B&H Creator of the Week: Travel, Adventure, and Automotive Photographer Shelby Knick

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A thirst for discovery and lust for adventure is the fuel behind automotive and adventure lifestyle photographer Shelby Knick. After sampling the rarefied world of high fashion merchandising, Knick reinvented herself by chasing down pictures on the racetrack, and her career has skyrocketed from there. Among the many accolades from her global trek to capture elegant living and all things fast, Knick is one of the first Hasselblad Heroines, leading us to welcome her as our next B&H Creator of the Week.

In our conversation below, Knick reminisces about her trajectory from fashion showrooms to motor sports and the international jet set, while also discussing her favorite camera gear, sharing her passion for digging deep into stories, and offering tips for making a mark in an adrenaline-fueled field. Keep your eyes on B&H’s social media channels in the week ahead for even more of her action-packed content. And, to jump-start your own photographic prospects, consider Knick’s advice for keeping an open mind and making sure you absolutely love what you do.

Above photograph © Brendon O’Neal

Jill Waterman: Where are you currently based?

Shelby Knick: I split my time between Sonoma County and Los Angeles, California.

What are your most Important social feeds/networks?

Instagram, Forbes Article Archives

Did you have an interest in photography, or other arts, growing up in California? If so, what forms did this take?

I remember always being involved in art making from a young age; my mom and I would work on an art project almost every weekend—from silk painting, to clay sculpture, to painting with watercolors and acrylic—and I got my first camera as a child, as well. It was a little Mickey Mouse film camera, and it quickly taught me that every shot was precious. I took as many art classes as possible throughout high school, and when I got to junior college, I turned my attention to fashion, both on an aesthetic level and in terms of marketing.

Knick revisiting her home away from home in London where she spent six years living and studying at the University of the Arts London and working in the fashion industry
Knick revisiting her home away from home in London where she spent six years living and studying at the University of the Arts London and working in the fashion industry Christian Johnston

You went to college in the UK to study fashion. What inspired you to move so far away and pursue that field of study? Did you have an interest in photography at that time?

Ive always loved to travel, so going to school overseas was definitely the right choice for me. While applying to colleges, I knew I wanted to study in a creative field; I was interested in photography, but I didn’t see it as my path yet. I was researching art schools in Europe and my search kept leading me to either Paris, Italy, or London. Since I already spoke English, I decided to focus on schools in the UK. Before applying, I took a trip to London with my mom and her best friend at the time, during which I got the chance to tour different schools and get a sense of the city. I loved it immediately, and the atmosphere just felt right. After doing a tour on my last day in London, I applied to Central St. Martins as soon as I got home to California.

What influenced your decision to shift from fashion to photography, and what kind of additional education did you pursue before embarking on your photo career?

While applying for my B.A., I had to make an on-the-spot choice between pursuing fashion promotions or fashion photography. I remembered my father saying photography was a risky field to be successful in, and that partly influenced me to choose fashion promotions. I did feel that if photography was meant to be a passion of mine, it would find its way back into my life. My foundation year required me to take courses in different mediums, so I was able to dip my feet in various design classes, before continuing on to my chosen major, which included broadcasting, PR, and journalism. I ended up focusing on broadcasting, as I love the visual storytelling element the most.

During the final year of my B.A., I started working as a showroom assistant for Burberry at their London headquarters. I eventually advanced to the position of clientele coordinator, and though I loved working there, it didn’t feel like a satisfying or long-term lifestyle. When I came back to the U.S. from London and moved to Los Angeles, I was exposed to automotive photography and got to visit the Long Beach Grand Prix for the first time. I immediately noticed that the photographers shooting the event were mostly male, and I thought that a female perspective was something necessary I could bring to the table. At the time, I was working as a wardrobe stylist on commercials and TV shows. That wasn’t fulfilling, so I decided to jump into photography. I got the gear I needed and took evening classes toward a photography certificate at UCLA. I had the art background I needed, but I wanted to sharpen my technical skills. In the meantime, I also took a lot of weekend classes at Samy’s Camera. Shooting at the racetrack was a big jump away from the cutthroat fashion world, but I liked how different the experience was; it was still competitive but in a way that motivated me.

