Taking a good picture isn’t easy, taking the best pictures known to man is even harder. Introducing Webb Bland, a man whose photography seems to have no limits and redefines perfection with every shot. Webb Bland, owner and founder of Notbland Photography is by far the best photographer we have met and so it made sense to make him our first success story of 2010, and share with our readers how one man put school aside and focused his mind on being the best with nothing more than practice and the drive to succeed. Here is his story:
Webb, thank you for taking the time to share your story with Secret Entourage and our readers. Can you give us a background on yourself, and your earlier years growing up with photography?
I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve always had a passion for photography, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been just as passionate about cars; though not in the traditional loves-to-tinker-around-with-the-engine sense. For me, I’ve always been attracted to the aesthetic form, over the function. In 2003, I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, with a focus in Graphic Design. I initially wanted to pursue photography, but at the time, digital photography was not offered as a major, so I went with my second choice. Three years into my studies, however, I realized that photography was indeed my true calling, so in my free time I began focusing my attention on taking creative photographs of my friend’s cars (Subaru WRX STi, Volkswagen GTI, Audi A4 Avant, etc.) By senior year, I was bored with Graphic Design, and was focusing my creativity on my photography service, which had become quite popular in the Savannah car scene. It was then that I realized I could take my love for both cars and photography, splice the two together, and photograph cars for a living. That summer, in 2007 I graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design, and within two weeks of graduation, I was photographing cars full-time, on a freelance basis. Fast-forward to 2010, and I still, quite literally, have my dream job.
What is NotBland and how did it all start? Why the name?
NotBland started as my personal portfolio website, where I showcase all my new photoshoots and event photography, though it’s evolved into a sort of hub to follow all my work. The site still acts as my portfolio website, but now I offer wallpapers of my recent photoshoots, as well as a printing service (I’m redesigning both how prints are ordered and the sizes at which they will be offered…)
As for the name- that’s quite simple. With a surname of Bland, I could hardly call my service Bland Photography, can I? Hence, NotBland Automotive Photography.
Earlier you said that you were inspired by others during your journey to the top. Can you tell us more about the people and pictures that inspired you?
Before I started developing my own signature style, I was inspired by many great automotive photographers, most notably Wynn Ruji, Nigel Harniman, Olaf Hauschulz, Lee Brimble, and several others. They are all location photographers, preferring the outdoors to studios, as I do. Studying their collective work helped me develop my own style, as I got a sense of what’s already been done, what compositions or color palettes may be new to the field, or what to generally avoid. It allowed me to find my own niche among the greats, while not shadowing any of them too closely.
What do you define as a successful photographer?
I think in today’s market, a successful photographer boils down to precisely what the name implies; you need to be able to make a living for yourself. It’s difficult, especially when you factor in the cost of professional equipment. However, the internet has helped on so many levels- at least in my experience- that I can focus my energy on the creative part of the job. I don’t even need to advertise my work most of the time; all it takes is posting my work to several major car forums, and word of mouth does the rest. It’s always rewarding to get that random email from a fan in Romania or Bangladesh, who saw my work on a car forum I had never heard of, and just wanted to wish me luck. So in part, I think a successful photographer is someone who can both take advantage of their online presence in ways they couldn’t imagine before, and make enough money at year’s end to continue doing what they love. Showing a popular subject in a new light is the ultimate goal; for viewers to remember one photograph of a car, above all others. If one can do that, they’ve succeeded as a photographer.
When thinking of some of the elements that made you persevere in this field that is so saturated by thousands of new comers, what gave you the ability to differentiate yourself?
I think more than anything, it was just my determination to show fellow car enthusiasts a new way of looking at the cars they already love, and in some cases, presenting vehicles they have never heard of, in that same light. I’m always experimenting with composition, lighting, and most importantly of all, in my opinion at least, the post-processing. I love photographing cars just as much as the next guy, but I absolutely thrive in the post production, editing my work to perfection, and that’s where my images really come alive. Even while shooting, all I can think about is how I’m going to edit the photographs, what distracting background elements to remove, what reflections to erase, what color palettes to use, and what newly learned techniques to employ to give new life to what are already pretty solid frames. I’ve always been driven by creativity, whether it be in the unique location, actual framing, or clever editing, I love finding new ways of looking at a subject that many of us have seen time and time again.
You shoot cars for the most part, tell us about your passion for them and what you drive yourself? It must be hard watching a $450K car all day and finding ways to make it perfect without owning it?
Unfortunately, I drive something pretty lame in comparison to the subjects I photograph; I drive a Dodge Durango, but it is absolutely essential, as I have just under 300 lbs of bulky camera and lighting equipment, and hauling everything around is made so much simpler with a big SUV. I’m actually in the market for a new car, I have been looking at a handful of very different models, but the fundamental issue at hand, is the car needs to carry my equipment, as I drive all over the US for work. So whether I get a wagon or hatchback, or a sedan with folding rear seats, the car needs cargo space, and easy access to it. Sadly, the new Camaro has the space, but lacks a wide enough trunk opening, otherwise I would have bought the SS already. Sometimes, one must sacrifice his personal preference for his own future, and do what makes sense for the business first, the real fun will come later and will be much more rewarding.
