In The Haute Seat: Trent Sherrill
Name: Trent Sherrill
Occupation: Photographer, Trent Sherrill Photography
Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Birth town: Porterville, California
You shoot cars in a completely different way — how did you get into cars?
I grew up near the Famoso Raceway — you know the March Meets. That is right by where I’m from in Porterville, California. My dad had a ’57 Chevy hardtop that he raced — he was better known on the street than on the track. That was my introduction to cars. Later, my really good friend, Skratch — he’s a car builder, fabricator and artist — he told me, “do you want to do good work?” He showed me classic hot rods and said, “these are the kind of cars you want to work with.” That’s what I work with. I like the traditional hot rods and customs.
How did you get into photography?
I never went to photography school, I never went to college. I came from a small town called Porterville, California — middle of nowhere between Bakersfield and Fresno. It’s a small town and no one does anything. Some people get out, but most end up settling. They find whatever job they can, start a family, settle for whatever house they can. If they’re happy, that’s cool. But me, I wanted to see what’s out in the world.
I wanted a better life, so I moved out to Texas and started working as a general contractor. Then back in 2008, I started to get into hot rods and I used produce shoots. I used to get the photographer, models, cars and stylists and after a while people would come to me to organize that.
A few times I got screwed over by some photographers. I just didn’t like the way they treated people. I don’t understand why people treat other people sh*tty and when they’re hateful. We only have one life, we might as well try to be the guy that’s so cool and positive and who just wants good things for everyone else around them. That’s the way I am and that’s how I want to be seen even now, not just as some guy who takes nice pictures of old cars. I want to be the guy that when you see my name or pictures on a magazine or TV, you say, that guy stayed humble and hungry, he never forgot where he came from, he’s just a nice guy. So that’s a little how it happened.
How did you go from that to shooting?
I went from no one knowing me to being on the cover of a publication, on the shelves. I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I think someone saw a picture I had taken on MySpace — and you can tell how long ago this was, talking about MySpace. Someone at this magazine saw one of my pictures and hit me up, “hey, do you want to do this for a magazine?” And I said, “sure, I don’t know how it works, I’ve never shot for magazines.”
I learned on the go. That first shoot was for December, 2008. Since then, after getting to shoot a bunch of cars, some very, very nice cars, and understanding traditional hot rods and customs, I started becoming really strict about the kind of car I shot.
You seem to have a very specific style, not just in terms of what cars you shoot, but also the women you shoot with the cars — there’s a certain look to your work. Is that intentional?
I’m not into lingerie and bikinis and garter belts. Don’t get me wrong, girls look absolutely amazing in garter belts. Even in old Playboy stuff and movies, you see that and it’s like, oh my God, that’s what a real woman should look like: curves and a garter belt. But when it comes to cars, I like to do stuff that’s realistic like dresses or cigarette pants with a top. I don’t shoot naked girls. Not even implied. Classy, never trashy is my motto.
I had a customer show up at my shoot with her outfit. I said “what’s that?” She said it was what she was going to wear, I said “no it’s not.” She said, “I already paid you.” I won’t let money change me. I told her she could take her money back or shoot with the dress I brought her, but I wasn’t going to shoot her in the thing she’d brought. I care about what I put my name on. She ended up putting the dress on.
I’m striving to do really traditional stuff, so I’ve stopped shooting girls with tattoos. Some of my nicest pictures have girls with tattoos, but I’ve gotten really focused and I don’t shoot tattoos for my portfolio anymore. I don’t do pink and purple hair or gauges. I want to be the guy that is clean and classy, something you could have seen back in the day on the old hot rod magazines.
That’s amazing how you have gone from producing shoots to being in major magazines. Other than the power of the web, how do you do that?
A lot of it for me has been word of mouth. Holly West, she’s an absolutely great photographer, she hooked me up with Traditional Rod & Rulture. That magazine is like my Yankees. I’m a baseball guy. I love the Yankees. This magazine is my Yankees. It’s my Rolling Stone. I used to look at this magazine and think, “how do I get in here?” All my favorite things I’ve ever done in my life came through other people’s word of mouth and then going for it. You hook people up, they hook you up. I’ve worked for Rod & Kulture a few times now, I get the cover next year. I love shooting for them. I’m proud to shoot for them. They’re quality.
What camera did you start with and what do you use now?
I started with Canon Powershot, a little camera. I just picked up the camera, I didn’t go to school, didn’t know anything. I just clicked the button. Since then I worked with a Canon Rebel. Three-fifths of my portfolio was done with a Canon Rebel. I just got a Canon 7D about a year ago.