Knick with her motorsports photography mentor and friend John Thawley, at Lime Rock Speedway, in New York
Knick with her motorsports photography mentor and friend John Thawley, at Lime Rock Speedway, in ConnecticutJay Knick

Did you have a role model or someone who inspired your vision as a photographer early on, and what’s the most important thing you learned from them?

I didn’t really have a mentor or anyone who inspired me to make the switch from fashion to automotive photography. I didn’t see any women working in that field, so I wanted to step in and try it firsthand.

Once I started shooting, I ended up meeting a few established photographers, who were mentors to me; Rick Graves and Vic Huber were two photographers working out of L.A. and Orange County who taught me a lot. Vic introduced me to the Hasselblad camera, and Rick inspired me to really play with shutter speed and approach motion creatively. John Thawley was a motorsports photographer who became a dear friend of mine and emphasized the importance of photographing the people, not just the cars on track at the racing events. He said that the cars will always be around, but not the people.

Have aspects of your knowledge base and contacts from your time working in fashion been helpful to your photo career? If so, how have you cultivated this?

The aesthetic and design aspects of fashion definitely translated over to my photography career, especially in terms of composition and color. But I wouldn’t say that any contacts from my time in fashion have contributed to my photo work; its a completely different world.

In the pits at Sebring International Raceway during the Twelve Hours of Sebring endurance race
In the pits at Sebring International Raceway during the Twelve Hours of Sebring endurance raceShelby Knick

What are the biggest hurdles youve faced as a woman working in motorsports and action photography?

I did feel intimidated when I first stepped into automotive photography, but I saw it more as a challenge than a setback. I tend to like to put myself in challenging situations, and I could see right away that there wasn't much of a female presence in the industry at that time. When I got to meeting individual photographers, I found that many were inviting and helpful; one-on-one interactions usually made me feel more comfortable.

I also found that men who held higher positions in the industry could be kind and inviting at first, but they would quickly change their demeanor if they saw that you were a quality photographer. Some race team owners would also expect services to be done for free in exchange for access to an event, which is something that might make you question your worth if youre new to the field.

Shooting on a racetrack involves getting media credentials. What strategies did you use to gain access when you were first starting out and yet to prove yourself?

Media passes are generally very difficult to get. When I first moved back to California, I happened to email Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey for work, and even though they didn’t have any open positions, the P.R. head there offered to meet me anyway. We kept in touch, and I reached out to him about media credentials while I was building up my portfolio. He was able to get me credentials to two racing events that season, which was a big help. From there I was able to build an even stronger portfolio. I also recommend connecting with smaller, online media outlets while developing a portfolio. I worked with a few in my first year to gain experience and make connections.

Sunset at Sebring International Raceway during the Twelve Hours of Sebring endurance race
Sunset at Sebring International Raceway during the Twelve Hours of Sebring endurance race Shelby Knick

What’s the most valuable thing you've learned about photographing fast action since you started working in this area?

Ive learned that it’s important to think outside of the box when choosing spots to photograph from. Ive found that most photographers chose certain turns to shoot from, which end up in most photos being taken from the same angle. At the Twelve Hours of Sebring race in Florida, for example, there’s a famous shot you can get of the cars coming toward you as the sun sets in the back. After I photographed that, I moved a little farther down the racetrack because I noticed incredible colored lights coming from the other side of the racetrack. With a slow shutter speed, I was able to get really unique images of the cars passing through the lights. Over time, that spot actually became a favorite among other photographers.

You mention in an interview that, as a woman, youve had to work that much harder in this field than a man. Can you describe a scenario where this occurred, and how you approached the matter to make the extent of your efforts clear?

You do need to form relationships to find work as a photographer, and unfortunately, people sometimes use this notion to take advantage of you. In the beginning, its a little intimidating to state your worth, especially when someone is expecting you to work for free. A team owner once asked me to capture their race car; I sent them the photo files after the event, and the owner wanted them for free. When I refused, they decided not to take the photos at all. In the beginning you may have to do some free work to gain experience, access, and to build credibility, but there comes a point when you need to draw the line. Knowing your worth is important, at the same time as understanding the market.