Regarding shooting exotics, I wouldn’t say it’s that difficult. The single most important aspect of any one of my photoshoots is the location, and once I have that secured, making an exotic look better than it already does is the easy part. I’ve always said, you can shoot a $3m Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport for ten hours, but if it’s sitting in the middle of a parking lot the whole time, who cares? Location is absolutely crucial, as it can make or break the entire series. One of my most successful sets to date was the orange ’04 Lamborghini Gallardo, and the area that I found for the shoot took nearly a whole day of driving around a city I had never been to, before I found the spot- and then a week of calling the location manager before we got a permit. On shoot day, I spent seven hours photographing the car– and another four hours the following weekend, (while setting up a motion shot the first day, I slipped in a large puddle of water and landed on my elbow, requiring stitches) before I was content with all my frames. It’s an enormous series at 28 photos, and it was entirely because I had such a plentiful amount of excellent raw images, that I couldn’t narrow down my final selection any more than 28. This was in large part because of the unique location I found, which made the task of making a modified Gallardo look sexy, that much easier.
I also rarely have an interest in driving most of the cars I shoot, so parting ways at the end of the day is easier still. Even when offered the chance to drive, I usually decline. I’d much rather be on the ground with my camera in front of me, taking photos of a car, than inside it with the steering wheel in front of me, driving the car. I’m almost certain that somehow makes me shallow (as I love exotics for their looks, not their performance) or it proves my dedication to my work first but either way I know I’m in the minority of car guys on that one.
Did you always only shoot cars?
Starting out with photography, I shot many subjects: landscapes, architecture, portraits but once I realized everyone with a camera was doing the exact same thing, I realized I needed to find a niche of my own. It wasn’t for several years that I realized the answer lay with my other real love; cars. Now that I’ve developed my own visual style, I’m starting to branch out again, but on a professional/commercial level. I’ll start to have more interior/architecture and landscape photography in the next year, though whether it will be showcased on NotBland has yet to be decided. I’ll probably create an auxiliary portfolio website for my future non-automotive work.
Congratulations on being commissioned by 0-60 MAG for the ROSSION photoshoot. What can you tell me about that experience?
In October of 2007, my photography made the cover article of a French tuning magazine called MODIFY. The car in question was a heavily modified Chrysler 300C. Since then, my photographs have made smaller appearances in other magazines, just a photo at a time. The Rossion photoshoot was my best featured work yet, as it was the first feature I was especially commissioned for. Perseverance, hard work, and my drive to succeed paid off.
What tips do you have for those are starting in photography and are serious about making it a career?
Well, the number one thing to know is you don’t have to take classes to learn photography. I’ve taken exactly two photo classes in my life: ” Intro to 35mm Film” in high school, and “Intro to 35mm Film” in college. Both mandatory, both teaching you the basics of handling a 35mm SLR and how to develop your own film. So, one class, essentially. I’ve taken one photo class, and before both of them, I had already learned on my own (via photography books) how to operate a camera, and owned several lenses. The only format I shoot now is digital, so developing film was a dead end for my profession. When you get down to it, I learned a whole lot of nothing from classes. Everything I know about photography is self-taught over the last twenty years (I’m only 25), and everything I know about post-processing, I’ve learned by constantly experimenting with Adobe Photoshop over the last seven years. You don’t need to take classes to learn the trade. Granted, majoring in Photography in college would have been a big help as well, but I’ve gotten by so far without formal training. You just need to read a few books, be passionate about it, and never stop experimenting.
As for tips in the automotive realm, the most important thing I can mention is networking. Impress one owner, they’ll tell their friends, and so on. Car guys know car guys. I started off shooting college friend’s cars, and just by networking with one owner, within a matter of weeks I was photographing Porsche, Shelby and Lamborghinis. So long as your work is consistently impressive, you’ll be in demand.
Whats the next goal you’ve set for yourself and your exquisite photography?
I have two current goals. One is to shoot on a commercial level, directly for one of the big manufacturers. I will know more details in the next six months. My other goal comes in two parts. First, to drive up the Northeastern US and photograph exotics along the way this Spring/Summer (VA to MA), and the second is much the same, but on a much broader scale. I will be gauging the level of interest I can generate for an international trip to various countries, shooting privately owned exotic collections for a special project I’m developing. If the interest is there, I will be releasing more information on my website in coming months. Until then, I will be shooting individually owned cars as usual. Stay tuned; I’ve got some interesting things lined up. :D
Let me say on behalf of SecretEntourage that we “Thank you” for taking the time to share your story with our readers, many of our readers share your passion of cars and photography and I am sure they will find your story very inspiring. You have achieved a lot in very little time, starting with nothing more than the drive to succeed and are now the ultimate heavy hitter of your field. We wish you much luck with all your upcoming projects, and are confident that you will achieve anything you set your mind to.
For all of our readers that are interested in Notbland photography, make sure to check out Webb’s website and contact info below.