The Joy of Discovery; Jerry Garns' Approach to Commercial Photography

With Honda and Acura as major clients, having an automobile in his large cove studio is a frequent occurrence for photographer Jerry Garns. He's been shooting for American Honda Corporation since the late '80s, and his intricately lit detail shots of auto interiors and exteriors appear in the company's brochures, sales manuals, and on Acura's Website. And after the Latin American division of Honda saw his work, Garns added them to his client list. He's even photographed for Honda south of the border with an all-Hispanic photo crew. In addition, he's shot for Isuzu, Nissan, and for Motor Trend, "sporadically throughout the years."

His clientele isn't limited to the automotive world. Garns also shoots for Pioneer Electronics, B.F. Goodrich, Occidental Petroleum, Disney, East West Bank, Olympus America, Samsung, Mitsubishi, and First Regional Bank. "Product work has been a great way for me to make a living, and I enjoy lighting something so beautifully designed." Garns is very creative, and doesn't restrict himself to just one style. The look of his images varies greatly, depending on the subject.

A few examples of Jerry Garns' beautiful imagery: The graceful lines of an Alessi Vase.
All Photos © Jerry Garns

Fine-Tuned Lighting
I visited his studio in Los Angeles on a day when he was doing a photo shoot for the Latin American division of Honda, and was concentrating on the interior of a 2005 Acura MDX. To light and photograph the car's interior, the entire right side of the vehicle was removed. Besides working with several assistants, Garns works with a professional who preps cars for this type of shoot. "He would hang it upside down if that's what I needed," Garns points out. And the car would not be reassembled after the shoot, he informed me. "Afterward, these cars are generally crushed."

Lighting for automobile photography is extremely fine-tuned. In Garns' studio, various lights were bounced off a large 12x36-foot white reflective panel that hangs from the ceiling, suspended over the length of the car. Some areas were emphasized with light; in other areas, illumination dropped off gradually. It's easy to see that Jerry Garns is not only passionate about his work, he possesses all the technical and aesthetic resources to see a successful project to completion.

A photo for the cover of a brochure on Samsung Plasma T.V. products.

Products, People & Culture
Garns' interest in photography started when he was a teenager in the '60s. "My dad was a still photographer and made films for the L.A. Fire Department," he says. While he was in high school, he had a Zeiss Ikon 120 roll-film camera.
Although today he makes his living doing more product photography than anything else, Garns also enjoys photographing foreign people and cultures, an interest that began when he was 18 and joined the Marine Corps. He was sent to Puerto Rico and eventually, to Viet Nam. He was assigned to the military photo lab, and bought a Pentax Spotmatic in 1969, which he describes as "My first decent 35mm camera." It was at this time, he says, that his love of photography really took off.

A nun in Spain, photographed as a personal project.

Garns later went to Venezuela on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, although he didn't pursue photographic interests. Nonetheless, he learned to appreciate Latin culture over the following two years, and learned to speak Spanish. He believes in doing personal work whenever possible, and has some intriguing images in his portfolio as a result. "You shouldn't just shoot the jobs that come your way, you've got to do some photography for you," he says. A number of his images were shot in Guatemala and Spain.

"All the pieces of my life have shaped me and made me who I am," he observes.

He eventually pursued photography at Brigham Young University in Utah, and then embarked on the photo program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. "If someone's interested in becoming a commercial photographer," he points out, "there's no better training ground than that." Although he assisted a couple of photographers as a student, Garns got married and started a family while he was still in school. "Most photographers start out by assisting pros," he says. "But for me, assisting after graduation wasn't an option."

Jivago crystal, photographed for Contact fragrance.