Meet the Automotive Photographer: Tim Wallace

tim wallace automotive photographer

Limited100’s latest contributing artist, Tim Wallace is the driving force and creative thinking behind the company AmbientLife that he launched in 2007. Since the first moment that he got his first 'proper' camera at 11 years old he has been totally in love with photography. Within a month he started to learn how to develop his own films while sat in his bedroom wardrobe at night, to ensure no light leaks of course, and from there he has spent a lifetime exploring the medium. Shooting for agencies and brands globally he has carved a strong reputation in vehicle photography shooting campaigns and editorial work both in studio and on location.

tim wallace automotive art

Tim Wallace has received many awards over his career; most recently Commercial Photographer of the Year 2021 at the British Photography Awards in London for his work with his client McLaren. Previous awards have included Professional and Commercial Photographer of the Year Awards as well as Car Photographer of the Year at the UK Motor Industry Awards, Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award, and Best Creative Business Awards in the UK.

His work is sometimes dramatic and he always pushes to be ever more creative through his use of light to enhance the beauty of reality. His work is well known within his industry, as is his ability to make a 'really decent' cup of tea on those long studio days... Tim's view on what he does is pretty straightforward, he is always pushing himself and is well-known for his down-to-earth attitude, and quirky sense of humour. Spanning the commercial and advertising sectors working through his transport-based clients and agencies, he has been at the forefront of his field for over a decade. "For me photography is a completely creative passion, the ability to use light and form to capture a single point in time through what I see with my own imagination…"

In this article, Tim answers some questions so you can find out more about how he takes and digitally-enhances his award-winning images.

How did you get into automotive photography?

alfa romeo classic photoshoot

I got my first camera for Christmas age six, a little Kodak one; that of course was a long long time ago now…lol I loved it, took pictures of everyone that day, even ones of my dad cleaning the fish tank out. After that I wanted a better camera and a few years later I got something a bit better, my first image on it was of a car, we were on holiday in Portugal and I found that I just loved taking shots and cars really did it for me, the image below was my first car picture aged 9. Shot it on HP5 film and processed it myself, clearly judging by the amount of grain, I didn’t have the temperature quite right but hey I got better…

Have you always been a petrolhead?

I have always loved cars yes but not so much from a performance point of view; more from the styling and shape, the design of them, that is what I really love. When I was a lot younger I wanted to be an architect but I never made it to University in the end and started work instead aged 16 at the darkrooms of the Daily Mail group. You see, printing and film was my biggest passion then, not just taking pictures. It was only as I got a few years older that I actually started shooting a lot and I found that my darkroom knowledge about tone and contrast naturally led me into a fascination with light and lighting. I truly believe that the best thing that any photographer can do is to learn how to create and shape light. I have been doing it for over 40 years and I still learn something on every shoot. Lighting is a major thing for me and understanding how to use it to create the very best photography I can from what is in front of me. I was interviewed last year by a German magazine and the guy made the comment that really, I had become ‘the architect of light’, sort of very flattering and perhaps he is right, I still push myself hard to learn and I will never stop I don't think. 

Pictured: 'McLaren 570S (angel)' by Tim Wallace

What is the key to taking a good photo?

Good photography is hard to put into words, some would say it’s the lighting, some would say the subject matter and no doubt a hundred people would all have different answers. What I think is that there are always 2 people in every photograph, the person looking at it and the person who took it. You cannot help putting a little of your own personality into a shot, previous experiences, style, and your view of the world. The same goes for the person viewing it, they will be affected by influences that have had a meaning to them. Bottom line for me is always shoot from your heart, even if others say that it’s not the right way to do it, do it your way and be true to what you feel about something, you will never shoot the perfect image ever because there are too many people who see things differently to you, you just need to keep pushing yourself in the belief that one day you will get very close to it…

What’s the most interesting car photoshoot you’ve ever done for a client?

I did a shoot once for a designer who had created a new range of styling modifications for the Land Rover Range Rover; he said it was all top secret and he did not want to risk it going into the studio so the shoot was done in an abandoned factory near Glasgow. I turned up and there were very dodgy looking guys with pickaxe handles from the local town guarding the place while I did my shoot, that was an ‘interesting day’.

I have met some amazing people over the years and shot as well as driven some amazing cars, some of them unique and literally priceless, that is always a great pleasure for me and needless to say my liability insurance is well over £15m currently.

Pictured: '1957 Aston Martin DBR2 (Studio)' by Tim Wallace

What is your dream three-car garage and why?

Lamborghini Miura, in many ways the world’s first real supercar and even today such a beautiful looking car that is one of the best designs ever crafted.

Land Rover Defender 90, driven loads and still just love them, the only car you can own where the more dents and scratches it gets the better it looks!

Lancia Stratos, not the best car in the world but a car I have been in love with since I was a boy, I just want one, the rally version preferably and then get myself on an open twisty mountain road.

How important is the editing in getting that perfect shot?

It’s not that important, not as much as people think. You have to know what you are doing of course but I shoot and light in studio to be as close to the final result as I can and I shoot ‘consistently’ and that is a major thing, it’s so important if you are doing a series of shots that they are seamless together and if you don’t shoot and light consistently then you cannot edit them as a set very well.

