Interview with cinematographer Adrian Hernandez

Adrian Hernandez is an LA-Based Filmmaker with a degree in Film and TV Production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where he graduated with an emphasis in directing and cinematography.
To date, he’s shot and directed narrative, documentary, and broadcast work for clients such as LAFC, Fox Sports West (San Diego, Prime Ticket), Los Angeles Metro, the National Association for Latino Independent Producers (NALIP), and the Bridge Art + Science Alliance. 
He’s also served as a cinematographer for four independent feature films, as well as dozens of music videos, short films, and promotional shorts.
His personal work focuses on the disconnection and estrangement of misfits and outsiders from dominant cultures.

  • What personality or character traits are necessary to excel in being a cinematographer/DP?

Attention to detail, visual creativity. Most importantly, an ability to express clear and relatable human emotion through photography, a highly technical art. 

  • In terms of cinematographers, who do you like?

There are the big names like Robby Muller, Sven Nykvist, and Gordon Willis, all of whom I greatly admire. Also, some indie cinematographers working today, like Neil Oseman and Morgan Cooper.

  • What makes good cinematography?

Emotion. You should be able to look at a random frame from a well shot film and feel something. 

  • What makes a good camera? And what has been your favorite camera to use?

Many cinematographers want feature-heavy cameras that can do everything, but I’m the opposite. My main camera right now is the Ursa Mini 4.6k, which is essentially just a big black box with a record button—and I love it. If the camera doesn’t get in the way of my process, it’s a good camera. 

  • Do you think that cinematographer’s work has changed when movies went from film to digital?

I’ve shot both, and each have their pluses and minuses. We can shoot more footage per day on digital, which is both good and bad. Good in that we have more opportunities to get a shot right, bad in that if often leads to a desire in clients to overshoot and figure things out in editing. Scorsese put it best: “What happened to ‘the shot’?”

  • Now that people watch films on TV, computers and even their phones, do you think about that end experience when you are shooting?

All the time. It’ll influence aspect ratio choices, shot composition, and lens choices. Shooting for the web is like an actor playing to the back row of a theater: You gotta be loud.

  • Which one is more important: light or shadow?

I shoot a lot of horror films, so I’ll say shadow. Shadow doesn’t exist without light, but shadows, and where they fall, tell the story.

  • What is the cinematographer’s involvement in pre-production, production and postproduction? 

Heavy in Pre-production and Production. Ideally, before any shoot, I have many conversations with the director about what they’re looking for, and we’ll both visit potential shoot locations to talk over shot possibilities and logistical concerns. In Post, it’s very rare I get brought in, except for color. 

  • What involvement in the production budget does the cinematographer/DP have?

In an ideal world, every cent should be approved by the DP 😉 But in reality, clients will come to me with budgets already organized for camera team, and I’ll need to work from there on assembling team and resources. 

  • What is your most valuable advice for being a Cinematographer/DP?

Get a library card. No really. The best to be visually literate is to comb through as many films, photographs, paintings and graphic designs as you can. I keep a visual diary, where I categorize images I like by composition, color, lighting, etc. It’s super helpful in distinguishing what images you like, and why.