Behind the lens with Pepper Yandell

“My name is Pepper Yandell. I lived in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma for 20 years before finding my passion was automotive photography. It was only the last year or so of my time in Tulsa that photography in general became a serious interest of mine. Although I had always enjoyed taking photos, it was only when I was 19 years old that I decided to put all of my time and energy into pursuing a career snapping photos. Shooting pretty much everything for the first year – with no regard for my subjects – allowed me to focus less on the actual subject matter and more on establishing visually interesting compositions and scenes. I believe this played a big role in establishing the style I have now.”

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Good introduction Pepper. Actually better than most of those we come up with for Behind the Lens! So, you’ve walked us through what got you interested in photography in the first place, why don’t you walk us through how you actually got into automotive photography…

“Well after shooting a couple of cars in Tulsa, I realised I loved the art of shooting an object that doesn’t move, or require constant posing. So I began searching for more cars to shoot by posting car photos I’d already shot on automotive forums, offering free services. Just to build a portfolio. Through that, I happened to stumble across a Lamborghini owner and instantly lined up a shoot with him. Unbeknownst to me the owner of this Lambo posted the edited photos online, and a few months later I was contacted by a Lamborghini owner in Dallas, Texas, who asked for some photos of his car too. This led to a short road trip and a couple more photo shoots.

“I was extremely happy to finally get a paid job shooting cars, and even more so that I got to travel to a new place I’d never explored. The Dallas Lambo owner happened to be a customer at an import performance shop in Dallas called Jotech Motorsports. A few months after our shoot, he heard Jotech was trying to do some calendars and recommended me to the owner. Several emails back and forth later, another Dallas bound photography trip was underway. With multiple days of shooting and plenty of time interacting with Jotech and their crew, the owner – Kenny Tran – offered me a full-time job doing marketing work consisting of photos, videos, and web design.”

An offer we assume you snapped up…

“Three days later I threw everything in my car and moved down to Dallas to take up his offer. I spent the next three years working and developing my skills and style at Jotech, and this catapulted me into the aftermarket performance industry (these guys were extremely in-tune with this market already thanks to an incredibly successful drag racing career). The first six months were spent building a local portfolio, combined with networking via social media which allowed me to quickly build additional automotive clients in the area. A full time marketing job with Jotech mixed with lots of various freelance clients made for countless hours of shooting, editing, shooting, and more editing. This is definitely the simplest suggestion I would give to anyone pursuing a similar career: shoot constantly, persistently, and inspired.”

Behind the lens Pepper Yandell-5

So you had your full-time job with Jotech, but we wouldn’t be having this conversation if you were still there…

“Yeah. I decided I wanted to focus all my time and effort on a freelance automotive photography career, meaning I stepped away from my full-time position at Jotech. During my time at Jotech I thankfully had constant amazing work travel experiences all over the nation, and even Brazil several times. This cemented my love of traveling to do what I love for a living. Going full freelance can be a hard decision, and can certainly be a very stressful job requiring skills and work in areas you can never expect or prepare for. But it’s also led to me having great experiences, meeting amazing people, and seeing places I could have never expected, or even fathom. I can’t even begin to consider doing anything else with my life.”

Is it the constant travel and people you meet that compels you to remain the automotive photographer?

“With relentlessly constant shooting, creative challenges, and support from my friends and peers in the industry I’ve built up some incredible clients in the automotive industry that I’m always honoured to shoot for. This motivates me to constantly push myself to creating a better photo from the last one I took, so I can always deliver my best to my clients and satisfy my need to feel non-stagnant. Another very supporting element of my career is the ‘Behind the Scenes’ videos I’ve been creating and releasing on YouTube. I’ve got more work from this channel than I ever expected!”

Behind the lens Pepper Yandell-6

You’ve already given aspiring photographers one piece of advice, but maybe you could clarify this a little. Given your experiences…

“If I had to offer a single piece of advice culminated from my time in the automotive photography industry, it would be this: besides constantly shooting and pursuing challenging creative ideas, always be prepared for opportunities to network with a possible new client respectfully. You never know who will be the key factor – or who knows the key factor – to take your career to the next level. Treat everyone and every client as such, and stay motivated to give them higher quality and more creative work every day. A great way to do this is find motivation and inspiration from peers in the industry.”

Any peers in particular spring to mind? Or any photographers who’ve inspired you to really push your limits?

“The first car shoot I saw that got me excited about shooting cars was Webb Bland, who I can now thankfully say I’ve worked with and call a friend. He was the person who I first started following in the automotive photography industry, and I’m still very much inspired by his work today. Richard Thompson is also a great friend and a constant source of inspiration for his incredible images and equally impressive knowledge and strategy in his field. Joel Chan, has been my Asian brother since Oklahoma, and now shares an also extremely exciting career in the automotive photography industry. Dale Martin is my partner in crime in Dallas, supports me greatly with my work, and is nonstop when releasing great work. I’m enormously inspired by Andrew Link, Fredric Schlosser and Chris Benny too.”

Why don’t you walk us through your usual weapons of choice…

“I’ve shot most of my work on Canon 5D and 7D, with the 24-105 f/4L being my favourite lens. However, I have recently been renting and using several different camera systems such as Nikon and Sony to see what I’m going to get next. I have decided to switch to the new Sony body when it comes out.”

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You’ve already shot some incredible machines and worked with some extraordinary people around the world. Not least the Middle East…

“It was always a dream of mine to visit and shoot in the UAE” – Pepper even spent a couple of days with shooting the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale you see above during his last visit: Ed – “The UAE is known for its insane collection of the best cars from around the world, and I knew it would be a rabid breeding ground for producing awesome imagery. It definitely did not let me down, since I’ve had the opportunity to shoot some of my favourite cars – like the Pagani Zonda and McLaren P1 – in mind-blowing locations.

“I have to say that, unfortunately, many Americans have such uninformed misconceptions about the people of the UAE. Dubai is probably one of the safest places to visit, and everyone I met over there was eager to help me create awesome images: they went out of their way to make me feel at home. I’m extremely eager to visit again and will definitely be doing so soon.”

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So given those experiences, what would you say is your dream project? Give us some names for car, location, scale…

“My dream has always been to shoot ad work for Lamborghini. As far as locations, I’ve always been a fan of shooting cars in new exciting and exotic countries I haven’t visited: I get a huge source of creative inspiration from the beautiful landscapes I visit, and having new and unfamiliar territory always allows for exciting new opportunities to create awesome imagery. Keep shooting as much as possible, and always do so to create an image better than your last. Challenge yourself creatively, and never get stuck producing the same type of shots over and over again as you will quickly be worn out.”

Fingers crossed you find inspiration on your next adventure too. Thanks for your time Pepper

“Always a pleasure!”

– FULL GALLERY OF SHOTS AVAILABLE HERE – CLICK – Shots courtesy of Pepper Yandell

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