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In the Fast Lane with Robert Kerian:
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Kerian learned to love race-car photography during this time. “I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix around 1996–97, and shot through the chain-link fence,” he says. Later, he went to the California 500 with press credentials and hopes of getting a few pictures in the popular auto racing magazine, Racer. He not only got published, but his images found their way into the magazine’s photography annual—“It really felt great,” he says of his first experience in print. Another big break came while he was working on his advertising portfolio. He showed his work to Sally Mars, a photo buyer for Fallon Advertising, which handled the BMW account. Although she routinely saw the work of many pros, he says, “She really inspired me to become a full-time photographer.”

A portrait of race-car driver John Force.

He continued to work on his portfolio, and landed his first advertising job with Volvo about four years ago: “It was the launch of the new V70,” he exclaims. From there, he got more advertising jobs while doing photography for Racer, “doing everything from portraits to specialty shots on Indy cars.” (Kerian credits Eddie Adams with teaching him how to do portraiture.)

Kerian’s Gear
Kerian recalls the time he was almost hit by a car while doing trackside photography. Understandably after this incident, he became “gun shy,” and concentrated on shooting race-car driver’s portraits and “setup shots.” Then came the advent of Pocket Wizard, a wireless remote triggering device distributed by Mamiya, which utilizes a transmitter that can fire a camera as far as a half-mile away. Kerian uses both Pocket Wizard Plus and Multi-Max, which eliminates the need for a separate transmitter and receiver setup. “It gives photographers a lot of freedom to do things we didn’t use to do,” Kerian comments. “One trigger can fire up to 10 cameras set up in various positions.”

Above and Below: Some examples from Kerian’s extensive advertising portfolio.

Pocket Wizard also allows photographers to trigger strobes remotely via its radio triggering device. And according to Kerian, Multi-Max allows him to do techniques like rear-curtain sync. “It’s really suited to race-car photography, and is extremely reliable,” he emphasizes. “It hasn’t let me down once!”

He shoots with the 35mm Canon EOS-1v, as well as the medium-format GX680 Fuji camera with fixed-focal-length lenses ranging from 50mm–500mm. Kerian says he also uses Contax and Mamiya’s 645 systems.

He says he’s getting more involved with digital imaging, but maintains, “I still like to have film in front of me.” His film preferences are Fuji Velvia ISO 50, “my primary film,” and Kodak EPP (for cross-processing). He also uses Fujichrome Provia 100F and Kodak Ektachrome E100VS slide films, and Fuji NPS 160 print film “when the contrast ratio is really high.” Kerian uses a Polaroid scanner for his 35mm film, or sends it out to a service bureau.

Good and Hardworking
He recently returned from a trip to Europe, where he photographed the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans 24-hour race in France, as well as the Moto GP motorcycle race in Italy. He says he did rig shots on a motorcycle job for Buell, a division of Harley-Davidson. Kerian has also completed a historic piece on a Ferrari race car driven by legendary Canadian six-time Grand Prix winner Gilles Villeneuve (who was killed in a crash in 1982).

As for his future plans, he quips, “I want to take over the auto advertising world.” But—more modestly—he says that he wants to be respected in the industry for doing good work. He discusses his desire to teach automotive photography one day, and has already given a presentation to students at his former school, Art Center. “I’d also like to teach underprivileged kids about photography,” he says, adding that the greatest challenge may be finding passionate students.

Kerian credits his mother with giving him a lot of support while he was struggling. “Without her and my dad, I’d be working at McDonald’s,” he says. His advice to hopeful beginners? “People should keep taking pictures—a career could happen!” And to those who seriously want to make photography a career, he stresses, “It better be your passion—it’s very competitive, difficult, and constantly changing.” He quotes Eddie Adams, who once told him, “It’s one thing to be good, but a hardworking photographer will get better results.” Kerian also thanks his assistants and support staff: “It’s difficult to do this type of photography without good support behind you.”

To see more of Robert Kerian’s images, visit www.robertkerian.com.

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