Randy Lorentzen

Five Minutes With … Randy Lorentzen

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photography portfolio of Randy Lorentzen would speak volumes. Lorentzen started taking photos for Hot Rod Magazine in the early 1980s and spent more than a quarter century shooting features, covers, and more for top automotive publications, manufacturers, and PR agencies. Even if you’re not familiar with Randy’s name, you’ve undoubtedly seen his work through the years.

Randy was the quintessential Southern California kid who grew up around cars and surfing, spending a lot of time at Ascot Raceway in the ’60s when he wasn’t at the beach. That sunny, warm, free-spirited influence found its way into his photography, and he has scores of stories from his decades of shooting. We caught up with him recently and had him share a few.

GG: Who are some of your industry mentors?

Randy Lorentzen: Leonard Emanuelson was a life changer for me. In 1982, I walked into Hot Rod Magazine with my first car photos. Len was the editor and made me an offer. I could tell how much he wanted the photos, so by the time I left I’d managed to about triple his offer! We instantly became friends. That same day I got my first cover assignment from him. After several years, he moved to Car Craft, then Motor Trend, all the while bringing me along. Eventually we began producing advertising for Ford, Chrysler, GM, and others. I owe soooo much to Len Emanuelson.

GG: Tell us about your glamour and beauty photography days in Los Angeles.

Lorentzen: I realized in high school that photography was a great way to meet pretty girls! After high school, I went to work for different photographers in L.A., eventually landing at Harry Langdon’s Hollywood studio. That was an awesome time – late-’70s, early ’80s. Every day was celebrities – Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Ann Margaret, Linda Carter, Rachel Welch, bands like Cheap Trick. We even took Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign photos, and eventually his presidential portraits with Nancy.

GG: How did you transition to automotive photography?

Lorentzen: I quickly realized all guys want to photograph beautiful women! I was making a living, but it was a struggle. Being a gearhead, I went a big rod run with my friend Dan Carter. There was a fresh ’28 Ford phaeton that Fat Jack had a hand in building, and Dan was trying to get the owner to sell it. One reason he wouldn’t sell was that Gray Baskerville had told him he wanted to shoot it for Hot Rod, but he’d been waiting for months for it to happen. My buddy elbowed me and said, “Why don’t you shoot it?” We did, and I took the photos to Hot Rod.

GG: What was one of your more memorable magazine shoots?

Randy LorentzenLorentzen: The Cadzilla shoot for Hot Rod Magazine. My assistant and I worked in the studio nearly a week building the set. When the car arrived from Boyd Coddington’s shop, ZZ Top’s manager insisted it stay in the trailer until Petersen Publishing placed a million-dollar insurance policy on the car. ARGGGGHHH! Eventually, after a flurry of calls, Petersen stepped up and insured it. Now we’re a day behind.

On the day of the shoot, Billy Gibbons arrives early and warns me that drummer Frank Beard doesn’t want to be there, but just go with the flow to get the shoot done. Then Dusty Hill arrives, happy to be there.

Finally, a white Lincoln limo arrives, and Frank gets out with a blonde under each arm! Frank looks at his watch and says, “You’ve got an hour.” I see Billy roll his eyes and shake his head. “Frank, we’ve been preparing for a week, got multiple outfits to get through, a cover and poster to shoot. We’re planning on the day.” He holds his watch back up in front of his face and says, “You’ve got 58 minutes.”

I told Billy the black suits and the black Quaker hats were my favorite. In less than 58 minutes, we got it done.

GG: After so many years in publishing, do you look back and have any favorite magazine covers or spreads?

Lorentzen: Oh man, that’s like choosing between your kids! There’s such a wide variation of covers over a long period of time. As jazzed as I ever was about a cover, there’s more I was unhappy with. When a cover comes out you go, “Great, the cover!” That feeling slowly becomes, “Oh I should have done this,” or, “Why did they do that to my photo?”

GG: What is the most unusual location you’ve used for photographing a car?

Lorentzen: One of the best was in Whistler, Canada, a beautiful place in the winter snow. We were shooting new Ford Expeditions and they brought in bulldozers to cut through 6-feet of snow to get the trucks where we wanted them on this mountain. For the next two days my assistant and I were helicoptered to the location, with photo gear brought back by the bulldozers.

GG: You lived through the transition to from film to digital. Which do you prefer?

Lorentzen: Film provided so many ways to make it your own – the type of film, the filters, the way I’d have the lab process the film. Now all those things are doable in Photoshop.

When I pull transparency film from my archives and lay it on a light table, I’m always taken back by the beauty of the color. I don’t think digital has yet reached that depth or feeling. Sort of like an album versus a digital download.

Then again, digital opens up so many freedoms, and I love playing in Photoshop. There are times when I know something I’ve done digitally simply couldn’t be done with film.

GG: Modern technology has made photography easier in many ways. Do you see a future for professional photographers?

Lorentzen: That’s a frightening question. CGI/CAD images of the car, Photoshop, and now AI. Put it this way, I’m glad neither of my kids tried to follow in my footsteps. But I’d love to one time get a shot at combining some of the new technologies.

GG: We understand you met your wife while doing a Hot Rod Magazine shoot. Tell us about that.

Lorentzen: Pat Ganahl was editor at Hot Rod at the time and decided to do a swimsuit issue. This was the 80’s and Sports Illustrated did their swimsuit issues and it was huge! So maybe it could work for Hot Rod. Problem was, I hated the approach Pat wanted to take. The April issue was usually an April Fool’s issue at the time, so he wanted it to be a spoof. I told him there’s no good way to spoof women in bikini’s, and so it began. We did one shoot his way to begin, which I hated. I went in and spoke with John Diana, (the boss), and he said do it the way I want, and don’t turn in any of the film along the way to keep Pat out of it. Basically, wait until it’s drop dead due. So that’s what I did.

Randy LorentzenEventually John Diana calls me and he madder than hell about the cover. “I thought we’d discussed not doing this goofy crap, and on top of that using a mini truck, with guys in the bed making rude gestures!” I said no, it’s a yellow deuce hi-boy with a blonde in a polka dot bikini. “What?” “Get your ass to the office now!”

Before I went to John’s office I went to the art department to see the art  director, Craig Corn, to see if he knew what was going on. As I walked in here’s this beautiful blonde at the light table looking through her, cover photos!? I looked over at Craig and mouthed, “Who’s that?’ He mouthed back, “Pat’s cover girl”, and pointed to the final cover proof hanging on the wall of the cover that I had shot.

So I grabbed it and headed for John’s office. He’s still pissed! After some yelling, and waving around the different cover proof he had, I showed him the original cover, which he hadn’t seen and loved. “How the hell did this happen?”, he asked. As it turned out, since I postponed turning in the film Pat had a friend of his shoot the cover, which Pat liked better, because it had that goofy-ness. He approved it and had sent it off without John’s approval, and now it was too late to change. It didn’t go well for Pat…

Anyway, I’d raced back to the art department to meet that beautiful blonde, Stevie Sterling. We went off to dinner at the Hard Rock, and we’ve been inseparable ever since, 37 years now. She got the cover, but I got the girl! And we owe it all to Pat Ganahl.

Todd Ryden is first and foremost a car guy and admits to how lucky he is to have been able to build a career out of a hobby that he enjoys so much. He’s owned muscle cars and classics, raced a bit and has cruised across the country. With over 25 years in the industry from the manufacturing and marketing side to writing books and articles, he just gets it.