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by Josh Mackey February 17, 2022 5 min read

Richard Thompson III

Richard Thompson Automotive Photographer

First, let me thank you for taking the time to read and reply to this questionnaire. Many of our followers are your followers and being able to explain your beginnings might help inspire others to push themselves to reach their goals. Remember to be honest and open, these features are meant to DRIVE people to do what they want to do.

Can you explain a little bit about who you are, where you’re based and what you currently do and/or shoot for?

I’m an automotive photographer and creative director based in Los Angeles. I’ve worked with cars in various ways shapes and forms for the past 20 years, primarily as a photographer/director/creative director. But really I just love cars and all the different layers of automotive culture and history to get lost in!

When did you first pick up a camera?

Around 6-8 years old! Which, in the days of film, was fairly young. It helped to have a dad and other family members who were deeply interested in photography.

Richard Thompson Automotive Photographer

When did you realize that you wanted to pursue photography?

During or just after college, I’d already been using a camera for a long time and also taken classes for it but started gaining assisting experience and as I became familiar with the ins and outs of commercial photography, realized there were ways to work with cars and make a decent wage.

Why cars?

Because I love them! As did my parents when I was a kid. Growing up near cars and racing has helped me understand the subject and “how cars want to be seen” which is a big part of photographing them successfully.

Richard Thompson Automotive Photographer

When did you first realize you have “made it” or a name for yourself?

When I read this question :-) I think having the clients you really want is about as far as you can make it in advertising photography. I feel lucky to have the clients I do, and also to work with the exceptionally talented team who joins me on set.

Two-part question, what car do you want in your garage and what car do you want to shoot the most?

My dream car toss-up is F50 vs CGT. I’ve got limited seat time in both and they’re very similar regarding why I like them – decentralized carbon tub road car with a big mid-mounted NA engine and no frills / no nonsense - no TCS system, and in the case of the 50, not even power steering or ABS. It’s a very direct way to drive, and the formula style engine/chassis configuration wherein the engine is a stressed member of the suspension is really the most balanced and beautiful to drive at speed of any road legal car out there. Plus the sound of either is pure magic, and both have a targa style removable roof panel.

What I’d like to shoot the most is tough, given that I have used that philosophy to pursue most of my work for the past two decades. It’s 99% a car that doesn’t exist yet…but if I had to pick a car that already exists which I have not shot, it would be the Mercedes T-80 – a fascinating story in its own right. Since the time Mercedes first invited me to Stuttgart, I have always jokingly petitioned my friends at the museum to take it down off the wall and let me shoot it…

Richard Thompson Automotive Photographer

If you could shoot anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Epic runway shoot at Groom Lake?!? I bet the aforementioned T80 would looks insane out there.

Who did you look up to when you first started out? Who do you look up to now?

At the beginning it was all technically accomplished photographers who had a book I liked the look of. Now that list is more about photographers and other artists who successfully shrug off the conventions of normalcy and create work that showcases something thought provoking or which flies in the face of conventional advertising.

Richard Thompson Automotive Photographer

Are there any gadgets in your equipment outside the standard that you can’t live without?

My watch. I’m constantly looking at it on set, breaking everything down into little 5 minute chunks, and using it as a method to keep on schedule as we press on through the shot list.

Do you have any resources that you use to make your job easier? In either pre, during or post production?

In prepro, the resource that makes my life easiest is me/my experience thus far: I essentially won’t shoot unless there is a good plan in place and mutual understanding with the client about what is being done. If we cannot sort that out, as much as I may love the client, the vehicle, the idea of the shoot, or the money attached…that’ll be a nope from me. Staying true to that idea is a good resource and has saved me a lot of trouble.

In production: the best producer I have access to.

In post: Really depends on the volume of assets but of course a great retouching studio, if we can afford it in the budget. The amount of iterations/layers/aspect ratios of the same image which advertising clients can ask for gets dizzying – nearly impossible for one person to handle and hardly the creative part. As someone who is more drawn to the creative process than the purely technical process, it’s nice to be able to hand those parts off to a whole team of people.

Where do you want to be 5 years from now?

Dicey question in the pandemic years! Living and breathing would be a nice start, still enjoying the things I’m passionate about with a smile on my face is about all I could ask for otherwise :-)

Richard Thompson Automotive Photographer

Lastly, what advice do you have for all the aspiring photographers out there following in your footsteps?

I’m a big proponent of the apprenticeship style of learning. I went to college for art and have a BFA and do appreciate my time at college, the people I’ve met etc. But most of my best lessons about work came from working on commercial & feature film productions and seeing how gear gets used and decisions get made. I spent more than five years doing that post-college before I felt confident about approaching advertising as a photographer in my own right. Along the way I found solid mentorship. You’ll need it too. I have noticed that a lot of younger people on the internet do not seem to know what the word “mentor” means. Finding a good mentor is not easy – good people take time to find. Ensure such people are as impressive in other facets of their lives as they are in their professional pursuits – a big part of professional success is balance in other facets of your life.

Don’t follow in any footsteps, not too closely anyway. The world and the technologies that we use to entertain and advertise are changing so rapidly that the way I got to where I am today is no longer a viable means for someone else to approach the same position. As with many things, true long term success is more about self-consistency when adversity appears. There’s a quote I share a lot when I talk about professional advice because it had a big impact on me earlier in my career:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On!” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Any shoutouts and/or contact info?

Shout out to my mom. She’s the best. Love you, Mom <3

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