SKDroneWT from Straight Arrow Films/Mechaniks on Vimeo

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you offer other young women who dream of being an automotive/action photographer or working in other male-dominated fields?

My advice is to make sure you absolutely love what you do. A job like this cant be done for the money because thats not always guaranteed. Its all about having passion and enjoying the experiences. Being a travel photographer requires an open mind because theres always going to be competition. It’s a risky career, but if you have a love for travel and experiences out of your comfort zone, it will fulfill you.

Knick in transit during back-to-back shoots, leaving from Martinique to her next shoot in New York
Knick in transit during back-to-back shoots, leaving from Martinique to her next shoot in New YorkChristian Johnston

When and how did you expand from shooting on the racetrack to automotive advertising and photographing luxury products? Generally speaking, does shooting for luxury brands require a different approach than shooting auto races?

After shooting automotive and motorcycle races, my career started to expand in the travel direction. I shot car culture in Cuba and the Icona Vulcano, a one-of-a-kind all-titanium vehicle, in Torino, Italy. Combining travel with photography came naturally, and eventually that expanded into the luxury lifestyle category. Photographing cars is definitely different from photographing destinations, people, and products, but I like to be able to keep expanding creatively. I prefer to feel like Im growing, both in terms of subject matter and ability.

Photo from a story about car culture in Cuba that Knick shot for Road & Track magazine.
Photo from a story about car culture in Cuba that Knick shot for Road & Track magazine.

Are most of your projects assigned by clients, or do you develop story ideas and pitch them? If the latter, do you have any tips for how to identify the most engaging and/or authentic stories to tell?

Ive had both; I've had clients come to me, but most of the time, I come up with ideas. Im always being inspired by meeting people and thinking about how I can contribute to the projects theyre working on. I pitched the Cuba car culture idea to Road & Track magazine, and I was able to shoot the story for them. My best tip for identifying a great story is just looking for something truly unique that hasn’t been covered before. Taking the time to meet people and hear the story behind the subject is what makes a strong story for a media outlet. You need to consider the needs of the media outlet youre writing for as well; who is their audience? What would they be interested in?

You describe having a passion for digging deep into stories. What kinds of research do you do when planning for a shoot? Are there any particular resources you find that offer the most in-depth and/or authentic results?

I dont have a specific resource in mind; it all depends. I think the best form of research is meeting people and getting yourself out there. Secluding yourself and researching online works, but its not as powerful as hearing peoples’ perspectives and stories. A combination of word of mouth, talking to locals, and a bit of online research is what works best for my travel work.

How big of a team do you generally work with on travel/adventure stories? Are there any go-to resources or professional networks you can recommend for finding reliable fixers or other team members?

The travel projects Ive done have included anywhere from two to six people. Theyre usually very small teams, and oftentimes, theyre my friends. I cant think of a network to recommend; time and trial-and-error relationships are the best ways to find a good flow within your team. It’s important to work with people who understand your vision, are trustworthy, good listeners, and who can roll with the flow of the production.

Knick with her video crew filming swamp buggy racing in Naples, Florida
Knick with her video crew filming swamp buggy racing in Naples, FloridaRobert Daffin

You are sponsored by Hasselblad as a Hasselblad Heroine. How long have you been shooting with Hasselblad’s and what camera brand(s) did you work with previously?

I was one of the first Hasselblad Heroines, which was an honor. I had always admired Hasselblad and it was shocking to be given that title. Ive been shooting with these cameras since 2018, and I use them when I know I can. Its my go-to for travel and lifestyle work. The first camera I worked with was a Canon 5D Mark II, and Ive had many Canons since then for my automotive and action photography.

Knick photographing with the Hasselblad X1D along the Portofino coastline
Knick photographing with the Hasselblad X1D along the Portofino coastlineChristian Johnston

In a B&H Event Space interview, you mention that using your Hasselblad requires more thought than shooting with other cameras. Can you elaborate further on how your thought process or approach to shooting has changed?

On a Hasselblad, each photo requires careful thought. It's a challenge, in that these cameras take time to work with, resulting in fewer shots and more consideration in-between. In a way, it reteaches you to slow down and give more consideration to the result.

