Beach or Studio ?

It was July in Barcelona and we could have gone to any beach to do the photo shoot for the cover of Clara for August. But for various reasons the photograph was done in the Hymsa / Edipresse studio. There you can have a complete control of the light, but the difficulty is almost always the same in the photos …They seem made in a studio!

Poetada Clara 167 © Marcelo Isarrualde Clara cover

Alexandra © Marcelo Isarrualde   Model : Alexandra

The idea was for the photo to look like it had been made on the beach and therefor the main light had to be like the sunlight on a sunny summer day, without clouds. Sunlight is very harsh unless it is filtered through a cloud or if it is a cloudy day. Outdoors, heaven helps lower the contrast of light produced by the sun and fills the shadows, but in the studio this contrast is higher and has to be carefully controlled.

As main light we used a Bowens 1500 W/s flash with a Maxilite reflector and the result was great. It was important that the main light was hard, and a flash with a standard reflector – as is the Maxilite – situated far from the model it becomes a small light source and generates a harsh illumination, without gloom, and is wide at the same time ..

Bowens Gemini Bowens Gemini with Maxilite reflector

Fresnel Lens

I could have used another more efficient type of accessory like a reflector with a Fresnel lens but it was being used in another set and hence I could not dispose of it.

Broncolor flooter

These accessories make the light beam of the flash look as the sun by using an optical element. This causes that the rays of light – instead of dispersing – are projected parallel.

Fresnel lens

The Shape of a parabola

I could also have used a parabolic dish like the reflectors from Broncolor such as the Satellite Evolution parabolic dish with a perfect parabolic curvature.

Broncolor Satellite Evolution Broncolor Satellite Evolution

It was only a matter of positioning the light in the right place and that way we would have a very direct and hard light. But we did not have this accessory in the studio!

Parábola © Marcelo Isarrualde  Hemisphere vs paraboloid

It would have been even better having one of the fantastic parabolic umbrellas from Briese, but the budget was limited and few studies in Spain have this fantastic German brand.

Briese 77  Briese 77

Because of their parabolic shape, these accessories allow that the distribution of the rays is parallel (in theory) and thus resembles the sun. I will speak about the Briese accessories in another post because it’s design is spectacular. The effect it produces is like the one of a Fresnel with a very spectacular light, and at the same time very enveloping.  Amazing and true!

Final take

Let us return to the studio to see how the illumination for the set was done. A Wafer Strip light box acted as secondary light to decrease the contrast caused by the direct light from the principal flash, and it was put at a rate of – 1.5 EV. The background was overexposed + 1 EV so that the blue gelatine in front of the flashes that were illuminating the background would burn it a bit. This was to decrease the saturation of the blue color so that the background color would seem more celestial, like the sky.

Lighting diagram © Marcelo Isarrualde  Lighting diagram

Beach or Studio.pdf

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Bream with tradition

Bream is a fish with delicate meat, traditionally eaten in many parts of Spain on Christmas Eve. It can be prepared in various ways and it is an oily fish with low content of fat, ideal for light meals.

Besugo © Marcelo Isarrualde Home economist Ana Torróntegui

The idea of this story was for all the recipes – all of traditional making- to have a very clear and clean graphic image, and at the same time give a subtle  impression of a festive Christmas Eve dinner.

Besugo © Marcelo Isarrualde

The prop was very white, and the glasses of wine – white as well – were accompanying the general mood of the shot very well . I wanted to accentuate the table, but make a close-up photo that made the attention go to the plate and not a wider and descriptive image that would take away the attention from the food.

Making of © Marcelo Isarrualde Hymsa/Edipresse Studios

The initial lighting scheme consisted of a Wafer light box from Bowens as a back light and two white frontal reflectors which decreased the overall contrast of the scene. A white background, distant and overexposed completed the set of lights.

Making of © Marcelo Isarrualde

The article is called ‘Bream with tradition’ and it was realized for the magazine ‘Lecturas Cocina‘. It consisted of 5 recipes, each one with particular ingredients. This generated different forms, volumes and shine in the different plates. For every photography some modification of the light was necessary. Not changing the initial scheme,  but complement the scene with other lights. In some cases we used a reflector with a honeycomb or a cone, in others a Fresnel, or both simultaneously.

Esquema de iluminación © Marcelo Isarrualde Lighting diagram

Bream with tradition.pdf

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The photography studio

I have worked in countless studios, even though my work usually makes me work “on location”, ie, on exterior or interior locations outside the studio. But working in the studio is very convenient for many reasons, and one of the reasons is the possibility of completely controlling the light.

