Photographer Captures Small Toys with Big Imagination
Felix Hernandez is a Mexican photographer and digital artist that creates miniature worlds in which iconic scale cars are the protagonists. In this article, Felix explains in detail the creative process behind these projects.
Almost three years ago the Retouching Academy Founder, Julia Kuzmenko McKim invited me to contribute an article to the Retouched Magazine. She wanted something a little different from what she would typically publish, which would usually be in the beauty photography and retouching field of the industry.
Back then I was doing creative photography and digital manipulation for commercial and personal projects. This meant that my photographic work was always different, changing with every new project that came into my hands. With Julia asking me to do something different, it had to be not only different from what she and her audience were used to, but it also had to be different from what I was usually doing.
Doing something new is always a challenge and even more so if it is to be published by one of the best-known beauty photographers in the world. But I have always loved that feeling of taking a leap of faith mixed with a little bit of courage and just seeing what comes out of it.
So for that project I wanted to tell a story through an image while documenting the process with a “BTS” video of me doing things I have never done before.
I challenged myself to do something simple, something that can be within everyone’s reach, yet compelling enough for the eye and imagination of the viewers. I thought that a cool way to tell a story would be doing it without having to spend too much, and not even going out to a location. In the end, creativity has a lot to do with doing the most that you can with very little.
I looked around, searching for something: an object, an idea, a concept I could use for the task. And there it was on one of my office’s shelves: this little red car, a scale model of a Fiat Cinquecento that caught my attention and imagination. The car by itself was an amazing character. It had a great personality and a melancholic feeling. It had enough appealing characteristics to tell a story, a simple tale of what could happen inside that car.
“The Love Car” that changed my life
So having the general concept resolved, I gave myself the task of creating as much as I could in-camera and trying to transform that tiny car into a real one, at least for the viewer’s eyes.
Through the creative process, I learned a ton of new techniques, and that’s the cool thing about doing something you have never done before. For instance, understanding how our brain perceives scale, and with that knowledge, how you can fool the eye!
But, long story short, I created just one image and a “BTS” video. When it was published, it exceeded my wildest expectations. Soon, just 2 or 3 days after the publication, my Facebook feed, inbox, e-mail, phone, etc, went crazy with all kinds of media requests wanting to know more about this kind of work. It was not only the media but also potential clients, big clients, who wanted projects for their brands. Remember that it was my first project of that kind. I surely was not the first one doing something like that, but it was the first one for me and done my way.
Three years ago my whole life changed, almost in every aspect: my work changed, my clients changed and my income changed. Suddenly, I was traveling to Copenhagen, Colombia, New York, Chicago, Dubai, Italy, Bermuda, China, etc. I was giving conferences and workshops, judging big contests, doing interviews, productions, you name it! I was meeting fantastic people, hanging out with amazing and talented artists, some of them were (and still are) people that I had followed and admired for so many years! Telling you that my dream came true sounds worn-out, but it is nothing but the truth.
But here is a thing, after all, I look back at that image (the original “Love Car”), and it doesn’t satisfy me at all. It never did. And I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it pushes me every day to improve in every way I can. Whether it’s in the pre-production, or the photographic aspect, or the post-production, I’m always trying to take things a little further, trying new things, new ways and not worrying about failure or what others may think or say. In the end, that’s what took me to this point in my life.
Julia recently contacted me again, asking if I wanted to do a new project. So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to redeem myself and I produced a new “Love Car.” I applied some of the new stuff I have learned in these years and the results, once again, did not satisfy me and I think they never will. But, I see evolution in my work, and that’s okay with me. I’m hoping that in three more years, I will try it again and see that my work is still evolving. I know many things will change, but what will not is the passion for creating, and that’s what “The Love Car” represents for me. fantastic people, hanging out with amazing and talented artists, some of them were (and still are) people that I had followed and admired for so many years! Telling you that my dream came true sounds worn-out, but it is nothing but the truth.
When I started out, I would just use the scale models right out of their boxes. That was fine, but if I wanted to do something a little bit different and tell my own stories, I had to personalize my characters in the way I wanted them to be captured for a portrait.
I’m far from being an expert, but two years ago I started to customize my models and to build more complex scenes. I learnt some basic modeling techniques and tried things on my own. Now I find myself dedicating more and more time to the pre-production stage than any other area: creating landscapes, weathering and customizing the models, adding electronics, etc.
I learnt some new things about optics and how we can play with the perception of scale. Through the years I experimented with different lenses, figuring out which one would give me the best results. For example, we can use a mix of minimal focus distance to be close enough to the scale models, but wide enough to have them completely in-frame. But we must also be aware of the distortion that this could imply, etc.
These days, I find myself doing this kind of photography with a lens that is normally used for landscape and architecture photography: a 24mm Tilt-Shift lens has all of the characteristics that I was looking for.
Of course my lighting setups and in-camera composition have improved throughout the years and now I normally just take 3 to 5 shots for compositing the final image, regardless of where it was photographed – at the studio or on-location. Two shots are of the model and the scene, focusing on two different focal planes to achieve great depth of field.
One shot highlights the headlights of the scale cars. This shot depends on what I am using to imitate them: studio flashes, light painting, natural light or, in this case, real lights inside the car (a LED light circuit I built inside the scale car). One more shot will be the background if I’m not on-location or, as in this project, I will use part of a stock image. The last shot is for some in-camera effects or, again, a stock image if it’s something I can find, such as the handprint on the window.
My post-production has become easier and more straightforward. I do the most that I can in-camera so I’m left with little work in post, but not because it is less enjoyable or not important.
Basic Camera Raw adjustments, placing backgrounds, color matching and color grading are some of the tasks that follow. I think I have been getting better in simplifying the steps of a composite.
Photoshop is my way to go, and I just love and enjoy using it as part of my creative process.
I always say that photography is not portraying what exists in front of you, but portraying what exists inside of you. So for me photography, digital manipulation, crafts, etc are only disciplines, techniques at the service of creation. They allow me to bring my ideas, thoughts and dreams to life.
Who would have thought that doing that one photo of a little red car would have unleashed all of the great things that have happened in my life!
Never underestimate the power of your dreams, but to make them happen, you will need to take risks and take that leap of faith.
Gear & Software
• Canon 5D MIII
• Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II Ultra-Wide Tilt-Shift Manual Focus Lens
• Manfrotto Tripod / Ball Head
• 2 Einstein Studio Flashes with Westcott 7’ Parabolic Umbrellas / with diffusers
• 1 Bowens Studio Flash with a Bowens Strip Softbox.
• Photoshop CC
• Nik Software Collection / Color Effects