Carlos Cortes is a News Photographer at CBS Television with over a decade of experience in broadcasting. Working with many household names throughout his career, his client list includes NBC, DISNEY, TRIBUNE, EXTRA, MTV, THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL, US ARMY, FOX, and the NFL Network to name but a few. As a cameraman for KTLA in Los Angeles earlier in his career, he captured his first Emmy in 2012, and won two more in 2013.
Breaking stories, minimal crews, tight deadlines. It’s just another day on the job for seasoned CBS News DP, Carlos Cortes.
In a fast-paced environment where days are long and setup times short, having robust, reliable and versatile equipment is crucial. Astra panels have been a key part of Carlos' kit for many years and the introduction of Gemini 1x1 Hard has been the perfect addition.
We caught up with Carlos to find out why Astra and Gemini LED panels are his go-to lights for life on the road.
How did you get started in the news business?
I actually went to school for television production which was 25 years ago at Southern Illinois University, I’m from Chicago originally. I got a four year degree and news was something I always wanted to do as well as production for television. After my first job at CNN in 1997, I really gravitated towards the news.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a news camera operator?
Time is always going to be the number one challenge just because in the news business we’re more reactive than proactive. By that I mean that when things break we just have to go. We have to drop whatever we’re doing and just take off. The news business is a business of deadlines and we have to be able to work within those deadlines to get it on television.
What do you look for in an LED light when you’re choosing your lighting kit for the fast-paced news environment?
Well I think it’s a couple of things. The first and probably the most important is durability. I say that because no matter how great a light is, if it’s not durable to work in the news business and to be able to be thrown in our trucks and be on 10 hours a day, we can’t use it. Just to stand up to the elements is so important.
Secondly, for us, the output. That’s huge for us. In our industry sometimes we have to travel lighter than we would like to. When you can get a light with a big output with a dimmer on it, that light can be used in several different scenarios. You can use it for a live shot, it can be used for an interview. If you can put modifiers on it, it can be used as a backlight. You can use it for everything. Back in the day they used to make lights that were either high or low and that was it. But now with dimmers and a huge output you are close to the perfect light. We need that output in the news business.
Can you tell us about a challenging lighting situation you’ve encountered and how Astra and Gemini 1x1 Hard helped overcome this?
I actually just did a story where we had to hike to get there. I could only bring one light and the first light I grabbed was the Gemini. Even though it’s robust and a little heavy I knew that the one light could get the job done so I basically just strapped it to my back. We did this mile and half hike in the Pacific North West. I was able not only to shoot an interview but stand-ups for my reporter and use it for a live shot in the morning. It worked in all the scenarios. Those are prime examples of the one light that can do it all.
The Gemini is fantastic as it’s not just bi-color. You’ve probably got 5,000 different shades of color as well. So I’ve used it for everything, back light, source light, ambient light where I just needed some blue in the room. I actually used it yesterday when I had a green couch and the 56K in the room was overpowering it but I still wanted that green couch. So what I did was I just over-lit the couch green so it could come up on camera.
With the introduction of color to these panels, it’s amazing. These lights can do everything now.
What’s been the biggest change in news production and how you use lighting in the last 5 years?
The biggest change in the news business has been, bodies. That’s an easy question to answer; we don’t have the bodies anymore. Companies have scaled down so much where back in the day we used to shoot with five or six guys on a shot and now you’re by yourself a lot of the time. You have to bring less gear now because you’re only one person. That means we’ve had to scale down the number of lights we take on a job. Then you’re going to need a light that does several different things. So one that you can use outside, inside, one that you can shoot an interview with, one that you can shoot a live shot to battle the sun with.
Ultimately we have to carry less gear, so the industry and especially Litepanels have done a great job. You take say an Astra or Gemini light and that’s all you need.
What’s the best piece of lighting advice anyone has given you?
I don’t think there’s a rule book on how you light. Every situation is different, there’s no one way to light a scene. There’s nothing really identical unless it’s the ‘anchor desk’. The anchor desk is there everyday and enclosed and those lights are rigged on scaffolds.
What is the one piece of lighting advice you would give someone starting out as a news camera operator?
When you’re working out in the field every room you walk in to is a different lighting scenario. Even though we have a formula you’ve got to be ready to step outside of that formula and just try different things as you never know what can happen. And don’t be afraid of the technology.
These lights can do a lot of things and they look like they can do a lot of things and can be intimidating especially to a newer person whose getting into lighting. But don’t be afraid of it, spend time with it. You’ll find something new every time.
Would you recommend Gemini and Astra panels to other news camera operators and why
100%. I think the build quality is the number one thing I would stand by. You can even drop them off of a building, a friend of mine actually did that. His C-stand fell off the side of a two-storey building and the light survived. He pieced the Astra back together, plugged it in and it actually worked, I could not believe it.
When they came out with the Gemini I thought that this was the build quality that we’d been looking for; it’s a robust Astra.
Astra has been the standard for news crews probably for the last seven years. I don’t think you can find a news truck without an Astra in it. The Gemini is just going to follow those footsteps.