A picture’s worth a thousand words, but a few encouraging words resulted in a career of pictures. Ricardo Hubbs might not have pursued his career as a Stills Photographer if it wasn’t for the support from actress Jessica Biel. That conversation and the ones that would follow not only pushed Ricardo to enter an industry that was unfamiliar, but one where he excelled, and his work has become priceless moments captured for fans of beloved shows. In this continuing conversation, Ricardo offers greater insight into the equipment he uses, the challenges he faces on set and the joy of interacting with fans.
SC: What types of cameras do you use?
RH: That is probably one of my most asked questions. I shoot with Sony A9’s. In my kit I have two cameras and a wide assortment of what I’d say glass, meaning lenses. I have to shoot at different focal lengths, and different lenses give me different looks and feels. The kit I bring with me is probably worth about $38,000 and I guard it with my life.
Not too long ago we didn’t have mirrorless cameras and I shot with Canon in those days. I’m not brand specific. You can take a good photo with whatever camera you’re using. A Sony camera won’t give you a better photograph than a Fuji camera, but a better photographer will give you a better photograph.
I used to shoot with Canon but we had to put them in a blimp which was this case that went over your camera. It was hard plastic with sound absorbing foam on the inside, so you wouldn’t hear “click” but still there was an audible thud; it wasn’t completely silent. In lots of scenes there is a lot of ambient noise so the thud wouldn’t be noticed, but if it was more of an intimate scene, there’d be “thud, thud.” I remember once one of the cast members saying, “can you not shoot this scene because I can hear the thud?” I just felt so bad. They didn’t project it as you’re being bad, they just knew that I got the shot and they needed to do this take. So now we’re completely silent, you can’t hear a thing. And that makes it a lot easier cause I can manipulate my camera during a take. Before they were in a case, so in between takes I’d have to open it up, go in and change the settings and lock this thing and go again.
SC: How many projects might you be involved with as a photographer in a year (movies or series)?
RH: That’s a good question. I wish I knew the answer. It ebbs and flows. I definitely take time for myself to live my life. Taking time for my family and my friends is important. I also like to travel. I don’t know if there’s a number per se cause some of them are series and I get a lot of day calls particularly in the spring. I work maybe like 9 months of the year, I would say in total, because there are gaps in between. That sounds very luxurious, and it is, but people need to remember we work so much, like 12 hour days, 14 hour days, day after day, so it seems that we work in a condensed version so I get more time off.
SC: Which would you say is your most memorable photoshoot? Would it be the one with Jessica and the photobook because it started it off or do you have others now that you’d place higher on that list?
RH: That’s a great question too. Operation Christmas Drop has marked my life in many ways so I would have to say working with Kat Graham and Alexander Ludwig on that show, and director Martin Wood was super special. And being on Anderson Air Force based and meeting all of those incredible people and being around all the fighter jets was super exciting. Plus being in a different country.
I really love being on Chesapeake Shores and When Calls the Heart for all of its charm and my friendships with all of the cast there. It was definitely a great experience and those friendships I’ll have for life.
I loved Limetown and I got to work with Jessica Biel, my absolute hero in my life, which will be on Facebook Watch and that was technically more challenging for me. I think it pushed my creativity a little bit, expanding my technological skill and my photographic skill. Hallmark has a very pretty esthetic, it’s usually fairly well lit, particularly for the kiss.
But each show has its own magic and its own storyline and setting. Even Ties that Bind, was one of my favourite shows as it was my first. And Kelli Williams and I had such a great friendship and connection. And I remember her calling me after the show and she was looking through the photos and just telling me how happy she was with them and how good that made me feel. I had succeeded where I wasn’t sure if I was capable.
SC: With Ties that Bind being your first, do you feel like you were doing a lot of thinking?
RH: It was shoot, shoot, shoot. I hadn’t honed my skill yet. It was sort of a rapid fire of trying to find what I wanted and learning as I went. Like that really worked and this didn’t work. It’s a cop show and a family show so it was trying to show the juxtaposition between Kelli Williams’ character (so her as a cop and trying to show the emotional context of being a police officer and the relationship with her work partner) and then her family life (her role as a mother and how that’s working out and then the relationship with her life partner, her husband). So, trying to play off all of these: the main characters’ partnerships, her relationship with her children, as well as her relationship with thieves or whoever she’s caught. It really taught me a lot and I shot a lot. And action, they would be chasing someone, and I had to learn how to capture all that and what settings would work. I probably took more photos on that series than I did on most, but I was learning and having to test things out.
