Brenda Priddy, wife and mother of two is the world’s greatest automotive spy photographer whose work has appeared in many of the top automotive media, from Car & Driver, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, Forbes, Fortune, to Business Week, USA Today and Newsweek. Her stealth-type photos are in high demand turning her into an icon of the old and new world of spy photography.
Brenda is known for being brazen, walking right up to vehicles to shoot pictures, with a smile on her face and always willing to strike a conversation with test engineers. This world-class automotive paparazzo logs over 30,000 miles each summer in the Mojave desert to get her shots, a location used by majority of automakers for testing in extremely hot conditions.
To learn more about her and the global company she runs, BMWBLOG sat down with Brenda Priddy for an exclusive interview.
Brenda Priddy: I got into this business quite by accident – almost exactly 19 years ago. I snapped some pictures in a local grocery story parking lot of the 1994 Mustang (in 1992) and Automobile Magazine used it on their cover in November 1992! I didn’t really plan to do this as a profession – but over time (and quite quickly) it just happened. And, to say the least, it’s been a wild 19 years!
BMWBLOG: How big is your team. What kind of equipment do you shoot with?
Brenda Priddy: I have two full-time shooters in this country, and a half dozen others planted in different parts of the world – in addition to the 40 or 50 freelancers or stringers that send us spy photos throughout the year.
What kind of equipment do you shoot with?
Brenda Priddy: Most of us use Canon gear, but the exact equipment varies depending on the photographer’s preference. I switched to Canon in the pre-digital , pre-image stabilization era because of a lens! Canon offered a 35-350mm -zoom lens and no one else came close to such a lens. It is still my favorite.
Brenda Priddy: Challenges? Well, I cover mostly hot weather testing, whereas several of my European photographers cover cold weather testing. The elements are very harsh, and yes – sometimes we run into angry engineers. Also, we spend A LOT of time away from home. For me – that mounts to about 120 days a year just on spy trips! Maybe more!
At times, we’ve had “problems” with engineers from all countries and cultures, but contrary to the wishes of several reality-show networks, we attempt to avoid confrontations. And we don’t tolerate ill-responsible driving – from our photographers – or from the test engineers.
BMWBLOG: Does BMW ever ask you not to publish certain photos?
Brenda Priddy: BMW has never asked me not to publish photos – but, no one really talks to me. Especially the test-engineers. (It’s a lonely job!)
BMWBLOG: What’s your favorite spot around the world to camp out and wait for yet-to-be-released cars being tested? The Nurburgring?
Brenda Priddy: Location-wise – personally, I never mention where I am – except for photos on the Nurburgring – as those photos are very obvious.
BMWBLOG: Do you have any special techniques for snagging spy shots that you’d be willing to share with us? Any elaborate costumes that have been employed in a photo shoot of a yet-to-be-seen car?
Brenda Priddy: I tend to shoot close-up. If they spot me, it’s likely too late – I’ve already gotten the shot! No elaborate costumes here, but shooters have included a 8 year old child (my son – who is now 21), college girls (my daughter and her friends) and even my 80-something mother (who once shot Porsche testers while she was on vacation with her sister!) My camera is usually concealed until I’m ready to shoot, but that’s the only thing hiding. Actually, I often practice “hiding in plain sight”. I try to blend in wherever I’m at.
BMWBLOG: Have manufacturers created camouflaged cars and run them in front of the spy photographers with the intention to deceive (not so much the photographers, but other manufacturers)?
Brenda Priddy: It seems over the years that manufacturers have warmed up to the idea that spy photos are almost inevitable when testing new cars. Have manufacturers been more open to people in your line of business? In some cases, it would seem car makers use spy photographers to their advantage to create hype about an upcoming model.
BMWBLOG: Is there a friendly rivalry amongst spy photographers, or is it cutthroat?
Brenda Priddy: Big time!! Competition is tough and in this digital age, things have to happen quickly! We we shoot something – we often look for the first internet connection (we’re often in very remote areas) and send the images out to your editors as quickly as possible.
BMWBLOG: If a ‘citizen’ comes across something out of the ordinary on the road and manages to get a shot, how do they contact your company?
Brenda Priddy: I’m very easy to find (contact-wise) on the internet (BrendaPriddy@gmail.com) and I pay freelancers a very good commission if their photos sell. But if people are sending me photos for my consideration, it’s very important that they don’t post it anywhere on the internet!