Growing up, Felix Hernandez spent countless hours alone in his room, staging scenes with his extensive toy collection. Today, the Cancún-based photographer makes a living doing much the same thing, building elaborate miniature sets in his studio to shoot images for brands like Audi, Nickelodeon, and Mattel.
“I’m kind of nerdy,” Hernandez admits. “Since I was little, I preferred to be in my room playing with my toys, creating my own stories, instead of going outside and playing with the other kids. I think I’m still the same way.”
When he isn’t shooting commercial photography, Hernandez works on personal projects, often inspired by movies like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars. He builds each set from scratch on a large tabletop in his darkened studio, which is equipped with every conceivable model and part he might need. “I go there and I can stay one or two days, working 24 hours a day,” he says. “It’s my favorite place in the world.” (Not surprisingly, it’s also his six-year-old son’s favorite place.)
For his automotive photography, Hernandez starts with a standard-issue model car set, which he assembles, modifies, and paints to his exact specifications, including artificial weathering to make the car look like it’s been driven. He then builds the set, rigs up his lighting, and shoots the scene from multiple angles, trying to create as much of the image as possible “in camera” rather than adding it later with Photoshop.
Depending on the scene’s complexity, building the set and staging the scene can take Hernandez, who always works alone, between a week and a month. It’s that long, painstaking work that he finds most satisfying, even though all viewers will see are the resulting images. Losing himself in creating new worlds takes him back to his childhood, he says, to those long hours alone playing with his toys.
“The final result isn’t the most important thing to me,” he says. “It’s the process of getting to that final shot.”