CD: Jeff, many thanks for agreeing to be a part of the FUSEVISUAL project. You are the fourth cars shooter I have interviewed. So far each has a unique approach to photographing and lighting sheet metal. Tell me a bit about how you got started, where you went to school and who were the artists or photographers who influenced your early career.
Jeff Ludes: I was taking a variety of art and design classes at Ventura Community College, and the head of the photography department, Bill Hendricks, really sparked my interest. The topics in class were often about creating images with layers of ideas and narratives. Combining that with good technique, I loved the way that photography could take the real world and change it into something else. The program at Art Center shared this philosophy, and I also appreciated their emphasis on preparing us for a career.
Most of my first two years there were spent shooting lifestyle, fashion, and portraiture, but I always loved looking at automotive images. I assumed that it would be difficult and expensive to shoot cars, but I found that wasn’t the case. Just taking my RZ and some color negative rolls, and scouting out shoot spots on the fly made for a lot of success through improvisation. I never had any instruction on how to shoot a car, but just used what I knew from shooting people to seek out the right light and forms, and adding subtle stories to the shots. I’m less interested in a shot that’s just a car under a sunset and detached from the world.
I’ve always looked for inspiration mostly in music and movies. I love a dark comedy with lots of layers, and of course great cinematography. Anything by Kubrick or the Coen brothers. In music, I’ve always loved the nightmarish lyrics of The Pixies, and I listen to a lot of instrumental rock like Red Sparrows, which I often find a story in as an album unfolds. All that stuff gets me thinking, and puts images in my head.
CD: One project on your web site stands out: FIAT. I remember seeing a few of the images when we spoke about gyroscopes and how they could be of use to you on car shoots. How did that project come together? What was it like to shoot lifestyle and still keep the car as the hero?
Jeff Ludes: Yes, I bought a gyroscopic camera stabilizer for that shoot, because we were shooting fast and did a lot of shots from a camera-car, rather than use a car camera rig, which is a more-controlled, but slower, way of getting action shots. On many car shoots, we create just one image in a day, because there’s one particular layout and angle on the car that we want to showcase. But I think that people now are much more aware of photoshop and all the little advertising gimmicks, so it’s really important to create images that are more authentic and natural.
On FIAT, we would set up a shot that we know we needed to cover, and then take time to fully explore the story. We looked for situations where the car gets to be a character too, and had a very talented team that prepared fantastic locations, amazing talent, and the perfect styling. Once it’s all in place, we are all looking for the coolest stuff to focus in on. It’s all so well-orchestrated, that inevitably, one of the talent is just glowing, or some amazing light is shooting down the street. It’s a very fast-paced, and highly energetic way to shoot, and some of the most fun I’ve had.
CD: If you could take three months off to shoot any vehicle and in any location in the world; what car, plane, ship, truck, helicopter or hydrofoil would it be and most importantly, where would you shoot it?
Jeff Ludes: Wow, tough question! I think that in this case, the three month period is the most unique aspect- I can’t imagine spending so much time on only one project. So it would have to be a road trip with incredible variety. I think going coast-to-coast from Portugal to China sounds about right- it would be amazing to see the shifts in the people and cities, as we move through so many cultures. The vehicle would need to be red, so that it’s a very constant feature, as everything around it changes. I’m thinking a 1960’s Toyota FJ40 would fit the requirements very nicely!
CD: What advice would you give to a young professional about to embark into this career?
Jeff Ludes: Also a tough question. I think there are so many facets to photography now, every career is going to have a totally unique path. Almost every type of photography has been reinvented in the last 10 years, and the ones who are doing well are the ones who were the inventors. You’ve got to hustle and adapt. Find something that you love to do, and do it better, newer, and smarter.