Behind the Scenes – On set with DC Chavez

Written by DC Chavez on . Posted in Education, Lighting Tips

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Every time I see a photograph that catches my eye, I can’t help think the about the process that went into making the image a reality. I look for visual clues in an image: catchlight, shadows, artificial vs natural light, diffusion, reflection, hard vs soft, large vs small light source etc. This exercise helps me to understand what it is about the image that made me stop and take a second look. In my head I develop a virtual lighting diagram of what the set must have looked like when the image was created.

While this is a fun game, I wish I could go behind the scenes to see the real setup, the gear and the process that goes into crafting a unique image. In addition to the normal Light Shaping Tools tutorials I am hoping to give a bit of insight of how I work in the studio and why having the proper gear is essential to create an image that makes you look twice.

© 2010 DC Chavez

The final product- Kathy Gardiner Beauty Shot:

The image created to the left was for Kathy Gardiner‘s book. We had a conversation a week before the shoot to nail down a shot list. This helped me plan out the type of generators and light shaping tools I would need in order to produce the images we wanted. She needed a clean, simple photo that shows her for the natural beauty that she is. We also talked about a few other looks we could accomplish in the limited time we had to shoot.

While Kathy and her MUA Candace Christen started the makeup process, I headed to Stage 12 at Southbay Studios to set up lighting. I unpacked the gear that I picked up from Samy’s Camera and organized it in a way I could accomplish three very different looks without having to tear everything down for each shot. I had planned a lighting setup and grouping of lights that would allow me to effortlessly change from one look to the next.

With the AIR remote on the camera, I could change the output of the D1’s I had acting as a rim light, or even turn them off completely without even touching them. With the flip of a switch I could turn off one generator and go from a high-key white background to a moody gray or even black. All this preparation before the shoot made it easy for me to just focus on taking a picture rather than moving gear around with the model on set.

Here is what the final setup looked like:

Here is a breakdown of what gear was used where:

#1 – D1 1000 Air Monolights w/20 degree grid- used as separation / rim lights
#2 – D1 1000 Air Monolights w/20 degree grid- used as separation / rim lights
#3 – Acute Heads w/ Standard Zoom Reflector - to illuminate cyclorama
#4 – Acute Heads w/ Standard Zoom Reflector - to illuminate cyclorama
#5 – Softlight White Reflector w/ 25 degree grid - Key LIght
#6 – Acute 2400R generator
#7 – Acute 2400R generator
#8 – 3’x4′ Softbox
(Not in use for this shot)
#9 – 1’x4′ Softbox (Not in use for this shot)

Also show in this shot are: a collapsible white reflector to provide a bit of fill under the chin and some flags to prevent lens flare.

A bit of planning ahead of time can assure that when you are on set, things operate efficiently and that you don’t waste your subjects time. By selectively turning off some lights, or moving the camera location I was able to get all the looks pictured below in a very short time:

© 2010 DC Chavez

Both Kathy and I were happy with the range of beauty shots we got and were able to move on to the next look.

This shot was a 3-light setup with a gridded beauty dish as the key, turned to illuminate both Kathy and the cyclorama wall from black to a dark gray. I really like using grids, because they allow me to really control light spill and direct the light exactly where I want it. In order to provide some definition to her right leg and to give her a bit of separation from the background, I placed a D1 1000 Air w/grid over her right shoulder around 8′ off the ground. Her left side of her body was defined with a 1′ x 4′ softbox waist-high about 2 feet behind her.

© 2010 DC Chavez

Here is last and favorite image from the shoot.

For this shot I kept Kathy in the same location as the image before, but I moved to directly underneath the beauty dish to take the photo. I also turned off the 1’x4′ Softbox, essentially turning this into a 2 light shot- the gridded beauty dish up front and the D1 in the back to provide a rim light and flare. I turned the beauty dish away from Kathy to get the softer light from the edge of the beauty dish as well as remove most of the light from the background.

I hope this gives you a bit of insight as to how I work on set and how understanding your tools can make a shoot go smoothy and efficiently.

Thank you again to our sponsors for making this happen:

Samys Camera
Southbay Studios
Kathy Gardiner
Candace Christen
Will Roegge

For more info on me, please visit:


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Comments (9)

  • Cris Matthews


    Thanks for the inspiration and peek behind the scenes. As someone learning how to use my new lights it is really useful. Keep up the hard work :)


  • Gabriel


    Come on Profoto,

    please filter Pro from …….
    This is flicker photography not Profoto. Just bad!


  • John Boothe


    This guy needs some more work. It’s obvious he’s used to lighting cars and not people. First of all, his highlights are distributed unevenly and in the wrong spots. Most notably is the three-quarters view shot. The highlights are on her nose, middle cheek, forehead, leaving shadows on under her cheek on both sides, making them look bigger and uglier. Highlights should be an even tone with a clear direction.

    This is a classic example of over-lighting and not in a pleasant way (if there is one)

    The straight-on shot, her highlight is coming from camera right, behind her head. Which leads me to believe he has a light coming from 3/4 behind her that is more powerful then her key light!(?) That’s definitely a glamor no-no. Here’s a textbook example of how to do beauty shots:

    Notice the highlights are distributed evenly and in a pleasant manner. The point is to eliminate ugly shadows not create them!!!!

    Upon perusing his site, DC takes nice shots of cars, but unfortunately cars and girls are different and his inexperience in shooting people shows through.

    I think he can be talented in shooting people eventually, but people PLEASE DON’T USE THIS AS YOUR EXAMPLE AS HOW TO SHOOT A PRETTY GIRL.

    Stop the proliferation of crappy amateur quality “beauty” shots!


  • Profoto Blogger


    Thanks for your comments, and for reading our blog. Lighting is a subjective art and all photographers have their taste, as do buyers of professional photography.

    In addition, there are many professionals that use Flickr for marketing and networking with peers. It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.

    On a final note, please keep comments to constructive criticism and leave out the nasty adjectives.

    If you would like to be a potential subject on our blog, or wish to be a guest blogger to demonstrate your lighting techniques, we’re all eyes (and ears). Shoot us an email at


  • robertkacala


    please note that those photos are not retouch…so easy with the critique……after retouch we can call this end product :-)


  • Stefan Tell


    I really like this post, very clear and well written with lots of examples. Hope you will find time to do more like this, especially how you use one setup with small modifications to create different images.



  • p


    anyone who’s ever worked with jason christopher would know better to use any of his work as a reference. although the concept of a “textbook” photograph is a joke in itself. sorry, but it’s true. textbooks are for school, not so much for life, art, and business…



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