I shoot, depending on the complexity of the brief, around five to six shots per day in the studio. Might not sound like a lot but it's around the average for guys like me if you are putting the effort into technical aspects so that the car is lit properly and highlights all the important factors that your client needs. Take McLaren for instance, most people don’t realise that on most of their cars the bonnet has a crease line running down it. Its only very slight but if you shoot brochure work for them you need to light that so it shows. It is far more involved I think than most people realise but at the end of the day I am nothing special, I am just doing what it says on my business card. I cannot plumb in a tap to save my life but I can light a car so I do what I do and if I need a tap fitting I call my mate who is a plumber…

Pictured: 'Porsche 911 Turbo S 991 in Zurich (B)' by Tim Wallace

Do you have any tips for aspiring automotive photographers?

If I had to give a few solid bits of advice I would say firstly, shoot… shoot, shoot, shoot and then shoot again. Shoot anything and everything, in doing so you are building up your ability to function and light without the need to constantly think about settings, it becomes second nature, and when that happens you have the head space to start being properly ‘creative’.

My second piece of advice is to tape of the back screen of your camera so you cannot see what you have shot. This will of course freak you out but in the days of film we did not have this and we did not die, you’ll survive… the best thing about doing this is that you will slow down, you will start to think and you will be more aware of what you are seeing and doing through the viewfinder 'before you click' than just the quick payback from staring at the rear screen.

Shoot from your heart and shoot how you want to, develop your own style and don’t just try to emulate others, that is not creative and as such you will never push yourself and never grow properly.

Are there any contacts in the automotive industry who really inspire you?

I met Sir Stirling Moss once at a function and asked him if there was anywhere nearby that did a good cup of tea and not that watery stuff. He laughed and we ended up having a good chat together for nearly an hour about anything and everything apart from cars and photography. A few years later I shot all the photography for an Aston Martin Book that covered every model through the years from the very first prototype Bamford Martin to the latest model. I contacted him and asked if he would write the foreword for it if I sent him a tin of Yorkshire Tea; he wrote back and agreed. He was a great bloke and I will miss him.

aston martin book photoshoot

This was his kind foreword:

“Many of you will be aware that Aston Martin have always held a special place in my heart, and I was back behind the wheel of the fantastic DBR1 recently as part of the company’s centenary celebrations. This drive around the Nürburgring once again reminded me of just what a beautiful car it is. There’s something about making your car not only perform well, but look fantastic too.

I’ve long held the belief that ugly cars don’t win races, no logic to it I know, but maybe it has something to do with attention to detail. The DBR1 was a great example of this, not only one of the nicest cars I’ve ever driven and winner of the World Championship in 1959, but one of the best looking too.

The DBR1 embodies much of what I’ve always loved about British road-racing cars, the incredible engineering, the hand-crafted, traditional workmanship and the exceptional beauty. Indeed, that lovely old racer is the very essence of Aston Martin’s own mantra: 'Power, Beauty, Soul'.

Many books have been written over the years about the history, engineering and racing heritage of Aston Martin, but what I love about this book in particular, is its focus on style, and Aston Martin have always had great style. I remember when Lance Macklin and I drove a factory DB2 in the Daily Express Rally, it certainly attracted a lot of pretty girls all around the UK

I’ve always been a big fan of design and technology and when coupled with style, you know you are going to have a winning formula, and it’s this that has led to Aston Martin becoming such a big part of British heritage. We all know that Aston Martin is one of the world’s most recognisable brands, and the desirability of these stunning cars is well documented, with classic examples in particular achieving an incredible status. 

This must be due in no small part to the great attention to detail and simple, beautiful lines afforded to every model. An Aston Martin will always look fantastic, whether parked in the high street or tearing down the back roads. This fabulous book acknowledges this as never before, and every image has been given the same attention to detail that Aston Martin gave the original cars.

It’s obvious as you flick through the pages, that an awful lot of time and effort has gone into its creation, and the result is a book which I’m sure will take its place among the “must haves” for anyone interested in car photography and not just those with an interest in Aston Martin. Well done Tim Wallace and well done Aston for having the vision and the tenacity to make this project a reality.”

Pictured: 'Ford GT (second generation)' by Tim Wallace

Which other services can you offer car enthusiasts?

I do private car shoots for collectors sometimes and also, I have in the past done studio shoots of ‘significant’ cars that are ready to go to auction so that the work can be used to help drive that all important final price…

When suggested selling price is in excess of a few million then having some random bloke at the auction take some ‘snaps’ on his iPhone in the car park for the catalogue listing really does not cut it, so they call me.

What sparked your interest in working with Limited100?

I was looking for a reliable and high-quality business to work with so that my photography could be enjoyed in the form of prints in people’s homes and offices. I do not really have the time to do this as I am really busy most of the time organising or actually shooting commissions. I do the shooting and the printing guys do their bit. It’s not fitting a tap but you get my point.

I care a great deal about the quality of my lighting and final output so I needed the best people to carry it through to the final print, that’s why I chose to work with Simon at Limited100.

Where do you see yourself in three years’ time?

On a beach in the Maldives sipping my 10th cocktail would be good, I will probably be sat doing the paperwork for the risk assessment of some shoot or other and hopefully I would imagine that whatever I am doing I will be having butterflies about the upcoming shoot, because even though I shoot a lot and I have done a lot both on location and in studio I still get those sleepless nights in the hotel the night before. I would not want that to change and would hope that it happens purely because I am excited to get started on it and that I genuinely care that each and every shoot I do is the best I have ever done. A great picture editor once said to me ‘you are only as good as your last image because that is what they will remember you for today’ I think I still hear his voice in my head sometimes and he is right of course.

Keep pushing, keep my feet on the ground and always pay it forward because it's important to realise that people like me are only able to do what they do because of all the other people around them in the team.

Explore the Tim Wallace Collection here.

tim wallace automotive prints

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