How I Got That Shot: Recreating A Night Out

July 21, 2016

By Holly Stuart Hughes


In a nightclub, David Martinez recreated a 1 AM feeling during a 6 AM shoot using Arri L7-C LED lights, adjusting the color temperature “so it wouldn’t look too clean.” Having to shoot stills and motion “drove all the lighting choices,” says Martinez.

CLIENT: Hampton by Hilton
CREATIVES: Dale Austin and Brandon Curl, associate creative directors; Jessica Nielsen Buck, art producer

David Martinez says a recent assignment to shoot a global campaign for the hotel chain Hampton by Hilton was “for me, a really great job.” Creatives at the ad agency, GSD&M in Austin, Texas, had seen images in Martinez’s portfolio—including his personal work, test shots and images he has shot for other commercial clients—that show his subjects enjoying a moment, as if they were unaware of the camera. For a campaign highlighting the fun of travel, the creatives hired Martinez to recreate the same style and look. “They really wanted me to shoot what I would shoot if I were doing a test,” explains the San Francisco-based photographer.

For the image library, he shot some images of the hotels, but Martinez estimates that 80 percent of his time was spent photographing scenes of friends enjoying themselves in restaurants, pubs, coffee houses and bars, shooting a few setups in each location. While in Los Angeles, he spent half a day shooting models in scenes showing a group of friends out at a club, dancing to live music.

“During the creative call, I had said I like to shoot a lot of angles,” Martinez recalls. To capture believable action, he typically gives his models a few directions about an action they need to perform or how they should behave, then follows them as they move and interact. “I’ll say, ‘Try to be as though you are having a night out with friends: What would you do?’ I block it and direct it a bit.”

The Hampton by Hilton campaign required motion as well as stills. “That drove all the lighting choices,” Martinez says. He first lit each environment, using continuous lights. “I try to make my lighting setup general enough that I can move around in it.” As subjects danced or joked together at a table in the bar, Martinez shot the unfolding scenes, first with a still camera and then on video.


The assignment called for him to capture stills in a variety of formats for use in print and online advertising and other media. After he submitted an estimate for a full motion production, he found the budget was too low to be able to bring in a separate director of photography. “I said I could do the motion myself, with the caveat that we might not get everything if I ran out of time.”

Martinez and his producer, Emily Dulla, had cast the models who would be the primary subjects and also hired four extras to suggest a crowd on the dance floor in front of a live band. They hired a location scout they work with regularly to research locations, Martinez says, “then I do a tech scout myself and recommend to [the] client which location would be optimal for me.” They found a venue for live music in Los Angeles that had a small stage and a dance floor, as well as tables and banquettes where he could get a second setup of the models sitting and having drinks.

Martinez had only about four hours to shoot two scenarios in the bar before he and the crew had to move on to the next location. They began early on a Sunday morning. “It’s very different being there at 6 AM on Sunday than being there at 1 AM when the bar is closing,” he notes. “Sure, you can go out and make that picture if you happen across it, but to make that at 6 AM on Sunday takes a lot of planning.”

He and Dulla worked with a crew of about 30, including the talent, stylists and their assistants, a motor home driver, Martinez’s three assistants, and production assistants who, as soon as one shoot was wrapping up, would head to the next location to begin preparations for the next shoot.

“I block the scenes while the talent is being prepped, then with the talent on set, I make some final tweaks. By blocking everything ahead of time, I’m able to work fairly quickly. This keeps the talent fresh and energized,” he says. In giving the talent ideas for how to interact, Martinez says, “It’s sort of striking [a] balance between getting them to do what you want and letting them do what they want and hoping they’ll do something you want that you didn’t know you wanted.” When something worked well, he might ask them to repeat it. “The worst thing is to labor something if it’s not working. It just wears on the talent and the crew. If it’s not working after a little bit, I move on, rather than continuing to force it.”

Because the creatives liked images he had shot with a ringflash, Martinez used a R-300 LED Ring Light from F&V. Image © David Martinez.


While the stage had some lights, the dance floor was “like a black hole,” so the photographer supplemented the stage lights with Arri L7-C LED light sources. “I put one right above the stage, pointing back at the camera. It highlights everybody from the back, and makes a nice edge light,” Martinez explains. He placed two more LEDs to the right of the camera, each shining through an 8×8 Westcott Scrim Jim to diffuse them.

The Arri L7-Cs have fresnel lenses on them, and also allow for adjustments to their color temperature. “I kind of played with the color of the light so it wouldn’t look too clean,” he says. “I like it to look as if it’s not lit,” he says. “At the beginning I had it lit nicely so I made the shadow a little heavier, so it would look more authentic.”

The client had liked the lifestyle images Martinez had submitted with his treatment, particularly some shots in which he used ring flash to get a bright, crisp look. To get the same look while shooting both motion and stills,  Martinez used a R-300 LED Ring Light from F&V on his cameras. He notes that while each ringflash image looks lit, “It still feels like a friend taking a snapshot with [an] on-camera flash.”


For the stills, he shot the Canon EOS-1DX using a 28mm zoom at f/3.2, “probably 1/80th of a second, in very low light.” The stills on the dance floor were shot at ISO 3200: “Fairly high, because I had to bring all the lights down to the level of the stage lighting.”

Martinez likes to shoot a lot, knowing that in some shots, the motion blur might be too much or he might miss action. He shot tethered, with his digital tech checking images, he says. “I always review before I move on to the next setup.”

For his motion work, Martinez says, he has recently begun using the Sony a7s II. Using an Atomos Ninja Assassin external recorder, he shoots 4K ProRes files using the PP8 color profile, to give the editor footage with “a flat, ungraded look. Then we did the color grading later.” The creatives had wanted the video to “look a little rough,” he says, so he mostly shot handheld, or with the camera mounted on a Ronin gimbal. Because the camera has image stabilization in the body, Martinez notes, “I can handhold it and it still looks smooth, but allows some movement. This way, it doesn’t look as static as it would locked down on a tripod.”


Before the day ended, Martinez and his client reviewed the work, and the client picked several favorites. The photographer and the art director then gave notes to Mark Johan, the retoucher Martinez works with regularly.  “The retouching was minimal—the goal being to keep it looking natural,” Martinez says. “Some locations had mixed light sources where shadows went green from fluorescent lights. My retoucher does a great job of cleaning up the mixed lighting, making it all look color balanced and smooth.”

The ads are appearing internationally in a variety of media. “For me, this is the best case scenario in an advertising assignment,” Martinez says. “They definitely felt what I was doing was right for the concept, and they were hugely supportive and communicative throughout the project.”

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