ARTICLE

Javier Cortés' Old Master inspired portraits with the EOS R

Javier's images are evocative of Old Master paintings, but with a contemporary twist. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/2.5 and ISO400. © Javier Cortés

When Canon Ambassador Javier Cortés was young, he fell in love with the artistry of the Old Masters such as Caravaggio, Velázquez and Rembrandt. The way the classic painters captured light inspired him in his own photorealistic paintings – and then, once he found his true passion, in his photography. 

"I started imitating the light of the paintings with the camera," he says. "At the beginning I was just playing, but it has changed all of my work. Now I'm always working on 'narrative' ways of lighting – to tell something more, as the moving image can do, but in just one image." It's a tradition he passes on to photography students in his native Spain, showing them the way he uses one light, often continuous, or natural light, to emulate the lighting of the artists he loved.

Javier's love of light is evident in his portfolio of high-fashion work, which includes stills for Vogue and Esquire and film for brands as diverse as Estée Lauder, Toyota and Swatch. More recently, the photographer stepped away from the traditional restraints of the fashion world to put the Canon EOS R through its paces on a shoot inspired by the Baroque artists.

A bunch of pale pink flowers, starting to wilt, lie on a grey sack cloth.
Javier wanted to capture beautiful artistic shots of real women, not typical models, with the Canon EOS R. "With the new RF lenses and the EOS R's [30.3MP] sensor, you can zoom into the picture more and more, and crop it, and you don't see a pixel – it's a really clear image," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/5.0 and ISO800. © Javier Cortés
A view over Javier Cortés's shoulder as he photographs two models on set with a Canon EOS R.
Javier was able to take this still life photograph with his existing Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens by using an EF-EOS R adapter. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/6.3 and ISO800. © Javier Cortés

"I've always wanted to do a personal project with real people, rather than models," he says. "I think that the painters I love have two kinds of paintings – the ones that people paid them to paint, and the ones that they wanted to paint because they thought something was beautiful and they wanted to show it to people.

Canon Professional Services

Do you own Canon kit?

Register your kit to access free expert advice, equipment servicing, inspirational events and exclusive special offers with Canon Professional Services

"This is what I tried to do in this series: to show different communities and different kinds of women, and to record the details that I saw, from their skin to the strength of their eyes."

Working with street casting agent Charlotte James, the photographer sought out unusual characters who looked different to most fashion models. Aged from 16 to 70, the women include freckled redhead Maisie and tattooed, plus-sized Ami.

"I like the fashion industry but at the same time I don't like some of the stereotypes, so I try always to escape from the 'perfect body' or whatever the focus is on," says Javier. "I shot real people, who are not models and are less confident about posing in front of the camera. This is part of the project, because I wanted it to feel very real."

Fusing high fashion with artistic influences, Javier harnessed light to draw attention to his subjects' features. Against a painterly studio background and a carpet of flowers and foliage, the women pose in a modernist take on the Baroque and Renaissance eras.

A silver-haired older woman stands tall and elegant, in a figure-hugging orange dress swathed with lace around the shoulders and tumbling to the floor on one side and concertina swags of red fabric on the other side.
Javier's subjects were not professional models, and ranged in age from 16 to 70. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/250 sec, f/4.5 and ISO640. © Javier Cortés
Red-haired model Maisie looks straight at the camera over her bare shoulder.
"I've tested the EOS R in low light, and it was very impressive – always matching the focus with where I wanted it to be," says Javier. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/4.0 and ISO500. © Javier Cortés

Focusing with the EOS R

A woman submerged in water with a pink and gold scarf billowing around her, her face reflected above her brows.

Underwater beauty portrait tips

"Underwater visual artist" Maya Almeida shares the challenges behind her creative beauty portraits.

Javier shot with the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R, primarily paired with the new Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens – an experience he describes as "amazing".

"I loved the quality of the EOS R," he says. "With the new RF lenses you feel like you are seeing something from a bigger camera, like a medium format. With these lenses and this [30.3MP] sensor, you can zoom into the picture more and more, and crop it, and you don't see a pixel – it's a really clear image."

