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Interview with Award Winning Commercial Photographer Tim Wallace

Heath Robinson
December 17, 2013
Time to read:
14 Minutes

All images © Tim Wallace

Topaz: You have what many would consider to be a true dream job, getting paid to take photos of really cool cars–Aston Martin, Lamborghini, and Ferrari just to name a few.  Is this something you set out to do when you first started your career as a photographer or is it something that you more or less fell into?

Tim: I have always been interested in photography and I started my business six years ago from scratch.  I made a very conscience decision to specialize at that time and I choose the car industry, as it was something that I was very interested in.

More than that I choose the ‘prestige’ part of that market, the main reason being that the type and style of work that I produce is very dramatic and it’s these types of cars that demand that type of work, so I am very fortunate to have the gift of seeing images in this way and fitting them into a gap in the market.

If you buy a family style car you are looking for practicality, space, economy and comfort, however the cars that I shoot are about emotional decisions that make you want to buy them so they require an ’emotional’ and hard hitting image, that’s where I come in.

Topaz: I love this quote that is on your website “Photography is for me simply a creative passion, the ability to use light and form to capture in a single image what I see in my own imagination…”.  Do you have all of your images mapped out in your mind before the shoot begins?

Tim: Before I unpack the equipment I pretty much know exactly what I am going to shoot, in fact in many cases I run the scenes through my head days in advance and at that point I start to think very hard about not only what I want to shoot, but more importantly what feel I need to give it and how I might do that.  Once I have that firm idea in my head it’s a case of starting to reverse engineer it and look at the lighting and other elements to work out just how I will achieve the shot.

For me it’s all about lighting and looking at the ‘details’, the little things make all the difference, always!  I come from a background of photography printing so I still see every scene in a matter of tones, contrast, and textures.  I use this to help me a break a scene down in those elements and that helps me work out what lights I need and what I need that lighting to do in the different areas of the scene.

Topaz: One of the signature staples in your work is dramatic lighting that evokes a strong sense of emotion both in the studio and on location.  How did you develop this style?

Tim: I truly believe that every single image has a little bit of you in it.  When I first started to shoot cars a great many people said that I would not succeed as my work was too much like ‘art’ because of the dramatic slant it takes at times, however I stuck to my beliefs and these days it’s one of the things that my clients love the most.  Many times now I don’t get a brief of how they want to shot as they just want me to do it in my own way, that’s a very good sign as you know then that they are choosing you not only for your abilities as a photographer but most importantly for your unique style and creative views of the world, that’s what its all about.

My style has developed over the years, working with larger spaces where the car is not so much filling the frame and also lower DOF, maybe this is increased confidence in my own abilities or something else, I am not sure, but as I say style evolves as you work and shoot more.  Style does not come from trying to copy the work of others that you see, this is not something I would ever advise, be yourself and believe in your own vision and creative abilities!

Topaz: I imagine that your post-processing workflow also contributes to the creation of your signature style.  What post-processing steps are essential for creating your images?

Tim: Post-production is very personal and I think many people follow the guidelines of others.  I am self taught in Photoshop so my use of it is very much still in the mindset that it’s just a tool to control and adjust tones, highlights and shadows, a great detail, like I used to do when printing.  Photoshop for me is just a digital darkroom where I don’t need to wash my hands every 10 minutes… I tend to break down the parts of the image such as the foreground, background and the car or subject itself and look at what I need to correct or enhance in each area.

I work on each area separately and then bring them all together, doing final work to look at bringing out surprising areas and blending the scene together.  I may make some final overall adjustments to the blacks and the shadows to map everything together, as well as look at color temp changes locally.  Of course when shooting cars, a huge part of my time is spent cloning out dust and dirt on paintwork… Cars are often very clean when they are presented to me for shooting but they are never clean enough.  Once you start to light them you see every single microbe of dust!

Topaz: You’re very familiar with Topaz plug-ins, and in fact use them in your workflow quite often.  Do you have any specific Topaz processing tips?

Tim: I love the Topaz plugins and they are a part of my process on many occasions but unlike many people who may wish to set up ‘presets’ for all their images, I tend to make my choices on the impact on an image at the point of actually working on that image.

I think it's really crucial to ‘experiment’ with each of the tools and not only look and follow what others recommend, but also look at how different adjustments can really change an image to a great or a small degree. It’s a lot like when somebody says to me how do I light a car?

Is there a fail-safe way to do it that I can just use?  The answer really is no, and my advice is the same there, go out and shoot, light, and try new things and then you will develop your own style and start to really understand your tools a lot better; both what they are capable of and how they can help you.  Style is very important in photography and the Topaz suite of tools can help you impact your own style on an image in many ways.  Never over use a filter and if you are unsure of the effects that you are placing on an image, walk away for ten minutes and then come back and look at it again.  It’s often the case that when you work on images for a long time you sort of become pixel blind, and then it’s very easy to put way too harsh an effect onto something as you have lost sight of what the actual start image looked like in the first place.

