“Keeping it Real” – No Matter Where You Shoot! Part 2 by Hernan Rodriguez


Building an On-Location Studio


For this segment, I’d like to share with you how I created a commercial advertising shoot on location with Mario Lopez and his family for the shoe brand DSW. When I am commissioned to shoot on location I try to find out as many details as I can. From location spots, the time frame, wardrobe, and any other detail that can prepare me. I will also bring as much gear as I can. I’d rather have too much and not use it, than need it and not have it on location.


My team and I had two hours to prepare, shoot and breakdown, so the more I can do ahead of the shoot, the smoother it will be for the day of. A thorough brief with a full description of the company brand, advertising campaign details and shot list was given to me a week prior to the shoot. This helped me understand what our objective would be. Given that I had a general idea what the conditions were going to be for the location, I also prepared a few lighting diagrams and mood boards, including general posing references for Mario, his wife and their three children. This was instrumental to our success.


The first thing I had to consider was the overhead sun. Our call time for the shoot was 10 am, so in California that is bright sun. I scouted the location to find the best possible lighting conditions and made notes on the background settings. All images were going to be shot at full length with five people, so I needed ample room to accommodate everyone along with my lighting gear.



For the first setup, I decided to shoot by a five-step entry to the backyard, overlooking a hillside. The steps were nicely decorated in Spanish tile which made for a good shot. I took advantage of this to pose everyone at different levels and close together. There was also foliage and trees that helped block some of the overhead light. I began by setting up a 7’x7’ scrim with a 1-stop diffusion material for overhead fill. This helped eliminate all overhead hard light and shadows cast from the trees. It also allowed me more control in creating an outdoor studio with auxiliary lighting. My goal for the lighting was to set up something ample enough that would allow the family to move around without constricting the focus of the light. The shoes also had to be evenly lit for everyone. For the key light, I decided to use a large 7’ parabolic umbrella with silver liner. This made the light punchy, giving it a commercial feel. I placed the light high and directly overhead on a boom for an even spread. To reduce the contrast, I also placed a large 24×36 softbox with a diffuser directly under the camera and slightly feathered upward. Having this light close in proximity, I was able to quickly dial up the power if I needed to reduce the contrast further.


TIP: Prior to beginning our session, once the lights were set in place, we tested and shot straight to the laptop. For a shoot as such, there is no room for error and any adjustments will be made immediately. We set up in a shaded area and calibrated my monitor for the existing ambient. This process took us only 2 ½ minutes and we were confident that what we were viewing was accurate. This was important as the art director and manager were looking at the images in real time.



After a quick wardrobe change, and of course shoe change for everyone, we were ready for our second setup. In both setups I photographed the family together – mom and dad, mom with kids, and dad with the kids. For this setup, I decided to use the same 7’ parabolic umbrella as our key light. Instead of setting up the second fill light, I substituted that for a large white sun-bounce reflector that gave us the same quality of light as our first setup. I also positioned the family with the sun to their backs. The sun served as a hair light and accent light.


The exposure for both setups were identical, which kept the collection of images consistent. Final exposure was set at 250th of a second at f/11.



Shooting the Cover of Bella Magazine


The brief for the shoot was not with the intent of shooting a magazine cover, but for DSW Shoes. The pleasant surprise was that one of the images we shot was also used as a cover story for Bella Magazine. The feature was on Mario Lopez and his beautiful wife, Courtney. This was the simplest shot of the day regarding our lighting setup. Mario and Courtney were positioned one floor level below me standing on some Spanish pavers, surrounded by hedges. This allowed them to lean on the hedges while hugging each other, and the high vantage point allowed me an interesting angle, with a unique perspective for a portrait. The sun was overhead and slightly to their left, so I placed the large 7’ scrim over them to soften the light. My assistant held a large gold umbrella to redirect the sun as a key light source. It really warmed up their skin tones and the orange tile as well, as if basking in the California sun.



Overall, we had a successful day, thanks to our preparation and the detailed brief. This kept us focused on the client’s shot list and demands. For this reason, it is of great importance to keep consistent and accurate color throughout the whole process, from capture to print or any other media purposes. Everything I capture is recorded with neutral color, eliminating any unwanted color cast. The Spyder Checkr guarantees this for me before every scene change, by simply recording to camera as a custom white balance or for future adjustments in post. Taking the couple of minutes to calibrate before each session, I can also be assured that I am also viewing accurate color representation as I am shooting straight to the laptop. I do final edits on two 27” iMacs, both calibrated with the Spyder X, keeping accuracy and consistency throughout the completion of the job.



This process for me is a benchmark to all my work. It grants me the confidence I need and the freedom to be creative for my clients.

  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