Hernan Rodriguez: Investigating the Scene of the Crime



I find the unpredictability of where my type of work will take me next to be quite exhilarating. Whether I receive a phone call or an email, I find myself photographing notable personalities, authoring a book, or teaching on a different continent. The only predictable factor I like to keep constant is color and white balance. One of my latest sessions was with Gonzalo Menendez who is well known for playing “the detective” role in films such as The Dark Knight Rises, CSI – Miami, NCIS, Criminal Minds and The Unit. When meeting Gonzalo, you can definitely understand why he is a shoe-in for any detective role. He has distinguished rugged good looks, which can be both charming and intimidating. As a person, he is outspoken, friendly, and humorous, with a great stage presence. I can definitely see him playing a range of roles in Hollywood.
Our call for the day was two sided. Not only were we creating a series of publicity images for Gonzalo, but he also was kind enough to shoot for an upcoming educational book I am working on – 65 Celebrity Portraits. Since we were to work on various settings including studio flash, outdoors, fluorescent lighting and mixed lighting, we had to make certain we produced accurate color balance. This is where I heavily rely on my Datacolor SpyderCHECKR. Unlike Gonzalo combing through an investigative scene, my SpyderCHECKR takes all the investigative work out of the equation. This card is calibrated to a neutral 18% percent gray for constant and accurate white balance, no matter how many times my scene may change. Depending on the job and client, I might use the 48 spectrally engineered color swatches for more critical color accuracy, but in this case, by switching the card over, I used the side containing the neutral gray target and gray ramp, which also contained the pure white and black swatches. I usually will take a picture of the card occupying the entire frame, and create an in-camera custom white balance.


Many photographers rely on the automated features their cameras offer. Small icons on a dial, which represent different lighting conditions such as Cloudy, Shady, Tungsten, Flash and Daylight, usually highlight this. These settings can give you a false reading for a scene though, as the sensor will evaluate an entire scene and will calculate a general setting for the conditions present. The sensor will not be able to differentiate slight hints in kelvin shifts though, as in the case of an indoor hotel lobby. You might set your white balance to Tungsten as your general setting, and have a mix of incandescent lights striking your subject. This approach will still create improper white balance.
I would rather have full control of my white balance by taking a quick shot of the SpyderCHECKR gray card, and doing a batch correction in Adobe Lightroom.
NOTE: I always place my gray card wherever the predominant light will strike my subject. Even if the lighting is a combination of mixed lighting.
By using a custom white balance throughout my photo shoot with Gonzalo in the varying lighting conditions, I would neutralize any strange color cast, creating accurate skin tones with consistent color.




For the first setup, I had Gonzalo sit on the corner of a farm table in the studio. I placed a hand painted canvas on a stand, five feet behind him. For my lighting I used a combination of florescent lights with a mix of ambient lighting. As a main light I placed the new Westcott Ice Light 2 on a gobo arm, which is daylight balanced to 5600 Kelvin.
Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


I directed the light from above, feathering it slightly toward his outside shoulder. This helps illuminate any hot-spots on the subject’s face. I metered the main light at F/5. My objective for the first setup was in creating a cinematic style of lighting with shallow depth of field. For my fill, I placed a Westcott Spiderlite in a 24×36 soft box directly behind me. This light gives you great control with the option of powering up two, four or six lights on. In this case, I used four bulbs at an approximate distance of six feet. It gave me a soft open fill while still maintaining enough shadows for contouring and shape. When photographing men, I will usually use a lighting ratio of 4:1 or even an 8:1. The shadows for my male portraiture will be two to four stops less than my main light. This light metered at F/2. Behind the soft was a window which allowed a small amount of natural light to come through. I really didn’t have the time to meter this light, but as light is accumulative, it added ambient fill as well. I also did not take for granted the affect this light would have on my white balance, so after metering my overall exposure of 1/60th of a second at F/5, ISO 400, I took the first shot of my SpyderCHECKR gray card, and uploaded a custom white balance. I also varied my lighting setup by adding two accent lights utilizing either another Westcott Spiderlite in a strip bank, or a 3×3 Rosco LED Litepad.

Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez




This was actually one of my favorite setup shots for Gonzalo. Here I wanted to stage a shot that represented, or hinted at an investigation scene, but with a twist of fashion. We set up an outdoor studio in the front entrance of our location, which was set in open shade under the front overhang roof. The lighting setup was actually quite simple. I used a basic three-point light portrait setup. When photographing celebrities, I will usually have my lighting setups in place, and I will shoot my SpyderCHECKR card for each individual stage. I will store the custom white balance in one of the five options allowed in my camera for each setup separately. This saves time, which will allow me to spend more time with my subject, and guarantees proper white balance for my whole session.


Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


For my main light I used a Dynalite flash head in a Westcott White Satin umbrella, and I feathered the light to not strike my subject directly. I will usually use only the edge of the umbrella to soften the quality of light for my portrait. I metered this light at an F/8. My fill light was another flash head in a small Westcott 16×20 soft box. I also used the front diffusor in the soft box to soften the light quality. This light was metered at F/5.6. Basic 2:1 lighting ratio for more open shadows. I varied the third light by using either the light directly on the background at an F/4, or I used the flash head directly behind my subject’s head to add that detective “feel” to the portrait. This light was wrapped in a Rosco Amber filter for added effect. I varied the light in power ranging from equal to the main light as well as one stop more than the main.




