Photo by Paddy McGrath
Porsche 991 Rotiform by Paddy McGrath for Speedhunters

At Changing Lanes, we’ve been travelling around the world virtually to gather interesting perspectives and stories on motoring, from the people who drive cars, love cars, own cars, write about cars…and in the case of today’s interview, photograph cars.

Paddy McGrath is an Irish automotive photographer who captures cars visually to tell stories without words. Paddy’s work is arresting – you look at the photos and think how did he get that shot? You realise that there must be a technique to this car photography craic, that there are secrets to automotive photography that require a bit more than slip it on auto and click, click, click.

Paddy’s made an exciting career from his passion for cars and photography. His work has been published in a wide variety of titles  and he’s travelled around the world to capture supercars, rare classics and modified masterpieces. Some of his most interesting shots feature the people who own these cars, build them and cherish them.

In Ireland, Paddy has worked with many of the car brands on influential Irish press and editorial shots. These images can be powerful, helping the brand to connect the latest hatchback, SUV or sports saloon with Irish audiences. When published beside editorial on websites or in newspapers, we can begin to imagine how this car will translate to Irish life (under grey skies!).

In this interview, Paddy takes us behind the scenes to find out more about his work and what inspires him.

Photo by Paddy McGrath
Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R by Paddy McGrath for Speedhunters

1. Can you introduce yourself to our readers in a few sentences?

Hello! Yes, my name is Paddy McGrath, although my parents insist that I’m still ‘Patrick’. I’m Dublin based (but Waterford born) and I am an automotive photographer. I have been shooting professionally for over 10 years, but have been photographing cars for over 20 years.

2. How did you begin your career in photography? Why automotive? 

It’s my father’s fault, really. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve being brought by him to rallies all over Ireland where he would photograph the competitions on an early ‘80s Pentax MG. At one point in time, I think I was around 13, he handed me the camera to try my hand and I don’t think I ever gave it back.

Cars have been somewhat of a constant in my life; from family members competing in grassroots motorsport, watching old VHS tapes of rallying on Saturday mornings as a kid and playing with small Matchbox toy cars. I think it was inevitable that I ended up chasing cars for a living.

3. You have a broad portfolio of commercial and editorial photography with everything from small hatchbacks to supercars. What have been your most memorable projects and cars to photograph?

Although there certainly have been some pretty special cars photographed along the way, it’s more so the journeys and the people behind them that I tend to remember most. Without people, cars are nothing. They literally wouldn’t exist, so it’s always fascinating to get to know the rational behind any car, whether it’s a new supercar project from a famed manufacturer or a restoration which has taken someone years in the garage at the side of their house. Those personal insights are really something to treasure.

Photo by Paddy McGrath
Audi Q3 by Paddy McGrath for Audi Ireland

4. What inspires your work?

When I started to really develop a passion for car photography, I would spend countless amounts of hours looking at the work of other photographers who inspired me. The likes of Reinhard Klein was probably one of my earliest influences, and his book, simply called ‘Rally’, is probably one of the most influential pieces of media that I’ve ever owned. 

It’s the same today, I still look to photographers I admire and respect but it just happens that I now have the privilege of working along side them from time to time. That’s a pretty special thing.

5. How do you prepare for a photoshoot?

I try to prepare for the next shoot at the end of the last one. So, once everything has been downloaded, edited and sent to the client, I’ll clean, charge and get everything ready for the next shoot right away. It just means that I’m always ready to go, or if I need to prepare a shot list or locations, that I can spend more time doing that, rather than figuring out where I put that lens cap from last time. 

6. How do you deal with the challenges of weather and location?

For the most part, we just have to get on with it. We’re not blessed with consistent weather here in Ireland, but the grey skies often make for great light when shooting cars. It’s actually pretty rare that we’ll call off a shoot due to weather, and we’ll only do so if we think the weather is going to have a negative effect on the results.

Sometimes, a little bit of extreme weather, be it heavy rain or snow, can add a lot of drama to the shots so it’s not all bad. In saying that, there are plenty of reasons why California is my favourite place on earth to shoot, and the guaranteed sunsets at the end of each day are just one of them.

Photo by Paddy McGrath
Interior of BMW M8 Competition by Paddy McGrath

7. With social media, we are now bombarded with images of cars every day. Do you think social media has impacted or influenced your profession?

Absolutely, it has completely changed the game. First off, there’s the impact it has had on traditional media outlets and how people consume content of any sort. Because of this, so much content is now designed from the get-go to be disposable, as it is seen that more low-quality content is currently better than less content of a higher quality.

There are outliers who have bucked this trend, of course, and the recent surge in specialised automotive magazines and art books is hugely encouraging. I do think that these things will come full circle, and as people start to tire of the relentless pace of social media and the often regurgitated content contained within, they will naturally return to high quality, original content once more.

8. What for you is the most enjoyable part of automotive photography?

There’s something special about being part of the car community and documenting the people and cars within. I can travel to pretty much anywhere on the planet and strike up a conversation about cars with another enthusiast and create an instant bond with that person. Gender, colour, creed, orientation or anything else that society typically uses to put up as barriers between people just don’t seem to apply to car enthusiasts. 

That, and the thrill of chasing the perfect photograph or the proximity and access we’re allowed to racecars and other special cars is pretty enjoyable, too. 

9. What advice would you have for anyone who wants a career like yours?

I get a lot of e-mails and messages asking similar, and unfortunately there isn’t one pre-defined route that everyone in the industry has followed; you have to create your own way in.

Photo by Paddy McGrath
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport by Paddy McGrath for Volkswagen Ireland

That being said, it won’t go astray to shoot as much as possible and to try and get those photographs in front of as many eyes as possible. Never work for free either, or for the promise of exposure or credit. If you don’t put a value on your work, no one else will. I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve met over the years who made themselves very busy doing free work, only to eventually give up when they realised they couldn’t make a viable career out of it.

Also, be nice to people. It’ll get you a lot further.

10. Any favourite photos or ones you just look at and say ‘I nailed that’? 

There’s definitely photographs I’ve captured which I’m proud of, but I’ll usually start nit picking them almost immediately in order to figure out how it could have been even better. It’s the photographer’s curse! So, I’ll have to defer to that cliché of ‘I haven’t taken it yet’.

11. How can our readers follow your work?

I can be found on most social media platforms under the consistent username of @pmcgphotos or you can visit my website which features a small guide on how to photograph cars, along with my own portfolio.

Photo by Paddy McGrath
Porsche 911 Omomuki by Paddy McGrath for Speedhunters

Photo by Paddy McGrath

Thanks to Paddy for taking part in this interview!