What is your favorite go-to camera/lens setup for automotive work and fast action? Are there any specific accessories you wouldn’t be without?

It depends on whether Im taking still or action shots; Im curious about the new Canon R3 thats coming out, but I also love the Hasselblad X1D II setup. Ive found their zoom lens very flexible and perfect for on-the-go shooting. As far as the prime lenses go, I love using the XCD 45mm f/3.5, XCD 21mm f/4, and the XCD 120mm f/3.5 macro. In recent years, my Canon kit has included the Canon 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X Mark II, with the 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-105mm f/4, and a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. The DJI Mavic 2 Pro has been another great tool to use for a different perspective when photographing automotive and action scenes. On a few fast action shoots I’ve also used a Sony Alpha a7R IV with a Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.

FIA World Rally Championship in Sardinia, Italy
FIA World Rally Championship in Sardinia, ItalyShelby Knick

Considering the speed at which camera technology has evolved, has your approach to shooting action stayed consistent over time?

It has. Especially nowadays, it seems like there are new cameras and lenses coming out constantly. No matter what camera you have, shooting action doesn’t change; youre still making decisions about the shutter speed and the aperture, as well as keeping your body steady for a smooth pan on your subject.

You are also known for drone photography. When did you first start working with drones and did this involve much of a learning curve?

I first started working with drones about four or five years ago. It wasn’t hard to learn because it reminded me of video game controllers. I got a toy drone to practice with around the house, better preparing me to work with the larger drones.

You've also photographed yachting and boats. Has photographing action on the water instead of dry land required any changes to your process?

Actually, its pretty similar to shooting cars; its just all about adjusting your shutter speed and aperture settings, and maybe adding a rain shield to protect your lens and camera!

You write travel articles and produce video content for Forbes magazine. Are you a regular contributor and how long have you been working with Forbes? Do you have a favorite story that youve done for them?

Before working as a contributor to Forbes, I was creating featured travel adventure video stories for Forbes media. They were all pitched stories, and thats how my relationship with the magazine started. I have been a Forbes.com contributor since 2018, writing articles in Travel and Lifestyle. One of my favorite videos for Forbes so far was shooting the Martinique Carnival, and one of my favorite articles to date was writing about Ernest Hemingways stomping grounds here in the US.

Do you have a favorite car out of all the automobiles youve photographed and/or driven? What is it about this vehicle that makes it special to you?

It’s definitely the all-titanium Icona Vulcano, by Cecomp. The experience of the shoot and the story behind the vehicle is what made it the most memorable car to photograph. This car was incredible to see and learn about during a tour of the top-secret factory where it was built. Cecomp builds a lot of the concept cars for a vast number of car manufacturers. I had the pleasure of photographing the Titanium Vulcano during its first test drive in the hills above Torino. It was handmade with 200 hammers specifically from the city of Torino. It was a lot of fun to hear people talk about the novelty of this car, and to see the city of Torino from the vehicle itself.

The Icona Vulcano Titanium in Turin, Italy, shot for Automobile magazine
The Icona Vulcano Titanium in Turin, Italy, shot for Automobile magazineShelby Knick

Do you have any upcoming projects or plans on the horizon that you can tell us about?

I’ll be attending Monterey Car Week in August, and I have a shoot coming up at a Mustang ranch in Colorado, as well as some lifestyle shoots in Napa County. We’re also currently in pitch mode with a new digital series, but I can’t provide further details about that at present. Then, for 2022, I have a large shoot in Italy and Costa Rica, so stay tuned to my website and social media for more about that. In addition, I constantly publish travel and lifestyle articles on Forbes.com.

Learn more about Knick and her high-powered automotive and adventure travel work in this presentation she gave for the B&H Event Space, in August 2020.

Do you have any questions for our B&H Creator of the Week? Please ask them in the Comments section, below. And, to view all our B&H Creator of the Week Q&As on Explora, click here.

2 Comments

Lime Rock park in in Connecticut not New York

Thanks for bringing the inaccuracy in Shelby's caption to our attention, Anne. We are updating the caption to reflect the correct location of the racetrack. We hope you enjoyed reading about Shelby's many adventures, and thanks for reading the Explora blog!

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