7 Questions for Car Photographer and Pro Retoucher Nate Hassler

  • Nate Hassler is the second photographer to shoot for the Pit+Paddock poster series with a night photo of GReddy Kenji Sumino’s 1990 Honda Civic Si.
  • Starting his career as an editor at Modified and Super Street magazines, Nate has moved on to become a full-time photographer shooting for clients such as Toyota, Mercedes, and Chevrolet.
  • With a knack for not just working the camera, Nate also started a professional photo retouching business called Zone Five Post Production.

With every Pit+Paddock poster shoot, we’re not just going to be highlighting a significant vehicle builder in the industry but also the artists responsible for the beautiful imagery we admire. Last month, we interviewed Viet “V” Nguyen, whose fiery photo of Jonathan Grunwald’s Mazda RX-7 really kicked our poster series off with a bang (and a brap, brap, brap!). This month, we’re excited to showcase Kenji Sumino of GReddy Performance Parts and his extremely clean EF Honda Civic, as seen through the lens of Nate Hassler.

I’ve known Nate personally for more than 10 years since he made a similar jump from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California, where he pursued a career in the magazine world. He got his feet wet at Modified Magazine, then moved to Super Street, where we could collaborate on several photoshoots and projects. He’s a good dude who has since pursued photography full-time. More recently, he started a new photo retouching business that is bound to make noise and help other photographers and businesses out there that dread the difficult process of post-processing.

Tell us about how you got into photography? 
My dad is a retired commercial photographer, so I grew up around it, and I started to work for him as soon as I was old enough to be helpful and not make things worse at his studio. I gained an interest in cars around high school, and the two things started to come together as I started to shoot photos of my own modified Civic and my friend’s cars, slowly improving and progressing with time. I like to shoot other things aside from cars too, and I also direct motion.

Who were some of your biggest influences?
First off, my dad. As I mentioned above, I worked with my dad as a kid and into my early 20s, so I learned all the core stuff in that time, and he has always been extremely supportive of my choice to follow the same career path. Another person who influenced me a ton is Sean Klingelhoefer, one of my oldest friends and someone who sat one cube away from me in Source Interlink land for like four years. Sean and I shot together a lot, he showed me a lot about how many ways you can look at a scene or a moment, and I guess just at life. And of course need to thank my wife, Lisa Linke, who has shown me how far hard work can take a talented photographer in an industry that is 100% an uphill battle at all times. She absolutely kills it, and that makes me happy and motivates me to try and be my best self, both on and off the clock.

I know it’s tough to pick just one, but which has been your favorite photograph to date? 
This one is indeed tough… I don’t think I can pick one individual photo, but I can say a certain series of photos is my favorite. That would be the 2019 Nürburgring 24H race, where I shot the entire race through a set of glass prisms. The results are these super extreme lighting and reflection effects. The idea to do that series this way came as the culmination of years of shooting the same thing over and over, feeling burnt out, looked over, and wanting to try something different. I had seen a small handful of people messing around with prisms, but very few with cars, and I only remember having seen one person use them in the realm of motorsport. So, I thought, why not. I did a test run at the Long Beach GP and got a really great response, so I went for it at the N24, and it worked out even better.

If I did have to pick one shot from that series to be my favorite, I would pick this AMG at Adendaer Forst at sunrise. That place and time on the track is probably my favorite year in and year out, watching the sunrise reveal the cars, tattered and tone from the long night, and the disheveled campgrounds with the smoldering campfires, empty kegs of Bitburger, and the few and proud fans who are still up watching instead of being passed out drunk. It’s a really special moment every year, and I miss that. The image on its own is (I think) a beautiful motorsport landscape, and even more so with a little context.

How would you describe your photography style?
I would say my style is natural for the most part. I shoot a lot with daylight and lightly augmented daylight, using strobes and bounce, things that make the existing scene look elevated but not fake. Incidentally, I have a lot of studio experience as well, so the shots of Kenji’s EF are probably more in that direction. I’m comfortable in most any shooting scenario, there really is a time and place for anything, and I love to explore concepts and push myself. Being able to retouch helps a lot too.

Over the years, editing photos has become more important. Can you tell us how that has affected you, especially now that you’re starting a new business?
Yes, absolutely. Retouching and editing are a huge part of the digital world we live in. I do think the term “retouching” conjures up negative emotions in regards to beauty and body positivity, so I should be clear that I don’t advocate unrealistic standards or any of that. What I am talking about is mostly for cars; when I work on people, I go very light and thoughtful. I learned very early on that good retouching can make or break an image, and that’s why I took the time to learn how to do it professionally.

Back when we were all sitting in cube city at SORC, Klingelhoefer and I spent a lot of time looking at commercial pros. Dissecting their work and trying to figure out how to make our own images look that way. The thing was, we had just the two of us, a couple small lights, and maybe like one other helper sometimes. We never had the big crews or even location permits, let alone commercial retouchers to give us the special sauce. So, we had to learn how to do it ourselves. I would be remiss to not mention the benefit of having a giant photo studio stage at our disposal, too. Being able to practice and learn in there played a huge part in shaping my style and career over the years. All of that buildup has ultimately led me to open my own retouching firm, Zone Five Post Production, with my partner Nick Leadlay, an ace who has one of the best eyes for color of anyone I know.

You left the publication world of Modified and Super Street years ago. How has the journey been as a full-time photographer?
It has been a very interesting journey, I can say that much with certainty. I think most people can relate to the feeling of being stuck in a job that you don’t really like, but being afraid to leave because you might not find something else. Right? I am glad I met all the great people I did while at that job, but it has definitely been on the uptick since moving to shooting full time.

The film industry is brutal, though. Crazy hours, stress, second-guessing, and self-doubt. Of course, the positives outweigh the negatives, though. I love being able to shoot and retouch full time, so much of the job at the magazines was doing other stuff that wasn’t my forte (or of interest), so I am glad to have made the move when I did. I do still enjoy writing as a freelancer!

Finally, walk us through the vision and techniques used for the GReddy poster?
So my thought was to take Kenji’s car and kind of do my take on an old-school tuner mag cover but with modern methods. The image is pretty simple. The element of the wet down pavement, the reflection, and the flare of the strobes just add up to a nice sort of period-correct vibe for the car. I strobed the car from various positions, we wet down the pavement a bunch to get the glistening feel, and the light flares are from my strobes and have been augmented with software as well.

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