Topaz: Along with running a photography business full time, you are also an instructor at many workshops and seminars. What is the most important piece of advice you give to your students?

Tim: Photography is a craft, it’s a creative part of us that we need to ensure we inject ourselves fully into.  Never shoot or do something in one way just because people say that you should do it that way.  Be adventurous and get out there and try new stuff, new lighting techniques, and look at different ways of doing things.  Just because it’s never been shot that way does not mean that you can’t invent that technique.

Be true to what you believe in, be true to your creative beliefs, dare to be different, and enjoy the journey you take, as great photography is not a destination, it is totally a journey that will take you many places but what matters most is that you’re not afraid to take a different road than everybody else…

Topaz: You recently completed a new personal photo series called Project Darwin that features stunning images of an abandoned town in Death Valley.  Could you tell us a little more about this project, and why you chose this location?

Tim: We found ourselves in Death Valley moving through the Valley from South to North. Death Valley has always held a fascination for me in its sheer scale and beauty.  Six miles off the main road, quite literally in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we came across the town of Darwin set in the base of the mountains, shrouded in dust and sand, and abandoned in the sheer deafening silence that you experience only in places like Death Valley.

Darwin itself is a truly amazing place and we really didn’t know what to expect as we pulled onto the dirt track that carried us into this sleepy little abandoned area in the middle of the valley with a reported population today of under 40, even though the sign brags a few more that have since packed up and moved on away from the town…

The town was first established by American explorer Dr. Darwin French in 1874 after he discovered silver ore deposits in the mountains, just south of Death Valley but the mining area is now closed off and out of limits to people with many signs warning of the dangers of open mines still being there and potential death traps to those that wander into the area.  Just a year later, 700 people were found living in the town where around 20 mines were discovered – the population peaked in 1877 at several thousand people.

In its heyday, Darwin was buzzing with saloon bars, miners, busy general stores and even brothels.

As with many ghost towns across the U.S., once the industry has died, life in the town becomes lost and soon after just simply disappears.  However in Darwin, a small community of artists, and those preferring life in the wilderness, has remained in settlements further down the valley from the ‘original’ settlements.  The population is made up of mainly couples and with no one under the age of 18, so no children exist there.  There are no stores to buy anything and nowhere to stay – the nearest supermarket is well over 90 miles away.  The tiny community that remains in the dust had only a local post office where residents could gather to pass the time of day and even this now is shut and abandoned forever.

Just further down the hill we started to come across the houses of those both past and present, many just left abandoned with the contents still in place, refrigerators, clocks and books still on the shelves…  We shot there for over an hour, being respectful to those that still call this dusty town home and exchanged a few hearty hellos to those few that we met along the way walking through the small town.

Darwin is in many ways a place of both sadness and wonder and it remains set in the middle of Death Valley and the days and nights pass like a ticking clock with no impact or change on anything that remains, a modern day time capsule sat baking in the desert sun….

To check out more images from Tim’s Darwin project follow this link:


Photographer Tim Wallace is the driving force and creative thinking behind Ambient Life. An award winning photographer his work is often described as both conceptual and dramatic.

Tim Wallace works internationally with many high-end brands and clients such as Aston, Land Rover Jaguar and Morgan in the UK to Kenwood and Audi in the US.

His work has been published globally and has been showcased in the infamous ‘Victor’ Book, an industry Worldwide and highly acclaimed industry leading magazine. He was recently named by as one of the UK’s most creative photographers whilst in the US Scott Kelby described Tim recently as one of the Ten most influential photographers in the World today, Tim’s view is a little more straight forward, a man who’s known for his down to earth attitude, his feet are firmly on the ground and his desire to produce creative work is one that he has been driven to from a very young age when he first picked up a camera, “Photography is for me simply a creative passion, the ability to use light and form to capture in a single image what I see in my own imagination…”

He is the humble recipient of many awards including International Advertising Photographer of the Year, Travel Photographer of the Year, UK Motor Industry Photographer of the Year, Hasselblad Photographer of the month, Professional Photographer of the Year as well as receiving Distinction Awards for his work from such professional boards as the RPS. Tim’s company Ambientlife was recently honored in the Best New Business awards and won the ‘Best new Creative Business Award’, something that we are very proud of and a testament to his dedication and drive towards our clients and his work in the field of commercial photography.

Interested in seeing more of Tim’s work and checking out his training videos?  Take a look at the following links:



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Heath Robinson