Adam Johnson November 15, 2021 Blood Sweat and Gears
This months photographer spotlight is on John O’Neill. John is one of the icons in the automotive photography world. John is a mentor to so many photographers and is always willing to help. Check out some of John’s favorite shots after the interview.
ST: Introduce yourself. Let people get to know the man behind the lens.
JO: My name is John O’Neill or Johnny O as some of you know me. I’ve worked at Street Trucks, Sport Truck, and Mini Truckin as well as contributed to a bunch of magazines over the last 20 years. These days I own a photo / video studio in Orange, California, called OC Product Photos. We handle content creation for the Automotive Aftermarket as well as many other niche products.
ST: When did you get into photography?
JO: In High School I was on the search for something that I was good at. I loved art classes, but I sucked at painting or drawing. I got into a basic photography course my sophomore year and fell in love with it. Everything was analog back then, so we were shooting film and developing prints in the darkroom. By my Senior year of High School, I was ditching every other class and spending the entire day in the darkroom. I was charging other students to print their work and using that money to put into my Chevelle. It was one of my first hustles.
ST: Do you have any covers and if so, how many?
JO: There are quite a few, but I don’t know the number anymore.
ST: Who are some of your influences?
JO: When I first started in the magazine industry, I quickly gravitated towards Brian McCormick’s work. Wes Allison taught me how to shoot a vehicle in a studio and from there I’ve been influenced by all the great ones; Robert McGaffin, John Jackson, Anthony Ross Tyler, Larry Chen, G.F. Williams, Webb Bland, Tim Wallace… we literally live in the golden age of automotive photography, and I could make a list of 100 names that are all absolutely amazing.
ST: When you go do a shoot, what’s in the camera bag?
JO: Canon 5DSR, 17-40mm, 24-105mm, 35mm, 85mm, 70-200mm. Polarizers, ND Filters, Graduated ND Filters, and a tripod.
ST: Describe your lighting when and if you decide to use it.
JO: In my studio I use Broncolor Siros strobes for most shoots. We have variable color temp LEDs, RGB LEDs, small LED bricks and a whole shelf of what you could call “others.” Lighting isn’t always about the brand name, it’s about how you control it to create the mood. Go follow my studio’s TikTok @OCProductPhotos and I’ll show you how to light a product with a $30 Amazon light.
ST: Describe some things when you are at a show that makes a truck standout to you.
JO: I’m always drawn to two things; super clean or wildly different. Show me that you can build a truck that has 1-Upped every other truck parked around you that has the same body style or stop me in my tracks because you’ve built something that I’ve never even thought about. Those are generally the trucks that I’ll gravitate towards.
ST: Do you have a favorite shoot you have done? Describe it.
JO: I shot Pony’s black Blazer by the beach a few years ago. It was a spot that I had done photoshoots at a few times before, but this time I approached it differently. I used a 200mm lens which will compress your background and visually it brought the edge of the cliffs right above the top of the Blazer. It was a composition that worked much better than any other time that I’ve shot there. It was one of those learning experiences that taught me to never assume you’ve unlocked a location’s potential. Always try new angles, new lenses, and new compositions.
ST: What are your thoughts on the current and future state of the industry?
JO: I think it’s changing and evolving at a much quicker pace than ever before. Trends used to take years to travel across the country and now because of social media, it happens instantly. We’re also in the midst of a technical revolution where a local shop can have access to CAD software, CNC machines, laser/water jets and even 3D scanners to create OEM quality parts for projects. I’m not taking anything away from hand crafted fabrication, but that access is unprecedented.
ST: What advice would you give to new photographers?
JO: Never stop learning. I have 20+ years of holding a camera in my hand and I’m constantly learning, you should be too. Learn to shoot manually, learn to shoot with ambient lighting, learn to shoot with strobes, learn how to manipulate and shape light, learn how to manipulate long exposures, absorb everything you can. Each skill is a key that will help you unlock the answer when you’re put into a new photographic situation.
ST: Last minute thoughts you would like to give to the street trucks community.
JO: I miss you guys. I don’t get to attend shows that often anymore and hang out with the community that helped shape me and my career, but I will always interact with you on social media. If you have a question or just want to say hi, hit me up on all platforms