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

My first task as director of photography for the studios that the editorial group Hymsa Edipresse, now fusioned with the RBA Group, had in Barcelona was to equip the studios with the most efficient infrastructure. This to be able to realize the different types of photography a publishing company with more than 15 headers could need. It can be everything from baby pictures to pictures of photomodels, decoration or plates of food, still lifes or portraits. The different magazines required a wide range of equipment for the photo shooting, for lighting and props.

The still lifes of food require little space, but sometimes it is important that it looks like the photo has been taken on another location and not in a studio. For this it is good to have sets that allow you to put the plate in context.

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

Another important aspect is to work with the most efficient equipments for each job. An optical bank as the Cambo Ultima 35 is essential for solving many problems that still lifes can imply, as it is a flexible camera that can solve the problems with depth of field and perspective distortion, among other things. The great advantage of this camera is that it is adaptable to medium format digital backs or 35 mm cameras. Hence, to have the versatility that an equipment of 35 mm SLR gives you, such as the Canon Mark III or the quality of a medium format camera like the Hasselblad, completes the kit of versatility and quality. If we also can count on a good monitor like the excellent ones that the wide range of Eizo offers, even better!

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

What about lighting?

The big brands have a great variety of accessories. In this way the choice for a studio where many different types of pictures are being made should be the brand who’s accessories can meet all your needs concerning lighting techniques. They should have everything from fiber optic accessories to ring flashes, gobo projectors to large windows. And they should also have a service center near, and should be fast and effective!

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

Finally, having a small carpentry atelier for mounting sets is useful for interior photos as for fashion magazine covers, and is another of the equipments that makes the work more fluid and faster in a big studio.

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

Photography studio © Marcelo Isarrualde

The photography studio.pdf

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Stiletto, a personal project

Some years ago the Belgian editorial Tectum, that had seen my work in the book “Nudes Index I”, edited by Könemann, invited me to take part in the nude pictures yearbook “Nude Bible”.

Polly Fey for Stiletto © Marcelo Isarrualde Polly Fey for Stiletto

I chose to contribute to it with a more extensive project on the object paraphernalia involved in some erotic and sexual practices. Till the date all my personal projects had been inspired on my childhood and this was my first approach to an “adult” subject. One of the references that immediately came to my mind was the fantastic work of Helmut Newton, who had been my idol in my early youth. Also he work of Jean Loup Sieff, Guy Bourdin or Bettina Rheims, among others, has always been a great influence in my photography. Finally I decided to pay tribute David Lynch and his emblematic TV series Twin Peaks.

In that TV serie there was one episode that really caught my attention. It was in the third episode from the first season called “Cooper’s Dream“. In the program the policeman Dale Cooper dreams about the assassinated girl called Laura Palmer, and a dwarf, The Man from Another Place. Everything really seemed to be “from Another Place” and the scenery was the beginning of my personal serie “Stiletto“.

Twin Peaks  Twin Peaks

Same way music is an important element in Lynch’s work, Laurie Anderson song “Born, never asked”, which talks about an enigmatic curtain, was my inspiration for this series of pictures.

Making of Stiletto © Marcelo Isarrualde Making of Stiletto serie

But let’s go back to the lighting! Because my budget was limited and could not afford red velvet for my set, I used a very thin grey fabric, in which I projected red light. I did the same on the floor that had been painted in white, black and grey. To avoid loosing the red hue dominant, we directed the main 5500º Kelvin white light only to the model.

Floor drawing © Marcelo Isarrualde

Painting the floor © Marcelo Isarrualde

Set for Stiletto serie © Marcelo Isarrualde

The main light source was a 1000 w/s Bowens flash and for the background there were three 1500w/s Bowens flashes with red gelatins hanging from the ceiling. They were used at their maximum power since red gelatin absorbs more than +1 EV.
In the wider shoots it could be noticed that the red light projected on the floor looked faded because of the incidence of the main light. This had to be later retouched with Photoshop. This though wouldn’t be a problem because we had been using a Hasselblad with Imacom digital back.

Making of Stiletto serie © Marcelo Isarrualde

Lighting diagram © Marcelo Isarrualde  Lighting diagram

Stiletto, a personal project.pdf

Clara Magazine cover assignment

This assignment was for a feature on beauty and health, and it was shot by the pool of the Majestic Hotel in Barcelona. One of the pictures was to be considered a possible cover for the magazine.The covers for Clara Magazine are characteristically very clean looking, usually with a white background and wide framing to allow for text and headlines to be included.The story headline texts of most women’s magazines have to be on the cover, which unfortunately detracts from the picture.

We have to take into account that each magazine is a product addressed to a very specific public and therefore every cover has to fulfill all the requirements set by the management department. But I guess that every photographer’s dream is a less crowded cover, like Harper’s Bazaar or V.

