Guest Photographer: Andy Cuadra

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: May 20, 2010

Category: General

First of all, I want to say thank you for inviting me to be a guest photographer on your blog. It is truly an honor and hope to share as much as I can in the following paragraphs.  If you were to ask my wife, Erika, about how long I have been behind the camera;  she would tell you without a doubt that it has been about 2 years.  That was right around the time when our daughter was born; I recall watching her on our bed and noticing the soft light creating beautiful highlights and shadows. That picture got engraved in my head; following , I purchased my first DSLR and the rest has been history.

Currently residing in Houston, Texas. I began shooting and practicing lighting techniques on anything you can imagine. Park benches, trash cans, chairs, trees, my dogs, driving my wife insane. You name it, I shot it; we have all been there. After a little while of shooting “uninteresting” things, I gave myself an assignment to give a voice to three homeless people.  This was a turning point for me because not only did I realize how important the message of a photograph can be, but taking the time to learn about them was eye opening, and thus teaching me a valuable lesson.  Give first, learn about the other person (subject); then shoot.  A lesson I take into every shoot today.

This year, I started a Project 365. I needed something that would keep me shooting; honing my skills.  Glyn, you asked me ‘where I get the ideas/inspiration to shoot a picture everyday for 365 days?’  Well, me and my wife love movies, and just enjoy popping in a good DVD.  If you start paying close attention, you will notice that movie guys really know how to light up a set. When I see a scene that grabs me; I record it in my 2.2 lb portable drive (brain) and want to take that same theme into the next set of shots.

Day 79/365 with Andrew
This shot was taken in the middle of a bright afternoon; so the first thing that ran through my head was how do we make the scene moody.  In other words how do we kill the ambient light a bit so that the picture does not come out washed out and flat.  Prior to the shoot, I did several tests with my Nikon speedlights where shooting smaller than f/10 was really pushing it at full power (bare flash). I knew right away that the ambient was going to be at least F16 so using my Nikon speed lights was out of the question.  The next light on my arsenal bag is my Alien Bee 1600, this bad boy usually comes out to play only during the day time when it is needed the most.  So the set up goes like this, f/18 killed the ambient light dramatically and gave me the nice deep blue sky you see, the AB1600 was shot at full power, bounced off a 60” Wescott umbrella, camera right. A second speedlight was added behind the subject with a full CTO gel, and last a third speedlight was used to used to add a little more pop into his eyes since his hat added a dark shadow..  One last note, I did not take this into Photoshop at all, all the adjustments were done in Lightroom and the 90% of the shot was ready in camera. That’s something I tell myself every time; get it right in camera first. As Zack Arias would say, “If you catch yourself saying, I’ll fix that in Photoshop later; slap yourself”.

Technical: Alien Bees AB1600 fired @ full power, bounced of a 60” Wescott Umbrella; camera right. Nikon SB800 at 1/128th power hand held by my Erika aimed at his face to pop a little light back in his eyes. Nikon SB28 shot at 3/4″ power with full CTO gel behind (left).

Camera info: Nikon D700, 35mm(ƒ/2), ƒ/18, ISO 200, 1/250th second.

Time of day: 3 pm, clear skies, bright conditions.
Processed and finished completely in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

I also enjoy shooting products/still life.  So, one of my favorite product shots of my 97/365 was the iPad.
I wanted to shoot it with a wow factor and I also wanted to be wide open at f/1.4, so I came out with this. I placed the iPad box inside a 3’ x 3’ x 2’ [.9144m x .9144m x .6096m] mini studio, painted black.

The challenge: I wanted to see part of the top of the box w/o placing a light so I used some of the spill from the inside flash and outside snoot light.  Even at the lowest flash setting, the picture was being blown out.  I had to go to my ND 0.9 filter (reducing the light by a full 3 f stops). Remember I wanted to be at f/1.4, ISO 200 and 1” sec exposure to get the ambient light to help me see part of the top of the box.