SC: How is being a Stills Photographer similar or different than when you’re photographing other events?
RH: For me personally, I find it really important that my relationship, whether I’m shooting a wedding or whether I’m doing a portrait or something, those people have to connect with me, and I have to connect with them. It’s a big trust exercise and I’m like a paparazzi on set. I’m always taking photos so they have to trust me to know that I have their best interests at heart and the best interests of the show. I’m going to make them look good and I’m going to find something that’s going to be a gift to the people who watch the show.
SC: What are different types of photos that you are trying to capture?
RH: I’m not looking to duplicate what the movie cameras are shooting. My job is to find those and to extract those into a single image that can either help promote the show or be a keepsake, a little pirate treasure. I’m looking for character shots. I’m looking for something the Hearties will love. Or if it’s Elizabeth in her wedding dress, I know the Hearties want to see the dress, for example. Or they want to see her beaming like a happy bride. So sometimes I’m looking at what more can I give the audience.
When I go into a Hallmark set, I know what they want. On a Hallmark show it is kind of like being a wedding photographer. I’m looking for the love, I’m looking for the beauty, I’m looking for the connection. The Hallmark audience is a little easier to play to because love is such a wonderful thing to capture and to find.
On Chesapeake Shores, for example, this year I looked over at the fridge and I said “I’d bet people would want to see what’s on the fridge.” I don’t know if Hallmark will use those shots, but it gives Hallmark a pallet of opportunity to give the audience a little more, because on the fridge were little drawings that the girls had done and photographs of the family. I’m looking for details in a room that will be interesting to people. I’m looking for moments that the actors are sharing. Sometimes I’m duplicating what the cameras are doing, but not always. A photo is very different from a moving picture and my cameras can’t do what a movie camera can do necessarily.
SC: How does shooting with water have an impact on your photography?
RH: I love water. If I can, I will shoot people near water. Water is diffusing the light. It’s hitting its waves and it’s going all over the place and you can get some gorgeous shots by the water. On Chesapeake Shores I often took the cast down by the water. I’d bring my flashes sometimes too, or a bounce, but I think just having water in the shot, there’s just some calming presence to water and human beings like to look at water. I’m looking to bring an element of the name of the show to a photograph, so shorelines and water are good to be included on a show called Chesapeake Shores.
SC: What are some of the challenges you face on set in your work?
RH: Finding a place on set. It can be challenging sometimes when the cameras are rolling. We can be in a very small space, or it can be really hot, or I can’t really get a good shot because I’m in the actor’s eyeline. There are certain places on set that you can’t stand because you can’t break the actor’s moment and sometimes the cameras are all squished together because it’s not just a movie camera; it’s a camera, operator, focus puller, assistant, dolly, dolly grip, all of these people standing there. Not only do I also have to stand in this cramped spot, but I have to shoot through them. It can get a little touching on nerve wracking at times. There’s a pecking order to where we are standing. Everyone is very friendly and knows that I have to get the shot too but in terms of the importance of the scene, we need to film it and get the sound or there is no show. And the actors need to have their space or their container to give their performance so with those factors I need to find a place on set.
Another thing about being a Stills Photographer, I don’t have time. The cast are very busy, everyone is being shuffled around, lights are being turned on and off. I have like two minutes sometimes to do a photoshoot. The picture of Johannah Newmarch on Project MC2 is a prime example of just her and I running on to set and snap, snap, snap, and getting as many photos as we could before they turned off the lights and called her back to set. We had a really fun time on that show.
SC: Is there generally enough lighting for you because of the way they are set up for filming?
RH: Not always. Let’s go back to the engagement scene lit by candles and sort of this big light in the sky that they had. It can be really challenging. Cameras are getting a little better. I have better lenses so that helps me out, but it takes a lot of money to get to these places in your career. The light can be really challenging sometimes. Night scenes, or for example on Chesapeake Shores, when the girls are all up eating ice cream in Abby’s bed at night; it looks like a great scene but try photographing it. It can be a little challenging.
