Loving Every Minute Of It
Auto Focus Life
by Jeffrey Eatley
From the moment I laid my eyes on my first digital camera, I knew that I would be photographing cars. My love for everything combustion powered began when I was a little boy playing with Hot Wheels. There is nothing in life like the automotive field. As with a camera, cars are the tool that brings us all together. It gives us a reason to get together, a subject to talk about, opinions to fight about and lifetime friendships are made. All my life, I’ve had a passion to create but, until eight years ago, I never knew which tool I would be using to do it. But soon after purchasing my first camera, I began taking photographs of cars. At that time, I had no clue where that passion for creation and love of cars would take me. It has been a journey that some will only dream about and I truly believe it is just beginning for me.
Shortly after getting that first camera, I shot thousands of images and played with them in Photoshop. My Photoshop editing skills surpassed my skills for creating a good photograph. There were times, however, when one image would turn out much better than the rest and, as with everyone else, that meant that friends began asking me to take a few pictures of their “rides.” As a result, I eventually made a decision that would change my world forever and, thanks to social media, it changed fast. After making that decision, however, I decided to become the best photographer possible and dove neck deep and sometimes over my head into books, online training and youtube videos.
Interestingly enough, there were not that many photographers doing automotive photography at that time. I found two names and loved their work and still look up to them and follow them today. They are Josh Mackey, who has a book called “ How to Digitally Photograph Cars,” and Tim Wallace, from the UK. I found Josh online and Tim on Kelby Training. Tim’s videos were amazing and his story was fascinating. I have had the privilege to speak to him on social media and in messages. Still, to this day, my hope is to be able to buy him a cup of coffee… one of my bucket list items.
Even so, by no means have I copied either one’s style or even tried to. Instead, I learn as much as possible and then adapt it to what the voices in my head tell me to do.
Around 2012, I started to post my work online, creating a small website and, as a joke, came up with the name “AutoFocus” to describe my work. This occurred about the same time that another photographer I was following contacted me about the chance to be in an automotive magazine. It was just a couple of pictures included in another persons feature along with some coverage images for Rat Rod Magazine, a bimonthly automotive magazine. At this point, the magazine was on issue number 10 and still not published nationally. Then the editor contacted me after seeing my first images and, after a long talk filled with tips, thoughts, critiques and ideas, asked if I would be interested in my own feature. So, I connected with a group of guys down in Louisiana and quickly shot that feature. Shortly after that issue, the magazine went national and was for sale in every store across the country.
I soon became friends with the owner and editor and learned to adapt my style for his vision of his magazine. The features kept coming and, by issue number 19, I received a phone call that my image would be on the cover. At the same time they asked if I would shoot the cover feature for issue number 21. These accomplishments were absolutely huge for me. To this day I still have features in RRM on a regular basis and proud to be part of that family.
During these years I have also been asked to shoot for a couple of other magazines including 8-Lug, Ride Hard and, on a whim, have created my own magazine called Auto Focus Mag, dedicated to the automotive culture in Louisiana and surrounding states.
It is also amazing what confidence can bring to the table and I take every opportunity to get my work out there as I learn and get better. My family and I vacation by RV most of the time and, of course, my cameras are always with me. After one vacation, I decided to post some of my travel images and tagged a few online sites and RV places. I never really expected anything to happen but I received an email from GoRVing.com, an online marketing company for everything about RV’ing. Their advertising agency quickly made contact with me saying they had noticed the travel images I posted. So they researched me and thought I could be perfect for a potential job. For the past five years, I’ve been a featured photoblogger for them. What an honor it has been. I travel to car shows and events and document my traveling life. This exposure has since led me to a few other travel magazines.
At no time have I stopped shooting in the automotive world. What I have come to learn is that there is much more than just cars out there. I added combustion powered art to encompass motorcycles and anything automotive. I meet the car owners, the builders, business owners and friends, which opens me up for so much more than just photographing a vehicle. They need personal images, social media images, advertising, show coverages and the list goes on and on. There is no one type of photography that I am truly hooked on.
I love the process of creating and have learned to adapt my style to fight into clients dreams and wants. I love the fact that I can work where I play and have a huge base to build my business. Still, I’ve not adapted to being called the “rat rod photographer,” even though it is an honor. I am still learning to take all that experience and build value in others people eyes but, in my own eyes, by no means have “MADE IT.” But I will never give up the chase to be even better and do more. I am still learning so much and the future is looking very promising and everything seems to be pushing me more towards a dedication to commercial images in the automotive world.
In some ways, I enjoy not knowing what will happen next. But I realize that if you constantly work on getting better, constantly put yourself out in the world, knock on doors, kick some down, and never stop pushing, something will break for you.
I am enjoying documenting all that I do in the hopes that, in the future, it could help someone else who is just starting out. My most recent events have been pretty big. I am currently shooting social media images, advertising campaigns, and web images for several local companies. My current goal is to bring in more advertising for my magazine that will help it grow while allowing me to create images for more companies to use in my magazine and others. By getting my name out with the magazine, it builds more value and opportunities to meet more people. Networking is everything and is just one step to the top of the mountain.
Some things coming up are getting me excited, too. For the first time, I’ve entered images for PPA and Southwest Regional, and Louisiana competition. I am heading to Texas School of Professional Photography for the fourth year and second year as a Wrangler, not to mention getting more involved with my local community Arts Counsel.
Jeffrey Eatley was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. In high school, Jeffrey studied commercial arts and gained some valuable photojournalism experience. After serving as a photojournalist in the Navy, his career took several turns but, when the cost of DSLRs became within reach, he discovered his love for photography. The camera became his tool to express his abilities. His love for “everything automotive” fit perfectly with his photography and provided him a new outlet for his art, giving him a unique opportunity to network with his clients.