Behind the lens with Thomas Van Rooij

1989 Amsterdam: AutoRAI security guards allow a kid to stand beside a Ferrari F40, with his hands behind his back. A petrolhead is born. We ask long-time devotee Thomas Van Rooij about his work and what it’s like behind the lens.


Why don’t you start off by talking us through your camera…

Well I still use my Nikon D90 for all my photography. More and more publications are swapping to digital, so a lot of my work involves high quality images for use on websites and through social media channels. Actually, with a lot of my clients, I really don’t need a lot of megapixels as all my images will be resized for internet usage anyway.

Is that the only reason then that you’ve decided against upgrading your equipment? How the industry works now…?

No, not really. A lot of people ask me what camera I use, as if the secret of taking good photos lays there(!),but in the end it’s always the photographer that captures the images and not his camera: it’s like telling an author he has to use a particular typewriter. Me? I use a Nikon D90 and a 18-105mm lens, and that’s fine because I tend to know what I want to create before picking the camera. I see a lot of people upgrading their gear thinking that it will make them better photographers, but I think the opposite might be true sometimes.

That being said I would like to upgrade my D90 in the near future: I bought my trusted Nikon back in 2009. I’m still a student at the moment though, so although full frame cameras are getting cheaper, they’re still a little out of my price range.


Has it dinted the reaction to your work?

The best feeling, for me, is when people tell me I inspire them to follow a similar path. It’s really humbling to do what you love doing only to hear that others like your work and see you as an inspiration.

Was there a particular photographer that inspired you to get started?

I started taking pictures of cars in 2009: there or thereabouts. There was a set of images I loved of a Lamborghini Murciélago LP670-4 SV by a chap called Webb Bland of NotBland Photography. After a while my work started to improve and it began to attract some attention. One image in particular attracted Webb’s attention, and we spoke several times on Facebook about my work. He was really enthusiastic, and that felt so great. There’s no better feeling than creating something all by yourself and seeing positive reaction from clients and fans.


One thing crankandpiston finds particularly interesting is your methods: you don’t hide how you shape a photograph unlike a lot of other photographers. Aren’t you nervous someone could copy your ideas?

I’m a strong believer in treating people the way you want them to treat you. I’m a self-taught photographer, in that I’ve never had any education in photography or graphic software: I haven’t even opened the manual of my Nikon! I’ve had help from some great names in the trade after they noticed my work, which helped me to improve even further, and I think others deserve the same attention.

You mentioned though that the photographer creates the image, not the camera…

True. It’s hard to give people insight into how I see the world myself. If you’re out to copy my work – which would be waste of time for any self-respecting artist in the first place – you can figure out my knowledge and skills, but the artist is hidden between your ears and not in the gear.


Speaking of  ‘gear’, do you believe Photoshop is essential to a good photograph?

I’ve seen the same discussions online: no, Photoshop isn’t essential. But in commercial photography, post-production plays a very important roll. In my opinion, photography is art and the photographer is free to use whatever tool he can think of to create his images. But I also think people are unaware how much photography has evolved. Back in the day, editing photos happened in the darkroom. Not many people who participate in the discussion seem to know though that even then backgrounds where replaced and scenes where altered. It was a precarious job of cutting and pasting negatives so the scene blended as a whole, so the idea is pretty similar to Photoshop.


With that in mind, do you do what you do for the sake of professionalism or is it just down to personal enthusiasm?

I think the beauty of doing what you love is that the line between person and professional is very thin. I handle my photography and business the same way I handle my personal life. When a client asks me to do a job, and I think he should do something a little different to achieve a better goal, I don’t hesitate to tell him that: we spend hours on location with clients who don’t realise that taking one picture can take up to half an hour sometimes. Plus I often talk to people from all over the world who might be able to create that little extra exposure of our work. So being a successful photographer is like being a good friend sometimes: you have to be honest, open and a good listener.


Let’s look to the future. What haven’t you achieved with your work and what would you like to?

Wow, this is a difficult one! I really don’t have a bucket list besides just doing what I love for as long as I love it. At the moment I’m occupied with achieving personal goals like finishing school and planning my career. Where I live it’s very hard to make your living from photography alone: almost every kid has a camera and offers to shoot for free. Many companies don’t see the value in quality work and go with the cheap option, sadly. In the long run – like every automotive photographer I guess – I’d like to work with major brands. Being part of a team and putting together the press release for a new model would be a real thrill. I don’t think I’m any closer right now, but as a photographer you never stop learning and you’ll always find ways to get even better.

– Shots courtesy of Thomas Van Rooij

Categories: Lifestyle


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