SC: With set photography, how do you ensure you get those pictures? You have mentioned your double camera but how do you ensure that you don’t have technological issues?
RH: You do. But it scares me. Well you have two cameras for a reason. Two reasons actually, because different lenses do different things. I’ll have two different lenses on different cameras, but also in case one goes down. When I was in Guam I was dealing with humidity. I’d do a scene, I’d go back, I’d look at the shots, they look great. And then this one there’s a spot, there’s a spot on every single photo. There was a little bit of humidity inside, but I couldn’t disassemble it there, so I was down a camera. I was like “please don’t let it happen to the other camera.” I had missed a shot before where it was a little out of focus and I laid in bed at night thinking how horrible a person I was. You know, I get haunted by being a little bit out of focus. So, it’s true, I’m dealing with technology, technology fails, I have backups just in case. I’m constantly reviewing shots on set. And oftentimes the cast wants to come up and take a look in the camera too, or I get really excited about a shot and I run up and want to show them.
SC: Do you have cards that you switch out and save them later?
RH: Yes. I have two cards in each camera and it’s backing up inside, so if one of the cards fails it has a back-up. On a movie set I can’t be like “can we do this scene again I missed the ring going on the finger people?” They’re not going to do it. They have rehearsals and I watch the rehearsals, so I have a sense of when certain things are going to happen, but I definitely have had failures of gear.
SC: You have had the chance to attend HFR (Hearties Family Reunion) as a photographer. What was that experience like for you?
RH: I love being there, it’s super fun. I love how excited the Hearties get when the cast come out. I just find it so fascinating to watch because the cast to me are people that I work with. Of course, you know there’s an audience you’re making a TV show, but when those two synapses fire in a room, watching cast and fans interact, it’s fascinating. Celebrity culture is fascinating. Whatever we’re doing, whether an exciting moment with tears filled on a protest line cause there’s logging equipment going by, or the excitement of seeing Erin Krakow walk out in some beautiful white dress looking more gorgeous than ever. Like you’ve never seen her as non-Elizabeth and now you’re like wow she has a bob. The Hearties Reunion is tough on the cast, because they have to be present for all of those people. It’s an amazing thing to watch.
I also love when people say to me “I love that photo you took of [specific photo]” and it just warms my heart that I gave a treasure to someone of something that they really love, and I have no idea who they are. The first year, I took a lot of pictures of the cast and when I got home and I was looking at my photos, what really compelled me was the audience. I thought “why didn’t I take more pictures of them? Those are the people and the community.” Since then, I’ve been shooting a lot more of the audience. They’re such a wonderful community of people and I find them just as fascinating as the cast. I’ve met such great people at the reunions. There’s so many good people involved from the audience all the way to the cast to the Executive Producers and it’s great.
SC: What is the most memorable feedback that you’ve received about your photos? What are things that stand out to you about your photos?
RH: Great question. When you said that two things popped into my mind. The first one is Jessica Biel, always goes back to my girl and the encouragement she gave me to tell me that I was as good as any photographer she had worked with and I might not succeed at it, but I had a chance. And those words, and that’s me paraphrasing a conversation, but those words changed my life.
The second thing that popped into my mind was at a Hearties Reunion, when some of the Hearties were putting the pieces together that I was the photographer of one of their favourite photos. And taking a picture of me with them and being acknowledged. Wow, somebody not only liked the photo I took but they wanted to take a photo with me, and I was really touched. It’s touching to have that treasure recognized; people do really love what I do, and it makes a difference in somebody’s life and I can gift somebody that. That was a good feeling there.
SC: Do you have any advice for up and coming photographers?
RH: If anyone’s getting into photography, I would encourage them to invest in the lenses not the body of the camera. The body of the camera can be updated. But if you buy a good lens, that will travel with you from camera body to camera body. I often get asked “what camera should I buy?” I actually don’t know any cameras but my own and I know them really well, so my advice is to invest in good glass. That’ll get you a much better photograph than a good camera body.
Ricardo’s story is one that highlights little moments becoming important milestones, not only in the images he shares, but also the impact of encouraging words. His passion for photography is evident in all of the moments he has frozen in time, and his genuine respect for the cast and crew is immersed in all that he shares. For Ricardo’s current projects, visit his website or follow him on social media, and if you are attending the Hearties Family Reunion, you might see him there too.