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Darrin Estep – Connecting images, emotions and people in the motoring world

Club racing has always been a popular automotive engagement. It feels like tracing motorsport to its roots, where the sheer driving pleasure is complemented with unparalleled social interaction. The laid-back style of communication and operations, but mostly the affection and camaraderie among participants, creates a unique atmosphere, penetrated by the sound waves of privately owned racing cars charging towards victory.

Despite the less “formal” presentation of the activity, compared to the higher echelons of motorsport, club racing activities, including driver education ones, often become the training ground for the younger members wishing to move on and become engaged in professional series. Being an expensive involvement, sponsoring is always welcome and if there is one thing that sponsors appreciate, that is targeted exposure with unique, premium quality photographic content.

At a Porsche Club of America event in New Jersey, I come across photographer Darrin Estep. His body has assumed what seems to be a new yoga pose, bending arms and legs to get firmly close to the ground.

The lens is steadily focused on the door sill of a modified Porsche 997S, aiming at the decals. For the last two days, Darrin has covered almost the entire area of the race track and paddock, in pursuit of that perfect shot.

With the event coming to an end, as he is looking out towards the track, taking in the scenery and the beautiful sunset, the time seems ideal for a chat.

Black: Do you ever get a chance to enjoy the event at all or are you too busy with your work?

DE: I definitely make time to enjoy the event. For me it’s a win-win, since I enjoy the sport and in my experience the more you enjoy an activity, the better the results are. Being a photographer and a motoring enthusiast at the same time gives me the perspective I need to capture great shots.

Black: I have noticed there was a lot of painstaking effort in taking pictures of specific cars from all possible angles. What is it that draws your attention?

DE: The request for photography in this case was for generating interest from sponsors, so my attention is on delivering imagery that can tell a story that would appeal to potential sponsors.

I focus on details, like the driver’s track-suit and helmet, trailer, banners, etc. to produce a result that will enable the potential sponsor to envision their products in place of the current image.

Black: One might think there would be limited interest for exposure at a club racing event, but that is apparently not the case, is it?

DE: Porsche club events are important gatherings, since apart from driver education and social interaction, there is also quite a lot of testing of new car set-ups with aftermarket equipment.

Naturally, the manufacturers involved appreciate good content and even more so great photography they can share on social media with their global followers. 

Black: What is the fundamental element to being effective in what you do?

DE: It is important to keep in mind WHO you are shooting for and what story and emotion you want to have come through in the image. Focusing on this aspect helps to connect with the viewers and various brands.

Black: Is there a lot of interaction with clients before an event?

DE: I like to get a detailed brief, which could be a couple of pages long describing the purpose of the event. This way I can use my own imagination, experience and judgement in identifying photo opportunities.  I’ll use this along with experience to make a game plan, but maintain openness for serendipity to occur on the day of the shoot.

Black: It seems things are not much easier during the race either…

DE: The challenges of the race mostly involve changes in light, being able to identify the interesting parts of the track – communication with drivers and teams always makes this much easier –and basically making the most on the limited time available, bearing in mind the need to cover long distances, sometimes in adverse weather.

Black: Do you find people are generally cooperative?

DE: It all depends on the occasion. At professional motorsport events, it seems everyone is used to having a photographer or videographer nearby. This is not always the case with semi-pro or club events. 

Black: How do you deal with that?

DE: I try to understand what their routine is during the event, so that I can position myself carefully. My lens choice aims at getting candid interactions, without needing to get too close. This brings the viewer in close, without making the subject feel any intrusion.

Black: I bet you have honed your social skills then…

DE: Ultimately you want to be personable. Some people don’t want their picture taken and you have to respect that.  It’s a balance when you are given an assignment and need to photograph people or places that may or may not be welcoming to your presence.

Black: I would expect social media have made shooting more commonplace. Have they also changed the way you interact with people?

DE: Social media activity has been an interesting learning tool, in that you can connect and learn with people around the world that you may, or may not know. It’s made the world smaller in some ways.  Again, I choose to be as authentic as possible, both online and in person.

Black: How do you think the social media and Instagram in particular have changed the way we see the world and how has your profession been affected?