All this camera stuff, I didn’t know what anything meant. Shutter blah blah blah. I don’t know. I just sat in my buddy’s shop one night as he was welding and I started shooting things in light, in the dark, trying to get it totally clean, just by messing with settings. I didn’t know what the aperture was, but I would turn it all the way this way or that, and that’s basically how I learned to shoot on manual.
What programs do you use for color correction and other post-production stuff?
I don’t have Photoshop. A long time ago, I found this thing called Microsoft Digital Image. It’s very simple. It has cropping, a saturation bar, a blending bar — and that’s all I use. I don’t use lighting, either. I just use the sun. It’s really simple.
What’s the craziest photo shoot you’ve ever done?
I’m thankful that I’ve never had drama. I’ve never had a model walk out on me, or had a car guy leave. But the craziest thing — I was shooting a ’54 Lincoln outside of Vegas out in the mountains. We were setting up, the models were getting ready and this truck pulled in. I looked over and was like, “who the f*ck is that out here in the middle of the day?” I mean, we were right in the middle of BFE. He pulled in and he looked at us, we looked at him, weird, but whatever, we went back to the shoot.
After we got done, there were cops everywhere on the road. We pulled up in the car and they said we couldn’t go through. I asked why and said, “we were just shooting out here earlier.” The cop was like, “oh, you were shooting?” And I was like, “yeah, why?” He’s like, “well, we have a dead body here with a gunshot wound.” So I was like, “no, no, I have a camera. That’s how I was shooting. I’m not shooting a gun, I was shooting a camera.” Turns out the guy had shot himself.
How do you get some of those angles in your photos? Do you use any special equipment?
I climb things all the time. I climb like Spiderman, if there is a beam, I can get up on the roof. Sometimes I don’t know how to get down, but I can get up on anything.
I shoot out of cars sometimes, but when I do that, I don’t like sticking my arms out of the window, I lean my whole body out. I wear a shoe size 12, so even if I fall, my feet hold me at the window, like a washer. When I was in Minnesota just recently, I was shooting out of a pick-up and we hit a bump and I fell out, but my feet held me to the car. I scraped my arms, but I kept shooting all scraped up. It was fine until someone pulled up in front of us and kicked up a rock — nailed me in the head.
I’ve done so many crazy things for pictures. I’ve shot on top of a car while it was moving. I’ve done it from the bed of a truck while it was hauling ass down a bumpy road. I’ve tied myself to lean out of the back of a boat. It’s about the angles. I don’t see why photographers shoot from their stomachs to their necks. That area is called the lazy area.
I go for angles that are realistic. If you get on the ground like you’re in a manhole, the fender comes out 40 feet long and the back is two feet long. That picture is really distorted. There is nothing wrong with a picture of three-quarters of a car in the sun that looks b*tchin’. That’s all you need. That’s how I look at things. My crazy angles are how I get that. It’s more than just, oh, cool, you put your camera on the ground and tilted it up at Viva.
That’s one of your things, too, isn’t it? You don’t do car shows?
I don’t shoot girls at car shows. That’s cheesy. If you bring a girl to a car show, it feels like having one of those monkeys that you give a quarter to dance. I have nothing against girls trying to make it who go to a car show all dressed up. I think it can be fun. But I don’t shoot girls at car shows.
What are three things you need when you’re shooting?
I cannot shoot without someone laughing. There has to be chemistry. I don’t pick girls because they’re beautiful. I filter people. Because if the model disrespects the car guy, that’s on me. If the car guy disrespects the model, that’s on me. So everyone has to be a genuine person to get involved. A lot of the girls I work with have never done a car shoot. I will be out in the middle of somewhere and I’ll meet someone and I’ll feel it. I won’t pick them up, I’ll just give them my name and number, ask them to check me out and if they feel it when they look at my pictures, we’ll shoot together, so that’s one.
Then, if a car or location doesn’t make sense, I won’t shoot it. I have to feel the shoot. I need to feel like I’m accomplishing something, like it’s going to be a good shoot and set for everyone involved. Last, I have to be able to shoot at least 180 degrees. If I can roam wild when I’m shooting, pictures come out great. When people ask, “where should we shoot at?” I say, “where would you drop a dead body?” That’s where we shoot.
Hot: Hank Williams Sr. and old music; ice cream, no doubt about it, I eat it all the time; the love I get from my friends and family, they’re the gasoline in my life — they just run me; the Yankees; history and historical things; and traditional hot rods and customs.
Not: negative and unmotivated people; rat rods; street rods; tomatoes; slow drivers; disrespectful photographers who give real photographers a bad name; and spaghetti.