Meet James Haefner

James has been a photographer since he was fifteen!  He started out shooting rock bands and friends, then developed an interest in landscapes.  He first studied photography at the University of New Mexico and graduated with a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology (1976).  After graduating he returned to Detroit (he grew up in Detroit’s suburbs) and started assisting at the automotive studios in the area.  In 1979, James decided he was ready to go out on his own and has worked for himself ever since.  For the first twenty years or so he concentrated on the automotive advertising business which was and still is huge in Detroit. In the early 2000s, James diversified into architectural photography and is currently working in both specialties. James says that he is “fortunate to have two great children, one attends med school and the other studies business (and plays a lot of golf).  My work has taken me around the world and I still enjoy a good road trip which can be problematic as I’m currently about 12,000 miles over my lease allowance!”


Here is the million-dollar question…why photography? What’s launched your passion? 

When I first started I felt photography would allow me to express myself and I still believe that.  Since I work in the more technically challenging areas of photography I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of the medium too.  Something I’ve found interesting is that I was influenced by the movie, Blowup, and since I have discovered that many photographers my age felt the movie was instrumental in their early interest in professional photography.

What are some of the most difficult challenges you’ve faced in photography to date? How do you navigate them?

After forty years of working, I think a challenge I’ve successfully faced is adapting to change.  In 2002 I switched from film to digital capture after having worked with photoshop since 1997 or so.  I was amazed at how the workflow allowed me to create better automotive images in much less time than with film.  Unfortunately, just a couple of years later the CG world became very adept at creating automotive imagery often reducing the photographer’s role in shooting backgrounds (and domes).  While photography quite often is our client’s preferred approach to image creation circumstances arise (such as no vehicle existing) and many projects are handled with the CG workflow.  One challenge that I haven’t really addressed is creating motion content.  I’ll work as a lighting consultant occasionally on automotive motion projects but operating a camera or directing hasn’t been something I’ve realized yet.


What is your favorite photo gear or tool that you take with you on every shoot? Why?
Being an architectural photographer there are two items I can’t live without.  The Canon T/S lenses and the Arca D4 head both allow me to capture my subject matter quickly and more precisely.  The Sunseeker app also helps me plan the timing of my projects.  Another new piece of equipment I really love is my drone, I work with the Inspire 2 and X7 camera.  Having the opportunity to put a camera in a position that previously was impossible is tremendous!

Lighting plays a major role in telling the story of your image. What are your favorite lighting techniques to tell your story? 

In my automotive world studio photography is something I’ve specialized in since I started.  There is no one technique I can claim that separates my work from another photographer.  It’s a culmination of years of experience and experimentation that allows me to capture these images.  Also, now that we aren’t trying to create a perfect shot in one capture we have so much freedom to assemble the captures in post and create something special.  I guess if I were to pick one technique it’s that I like to start each shot with a single light in the studio’s ceiling illuminating the subject, I use this as my base capture more often than not.

In which ways do you see your work evolving in the next 5 – 10 years from now?

Good question!  I really feel fortunate to have continued this passion of mine for so long.  In terms of evolving, I’m not sure what will happen, perhaps more books (architectural) could come my way.  The response to my first book, Michigan Modern: An Architectural Legacy, has been tremendous and I’d love to do a few more.  There’s also a chance that my work will be featured in museum exhibits which would be wonderful.

If you could have given yourself any advice when you first launched your career in photography, what would it be?

I received advice that I thought was excellent even though I didn’t follow it.  Try to determine where you’d like to live then move there and start your career.

Why Capture Integration? What made you select us as a partner?

As a professional, I want to work with firms that understand my situation and make my life easier.  Capture Integration has that understanding, as well as, an incredible team to help me accomplish my goals.  They have a great knowledge of the products and demonstrates how my work can benefit from them. That’s key.

Connect with James