Clara magazine  © Marcelo Isarrualde  Harper's Bazzar magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde

Back again to our assignment – the difficulty in it was finding a white wall with enough available space to work comfortably. In addition, this cover had to be brighter than usual because it was summertime and it had to deliver a fresh look.
I found the perfect place on the last floor of the hotel and luckily there was a white sofa that I could use. We just had to move the furniture a little and shoot the cover.

© Marcelo Isarrualde  Cover Clara magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde


Clara covers are usually shot with a neutral, low-contrast light that is neither too hard nor directional; which tends to be more natural.
To achieve this effect I used a couple of Wafer 100 light boxes with Bowens flashes of 1500 w/s plus a silver/white Lastolite reflector. However, on the left of the set one can notice a Window and a zenithal skylight. They have not interfered with the lighting since its light power is lower than that of the flashes.

Making of © Marcelo Isarrualde

The light box directed to the background wall, overexposes the surface and bounces off to the model reaching her hair slightly above the main light. The shots have later been exposed to 1/2 EV again above the main light to slightly “clean” the skin. This shoot was done with film and the exposure error margin in the slide EPP was critical.
I took a couple of Polaroid pictures to be sure that the light was under control.
Nowadays with digital sensors and histogram readings everything has changed. There is much less need to use a light meter! I am not sure that this is a good thing.
Lighting diagram © Marcelo Isarrualde Lighting diagram

Once the cover was done, I shot the photos on beauty and health using natural light and reflectors (and a less prominent flash)

Model : Janna / Agency : Colors

Clara magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde  Clara magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde

Clara magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde  Clara magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde

Clara magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde

Clara magazine cover.pdf

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Za vashe zdorovye !

I worked as a Photography Director for seven years at the publishing house Hymsa/Edipresse, that later merged together with RBA group. They published fifteen different magazines and therefore the assignments could cover a wide range of topics; fashion, still life or interior design. I will go through all of them to explain you how they were made.

Za vashe zdorovye! This how to drink a toast in Russia. Today I will talk about how I took this picture that had to illustrate an article on Vodka for the food magazine “Comer y Beber”.


Despite the small size of the picture, it would occupy a prominent place in the article. Considering the target audience, the editorial staff of the magazine wanted a less descriptive picture and wanted a more abstract but suggestive one instead. The bottle and its brand had to be clearly seen, but there shouldn’t be any association to any cocktail made with vodka. The image layout had to be vertical. 

Food magazine © Marcelo Isarrualde

Vodka © Marcelo Isarrualde

Observations y conclusions

The verticality of the lines and shapes of the elements in the picture would help to accomplish the requested layout. First we placed transparent glasses but the attention easily shifted to the blurred bottles in the background and we did not want this to happen.

Both, the glasses and the bottles, were colorless and only their labels would stand out, specially the red one because of its size and color . We decided to put this bottle behind the one with the blue label so that it would be further away from the camera and look smaller. Finally we chose red glasses that would provide visual balance to the red label and detract from the cocktails importance by only revealing a couple of olives. We leaned the camera slightly to give the take a touch of dynamism and informality. Thanks to this idea the glass in the foreground would slightly overlap the bottles avoiding an explicit and direct identification of both vodka brands, but allowing to recognize them at the same time.

For the background and the base we used corrugated metallic plates to achieve a neutral look that wouldn’t taint the liquid, but that would also bring out the transparent quality of the elements thanks to the reflections of their surface. 

Making of Vodka picture © Marcelo Isarrualde

Making of Vodka picture © Marcelo Isarrualde

Making of Vodka picture © Marcelo Isarrualde


Basically we used three different light sources: a combination of backlights to enhance the transparency of all the elements, secondary lights to make the label stand out more and an effect light for the background.

With a honeycomb grid reflector, we achieved a wide backlight that covered all the elements in the picture. In order to decrease the saturation of the color of the main glass, we projected on it a more intense backlight (+ 1 EV) from a Fresnel source. The black flags placed on the sides limited the amount of the said light to the glass, enhancing its outline . We reduced the contrast of the olives by putting a Wafer Strip on one side and by using a diffuser that diminished the reflection in the glass. With two foam core boards we reflected upon the bottles the light coming from the Wafer Strip and the backlight spots, to see the their labels better. Finally, with a cone shape reflector, we emitted a diffuse ring in the background metallic plate , (without overexposing), to make the glass stand out more.

The Hasselblad digital back allowed us to have an immediate preview of the take. To balance its color we used a Gretag Macbeth color chart.

Lighting diagram © Marcelo Isarrualde Lighting diagram


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