Technical: Nikon SB28 inside the box with blue gel fired at 1/64th power.  SB800 shot through a long Conoco snoot at 1/128th power from above, aiming for the “iPad” lettering and feathering the light a bit.  Camera was on tripod. Pocket wizards made all the firing possible.

I am currently on a journey, not truly knowing where it is going, how I am going to get there, but rather enjoying and savoring each moment as I hear the shutter go off.

A long road ahead of learning, practicing, and honing my skills. This project 365, has allowed me to meet, network and work with so many interesting models, creative directors, marketers, and other awesome photographers.  A very special thanks to my wife, and my daughter; you both inspire me and push me every day to take small steps.

To you Glyn, a big thank you for having me on board as a guest photographer, for your friendship, and your continuous commitment to give back to our photography community.

To find out more about Andy and his, you can check out the following websites:

Main Site:

Connect with Andy on Twitter and Facebook

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  1. Richard Hales

    Really interesting post Andy and thanks to Glyn for bringing more photographers to prominence.

    • Glyn

      @Richard…Thanks for looking in Richard; glad you like Andy’s Project 365 post which I agree is real interesting and also takes alot of dedication & drive to carry through.

      Cheers, Glyn

  2. Noel

    Great post guys,
    Andy, what pitfalls have you discovered when trying to keep to the 365 project ‘rules’ – I am doing a project 52 – a different portrait every week for a year and it has taken well over a year.
    Great lighting on the first shot and I now want an ipad… again.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Glyn

      @Noel…Thanks for checking in and for posing the question about ‘pitfalls’. out of interest although I’ve seen your progress with Project 52 what would you say have been your ‘challenges’ and ‘pitfalls’ in putting it together?


  3. Andy Cuadra

    @Richard- Thank you. It has been indeed an interesting journey thus far.
    @Noel- Great question. Project 365 is an exercise, a very long one at that. You start well, 1/4 into the race you start looking ahead and that finish line is no where in sight. It’s about pacing yourself, and realizing that there will be bad days, and very good days. I believe that is the biggest pitfall, after the first bump; I wanted to jump off. Know why you are on the project and why it is important to you.

  4. DaveT

    Another great post – this blog is a real treasure trove.

    Andy, Amazing to see the progress you have made in just two years. Were you an artist or graphic designer before (you certainly know how to use light and shadow). I’m just starting to get a handle on lighting, and that is after years and years of shooting. Great images and thank you for sharing the knowledge.


  5. Andy Cuadra

    @DaveT- thank you for the nice words. Two years ago I had literally never held a hot shoe flash in my hand. Light was this mysterious and unachievable goal, but I kept up with it. My background is Engineering, now working on the business end of things.

  6. kelley

    What a wonderful post. Andy, thank you for your clear manner of writing, you have a wonderful “voice”. I feel very inspired to just shoot rather than wait for the job. I did keep thinking about the four years I spent in school and questioned if I should have just spent it taking pictures.

    Thank you to you both for a very interesting read!


  7. David Kelly

    Andy thanks for your informative post. As I said in an earlier post I made when Glyn announced you as a guest blogger, I absolutely admire anyone who undertakes such 365 projects – their committment and dedication is second to none.

    I meet another photographer here in the UK (Ken Scott) who’s being doing 365’s for several years now and (although he was an experienced photographer beforehand) he had a similar view in mind as you that undertaking it would hone his photographic skills; as a professional musician would play their instrument daily to keep tip-top, so should he with his photography.

    Your comments about pacing yourself are interesting. Ken went through similar issues but at some point into year 1, he levelled out, got into the zone and actually found it became easier. I guess that’s how he’s be able to sustain it for so long.

    I’ll certainly be following your project on Flickr, glad you’ve reaped such personal success from it and wish you good luck with it for the future.


  8. Andy Cuadra

    @Kelly- thank you for the kind words. Keep shooting…
    @DavidKelley- Much appreciated it. I will keep pushing forward finding my own unique style and experimenting along the way. Pacing myself is a way for me to break down the project into parts and not look at it as 365 shots that I have to get through; that will overwhelm anyone.

    Wishing everyone a great weekend.


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