Javier found he didn't miss his usual camera, a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, because the EOS R gave him such good results. He says he typically moves quickly around a shoot, while models themselves change position and move. With the EOS R, "the autofocusing was really impressive, and this helped me a lot," he explains.

Thanks to the EOS R's Dual Pixel AF, he was also able to adjust the focus after shooting. "If it's not perfectly matched, you can change it a little bit – if the focus is on the eyes and you want it to be on the nose or the lipstick. If you have what is otherwise the 'perfect shot' and you want to change it slightly, that can work really well."

A woman with tightly curled red hair, wearing a rustic-looking smock, coat, hat and red flowery glove, looking slightly down at us, holding a sheaf of dried lavender.
Javier adjusted the focus of some shots after taking them, thanks to the EOS R's Dual Pixel AF. "If you have what is otherwise the 'perfect shot' and you want to change it slightly, that can work really well," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/80 sec, f/4.0 and ISO400. © Javier Cortés
A redheaded woman wearing a silky off-white blouse and red and white striped trousers lies on her back on a bed of greenery with the corner of the set visible behind.
Javier's compositions were often inspired by his favourite classic painters. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/3.2 and ISO640. © Javier Cortés

The EOS R was perfect for Javier's signature low-light style. "This camera was amazing because I love to shoot with limited light, and it can sometimes be difficult for me to focus. I've tested the EOS R in low light, and it was very impressive – always matching the focus with where I wanted it to be."

In further insight into his approach on set, Javier explains: "Sometimes when I shoot portraits, I really appreciate the moment when you are in front of the model and you want to take a picture when the model isn't looking. With this camera, which didn't make a sound, I could take photos that they wouldn't notice, which I loved. I do fashion, but I always try to create a real story. This feature helps them to forget my presence and helps me to go into the story."

A woman with tattoos on two fingers and lower arm wears a black hat and red woollen top. She lies on one arm on an old wooden bench, looking at us.
Javier was impressed with the EOS R's low-light performance, autofocus capability and silent shooting, among other features. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/80 sec, f/5.0 and ISO400. © Javier Cortés

Falling in love with mirrorless

Shooting with the EOS R has changed Javier's opinion of mirrorless cameras. "In the past I haven't really liked mirrorless," he admits. "I love to see what's in front of my lens when I'm shooting, not something else, so I didn't like the sensation of feeling like I was looking at something digital when I looked through the viewfinder. With the EOS R it is not like looking into a screen, it's more like looking into real life, with the colours and the light.

"For a lot of my shoots, and my location scouting, it suits me really well. I currently use an EOS 5D Mark IV and an EOS 5DS. I want an EOS R because I think it will be pretty amazing to have in my kitbag for shooting.

"I love the weight of the camera. When I'm filmmaking with the 5D Mark IV I also want to have a camera handy that's light but gives me the same quality, and the EOS R is perfect for that too."

Javier found using the EOS R for this project so rewarding that he says he'd love to do more. "I try to put my personal view into my work with fashion magazines and advertisements, but it's not 'me' like this kind of project," he says. "I would love to continue taking these kinds of images – when I meet people who are really interesting, beautiful, or inspiring for a portrait."

Since Javier worked with the EOS R on this shoot, firmware updates have added additional features that could benefit fashion photographers. These include eye-detection AF that supports Servo AF, to help ensure that subjects’ eyes are clearly in focus even when they’re moving; the ability to use a small AF frame size that supports Servo AF; and the ability to use continuous shooting mode even when you've chosen to use a silent shutter.

Yazar Lucy Fulford


Javier Cortés's kitbag

The key kit for low light painterly portraits

Javier Cortés looking through the viewfinder of a Canon EOS R with Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens.

Cameras

Canon EOS R

This full-frame mirrorless camera opens up new creative opportunities for photographers and filmmakers. "In really low light, it was very impressive, always matching the focus with where I wanted it to be," says Javier.

Lenses

Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM

An RF lens that delivers a new kind of optical performance in full-frame photography, with outstanding clarity and sharpness. "I loved the quality," says Javier. "You feel like you are seeing something from a bigger camera, like a medium format."

Related articles

View All

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro

Sign up now