This is a question that I get pretty often, especially since my background is in photography for about 10+ years. Back in the day I used to go to car shows, car dealerships and more to create content as often as I could. Growing up in San Diego I had a lot of options as far as the car scene, so I could switch up my content a lot. I was able to practice in so many ways, but most of my time was spent inside of car dealerships.
Back in 2006 (My Freshmen year of high school), I went to a high school called La Jolla High School, it was about 6 blocks from a Lamborghini, Bugatti, Bentley and Rolls-Royce dealership. It was known as Symbolic Motors. I remember driving by often with my mom or walking there after school to just admire.
I would attend Cars & Coffee on the weekends to practice my photography in different lighting, so I learned how to shoot in the shade, how to shoot with shadows, how to shoot with different backdrops and with people around me. I was also able to network. I had met a friend Mark Chapparone through the forums I believe when he owned an E46 M3. He had ended up seeing that I was a photographer and asked how much it was to shoot his cars. I believe I said I'd be open to doing it for free to practice, but down the line I charged maybe $50?
I could go on and on, but I ended up doing about 10-20 personal photoshoots for Mark Chapparone at his body shop. He had me shoot a ton of Porsches, BMW's, Mercedes and more. Mostly projects that the shop completed. It was really fun to stop by and just kind of do my thing. I enjoyed learning a lot and Mark had patience with me as well when I would mess up a shoot, or not know exactly how to handle a situation since I was about 16 years old.
As time went on I would still attend car shows each weekend. I was slowly building a portfolio using MySpace and FlickR to advertise my work, even Xanga a bit back in the day/Blogger. I had a few good photos that I really liked, so I printed them on business cards with my information. My email, name, number and social media links. I would bring them to car shows with me and make sure I hand the out to everybody. This made me realize that I was really just stepping into my marketing career. I'd go to these car shows, dealerships, and meet ups to network.
I was hired by a few more people who I gave my cards to and who I networked with online. So I would basically just schedule a shoot with a client, give them my pricing, find a location and we would shoot for 1-3 hours depending on what the client wanted. (Photos for garage posters, for social media, for the forums, etc).
As time went on, I eventually met some really cool sales guys at Symbolic Motors. I had given them my cards, stopped in every weekend usually with my camera and they were super chill. Always letting me sit in the cars, open them up and everything in between. After enough time of doing this, one of the sales guys was actually in a meeting where they brought up a question about hiring a new person to help with their photography. That's where my name was brought up.
I was very consistent, I was very persistent and I was very tenacious. This showed a lot of people at that specific dealership my work ethic. I remember my friend who worked as a salesman at Symbolic called me one day and asked if I wanted a job. I was freaking out. I went in for an interview with the boss of Symbolic. I was anxious and nervous, but excited. I was 18 years old at the time. I remember getting the email a few days after saying they wanted to hire me part time to help with phone calls, daily tasks and eventually photography. I was jumping up and down in excitement. It was surreal to me since it was my dream job.
Sure enough after a few months of working there they brought me on as their full time photographer to shoot all their inventory, do all their online marketing (Listing cars on eBay, AutoTrader, DuPont, typing all the descriptions, etc). It was a dream job for 7 years. As time went on I would still get weekend gigs to shoot events, shoot personal cars and more. I was offered a position as a photographer and marketer at Lamborghini and McLaren Newport Beach, O'Gara Coach Company, and iLusso. I took all the jobs between a 7 year span to learn as much as I could, eventually starting my own marketing agency in Orange County CA.
I've lived a very fun life in my early 20's and going into my late 20's. I'm very thankful for what I've created. I miss being a photographer pretty often, but I'm happy with what I've built for myself and for what I have coming next. If you're looking to become an automotive photographer, here's just the round up tips of what I recommend.
Be persistent. If somebody says no, go try 100 other people. You can email companies with your photography, you can drop off business cards at 50 dealerships, you can shake 1,000 hands at car shows. Just keep doing it, don't stop. Even when you make money, keep going. The momentum will carry you.
Stop caring what others think or say. People will always have some BS to say to you about how your lighting is bad, or how you don't deserve to have this, or have that. People always told me my work wasn't that great, and some tell me it's the best they've ever seen. You'll meet others who just wish they believed in themselves like you do. They have to get angry because they're jealous, so don't listen to what others say. You have to stay in your own lane and figure out what makes YOU happy.
Don't be afraid of rejection. Plenty of dealerships don't give a crap about their photography, so if you're running in there offering a great deal and they say no, just realize that instead of being angry, you can go find more dealerships to offer your services to instead of being mad about rejection. It'll happen, but maybe that person will come around or that client will realize that they need your services... so don't burn bridges, just say thank you anyways and move on.
It took me from 13 years old to 18 years old to get a part time gig, and this was when Instagram wasn't even out. Now with social media you have so much more opportunity but also competition. If you can build a nice portfolio online, post consistently, attend car shows, hand out cards, shake people's handles, make friendships at car shops, dealerships, performance products, aftermarket companies, etc, you never know who may need your services as a photographer.