediately recognizable car "from the internet."

This shot of Meng's car represents the first time I finally went out on a shoot with a real idea of what I wanted to do with the pictures after I was done. I had a clear concept of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" in my head and set out to show the multiple identities of Meng's daily driver. I think I nailed the execution as well as I could around 3 months apart.

Another cheating 2-for-1 deal here. This was one of my favorite meets (Illest Slammed Sundays, R.I.P.) and one of my first times seeing the infamous Liberty Walk Ferrari 458. This was one of the first times I shot with a film camera (ever, in my life) and really started to understand how much of a difference there was between a 50mm lens on a full frame (35mm film camera) and crop frame. The shot with people in it was taken with the film camera and has noticeably less subject distortion vs. the background.

My eighth image is one of my favorite shots I've ever taken. It's not an incredible landscape or some perfectly lit car at a shoot, but a gritty behind-the-scenes shot taken with a slower shutter speed to show the motion of tightening the lug and with little to distract from the scene without posing Young or interrupting his work.

Number 9 comes from Yellowstone, a very narrow depth of field panoramic I did of a waterfall we hiked to all afternoon one day. The final frame captured just how stark white the falls were against the bleak grey sky, earthy rocks, and deep green foliage. I wasn't expecting such a good result, but the final image resulted in a 1.5 Gb file and allows you to scroll through and zoom in on individual rocks and splashes. Very cool and a reward for a quick experiment.

Number 10 was taken at a dog park right down the road from my house. I had gotten a new lens and Morgan was looking great in the perfect light so I figured I was meant to get this picture taken. The result is nothing short of better than anything I could have hoped for. The dark and blown out background combined with the warm golden hour light left me with one A+ shot from my A++ girlfriend.

Number 11 is the drummer of Naked Blonde, a Redondo Beach band I got to shoot this fall. This show was the first time I realized how I could move about the stage and room as an official photographer and how that freedom could really open up new angles. This shot was my favorite of the night, and came as a direct result of getting over my fear of getting in the way of the crowd (momentarily) to get a shot.

My twelfth shot is from Robert's Aimgain feature for Southrnfresh. This shoot taught me a ton about location scouting and working with the owner to figure out what traits they wanted to make sure were featured on the car. This shot was actually made of 4 or 5 shots through the Brenizer method and allowed me to have the bokeh of a 50mm f/1.8 while showing the cop cars and parking garage we parked the car near/in.

Lucky number 13 comes from Formula D Irwindale. This is probably my biggest "look at how much I've improved" shots on this list. Versus the rather boring and flat shots from FD Atlanta, this shot has detail, grit, the focus and lighting is nailed, and the smoke is as thick and overpowering as it seems in real life. #NotSoHumbleBrag

My final shot comes from Meng's shop. A late evening of light painting and trying a new 24mm lens resulted in one of my best concept-to-executions in my life. I had an idea of shooting a car (a whole feature) with the light painting technique while highlighting the lines and features of the car rather than overwhelming the viewer with the whole car at once. I called this shot "Character Select" after the overhead lighting and shadows of a "select you car" screens on many a racing game, and get that feeling every time I look at it.

2014 was a long year full of learning, travel, new people, new techniques, and getting out of my comfort zone. Thank you to the many people that made this possible (Morgan, my parents, the Tea brothers, Andy and the Average Squad and everyone else) and here's to a productive 2015!