To create a mysterious mood for the portrait, I also used a Rosco fog machine behind my subject. When using fog, it sometimes is unpredictable where the fog chooses to move and the shape the fog will take. This is great because every other shot is unique in nature.


Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


You can also add extra fog in front of the background to create a whiter version of the background, which also cuts down the contrast. This can also be done in extreme fashion to create an even more intentional feel.


This can be seen in the tight shot of Gonzalo with his features slightly pronounced in the image. The fog adds drama and mystery, which was ideal for our detective look. You have to be cautious if the fog in front of the lens is too dense. You can run the risk of creating flat dull images.


Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez




In the studio, under controlled lighting, we were able to capture a variety of looks by augmenting our lighting setups slightly and by also changing our backgrounds. I started by placing a yellow chair in front of a painted yellow wall in the studio. This was a simple two light setup, using two umbrellas. I will often use this basic umbrella setup, but I will always vary the position of the light in the umbrella. By adjusting the light closer to the center, I was able to create a more narrow light focus on Gonzalo, which also gives me a quicker light falloff at the edge of the umbrella. I placed the umbrella at a 45 degree angle to my subject. I powered this light to meter F/8. Because my subject was close to the wall, I was able to regulate the amount of light striking the background by simply feathering the light towards the camera axis. The umbrellas also produce a softer quality of light, which prevented very hard shadows behind my subject.

Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


If I were to pull the flash head further back from the umbrella on my main light, the quality of light would completely change. I would have a much softer light quality. You have a range of lighting options with just the one umbrella, but by varying light placement, and positioning, you can create the specific look you want.
As a fill light, I used another umbrella and I placed the light directly behind my camera. This created an open fill. The purpose of this light is to simply control the contrast in my portrait. By powering up or down, I am able to regulate my lighting ratio, which essentially regulates my shadows. I varied this light from F/5.6 to F/4.
Once I had both lights in place, I re-metered and I took a picture of my SpyderCHECKR. Special attention must be given when shooting near colored walls. As light travels, the light can easily assimilate the characteristics and color of the walls in which it strikes. This can easily create white balance issues for your skin tones. For this particular setup, I did not customize white balance. I shot the session which was about 80 shots, and I used the SpyderCHECKR card in Lightroom as my white balance target by using my Eyedropper. I also will make certain I have a shot of a gray card in every setup I shoot.


We created another edgier look for Gonzalo using the same lighting scenario. For this setup, I taped a black velvet fabric on the wall, which gave me a pure black background.


Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


HINT: Because of the little time I have in making adjustments in my celebrity portraits, I have become quick in changing my lights, and sometimes I have to without metering. A practice I learned early in my career was to string my lights. I would meter my lights, and once they were accurate to the position of my subject, I would place a string tied around the light stand, and trimmed where the other end would touch the subject’s nose. This of course would be done with my assistant in place of my subject. Now you can freely move your lights in any position and they would constantly meter accurately. With years of practice, I now simply eyeball the position. You can also place tape on the floor where your subject will stand or sit.




The last setup was the “gravy” shots. After we captured what we set to shoot with our studio setups, we went outdoors by the studio alley. The rustic urban looks were great for Gonzalo’s detective casual looks. There were metal gates, both black and white, natural wood and street scenes. For lighting I used diffused light and reflective light by using my Westcott 6 in 1 reflector kit. I created some high contrast portraits by placing Gonzalo in direct sunlight, in front of a black metal garage door.


Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


I positioned the diffusor overhead, to soften the quality of light and reduce the contrast, while allowing some of the light to come through. My general exposure for these portraits were shot at 1/160th of a second at F/4. ISO 100.
As the portraits outdoors were of a different Kelvin and light source, it was very important for me to have the proper white balance. Contrary to the last setup, in which I created a capture of the SpyderCHECKR card to white balance in post, I decided to do this setup with a white balance “in camera”. I shot the gray card to encompass the complete frame, and I set this as the target image to custom white balance the scene. Some shots varied as I positioned Gonzalo in open shade. This can also change the color temperature to a cooler tone. In such cases, it is recommended to take another target image of the gray card, and proceed to custom white balance, or use the target in post-production.


Datacolor Hernan Rodriguez


  About the Author – Hernan Rodriguez  

Hernan Rodriguez is an International Award-winning professional photographer specializing in commercial photography and portraiture. His unique style is a fusion between art & photography which earned him 25 awards in photography, including the much coveted Black & White Spider award for photographic excellence in fashion photography. Most recent are three Bronze Awards, in the 2012 Aperture Awards for portrait and illustration. His outgoing personality and fresh approach to imagery has allowed Hernan to work with such notable clients such as Guess clothing, Playboy Beverage, Corona, EMI, Sony Record label, and numerous celebrities.


When all is said and done, what passion drives Hernan? He states, “I once was told in eighth grade, if you ever have a career you would do for free, you know you have reached the right place. I am passionate about touching people’s lives.”


Photography Type: Commercial Portrait Photographer – Specializing in Celebrity Portraiture


Articles from Hernan Rodriguez