DE: Like most things, it has its positive and negative aspects. When I write my blog posts or connect on social media, I am open to discuss what may have gone wrong with a particular situation or how I could have delivered a different result. I make every effort to point out the full story as I have experienced it. This interaction with a significant number of social media contacts coming from different backgrounds becomes a useful learning activity. There is a lot of benchmarking and insight for everyone involved.

Now, you mentioned Instagram…Instagram inparticular, is a unique platform, since it connects people to their preferences, in a way which is accessible to the global audience. Over the last few years, I have been approached by influencers and companies alike, who understand the necessity of professional photography in delivering an impressive result for digital marketing purposes. This is not only due to the quality of photography itself, but also due to the understanding of what makes a picture stand out and connect people. At the end of the day, the goal is to convey the right message through social media interaction. 

Black: What equipment are you using?

DE: I shoot with a Nikon D810 and mostly Sigma prime lenses. For this event I relied mostly on my 70-200mm 2.8 to get close to the action and compress the background.

Black: What equipment will your next investment be and why?

DE: I am considering moving to shoot with mirrorless bodies to see if the low light capturing is improved.  For this type of event, a 300mm lens would be very helpful to get even closer to the action. It would also cut down on the amount of cropping that’s needed in the post production work.

Black: What are your professional plans?

DE: I am a commercial shooter, so I get to photograph a variety of items. I would like to get a Porsche in a studio built to shoot a vehicle, with enough time to implement some of my ideas with lighting and unexpected angles. I really enjoy shooting to tell a story through a single image. It’s very rewarding when you show the client what you have produced and feel from their reactions that you have executed on their vision. At the same time it is important to reserve time for personal projects as well. I recently did a series of product images that I combined into a book for marketing purposes.

Black: It looks like you are creative in many different ways, but surely there is a lot of photography from car dealerships. How do you differentiate your proposal from the photography that is often communicated to all of us, especially through social media?

DE: A lot of dealership photography currently on display is about cars in a showroom or a garage and it is mostly done by dealership salespeople. There are many cars randomly positioned in the same picture, with limited commercial targeting and artistic inspiration. Many times you need to “prove it”, before you are hired to shoot it, so my approach is to shoot my own vehicle and use the resulting material in describing my ideas to the client.

Black: Which car would you love to start a new project with and why?

DE: I have a long love for the Porsche brand.  I actually learned to drive on a gold 1974 911T. I grew up with swimming as my main sport, so my father would drive me to swim meets all along the California coast in that car.  Great memories. When I was 16, he taught me to drive in that same car.  Manual gear-shift, no power steering…at the time he was living in Atlanta which has very hilly neighbourhoods.  He would tell me, “Okay, now balance the car on this hill without using the brake and don’t stall the car (or hit the car behind you) when the light changes.” It has left an impression on me ever since.

Black: The 911 is the subject matter then…what is your ideal theme?

DE: The central topic of my story would be how the Porsche brand has evolved, and to some degree remained classic, over the years. Something I really love about the brand and design language is that no matter which model and from what angle, when you see a Porsche, the design is so distinctive that there’s no mistaking it for any other brand. I’d love to capture a series of Porsche vehicles in a Swiss Alps setting, during winter or early spring as they navigate the terrain.  The magnificent alpine scenery and demanding weather conditions make the ideal set for a challenging experience. The light reflected on the snowy mountain slopes can easily turn objects into black shades, with no distinct characteristics. At the same time, it is a unique location, which has delivered remarkable photography and I would love the opportunity to capture pictures of the quintessential Porsche, adding my own perspective and skill.

This combination of challenge and visual reward is what motivates and inspires professional photographers and motoring enthusiasts alike. At the end of this interview, I admittedly still haven’t figured out which one is Darrin’s dominant side. Having spent a weekend taking hundreds of shots at the PCA event in NJ, one would think he has reached his saturation point.

Instead, Darrin is still examining the surroundings. With his eyes fixed on the 997, he seems totally calm, yet his focused, rapid eye movement is still receiving information, visualizing ideas for his next attempt to connect images, emotions and people.

Darrin Estep posts samples of his work on

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

and can be reached by DM or e-mail on darrinestepphoto@gmail.com for work proposals.

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