Magazine Article


High Impact Lighting
High Impact Lighting Creating new Latin chic with an old Hollywood clock system

© Jorge Parra

© Jorge Parra

© Jorge Parra

© Jorge Parra

Sexy, stylish, and ever-quotable Miami photographer Jorge Parra is creating the "new Latin chic," a sophisticated, upscale look that showcases the heady verve of Latin culture. His imagery for clients such as Ray-Ban, Avon, Johnnie Walker, Christian Dior, and L'Oréal Paris has appeared in both U.S. and Latin-American markets. His images are made stunning through a potent manipulation and blend of both natural and man-made high-impact illumination created using the "Old Hollywood" clock system.

"The clock system is a simple way to keep track of what a photographer does to build up lighting scenarios," says Parra. "It's a systematic approach Hollywood cameramen used in experimentation with alternative, unconventional ways to light a subject. Its application is very relevant for photography. I apply the theories every day.

"It's exceedingly simple to follow, but it's an additional step to be taken seriously," he continues. "It requires a routine of keeping a record of what you do with every light, but once employed, it becomes a valuable tool for investigation and refinement. For my complex lighting setups, no person or book has taught me more about the clock system than cinematographer John Alton and his 1949 book Painting With Light."

Available Light is No Longer Available

A veteran of the clock system, Parra has become an expert at illumination and shares personal phraseology for his signature blend of natural and artificial light. "‘Available light is no longer available' in my shootings," he says. "I can produce my own perfect lighting any time. Being a production coordinator for my own projects, I understand expenses and that costs can paralyze production if light is not right. If it's not right, I fix it. If available light is not right, I make it unavailable: I turn it off."

Parra carries the sun with him, so actual weather conditions never interfere. His favorite gear includes Profoto packs (both studio and portable), Lumedyne portable packs, and Bowens Calumet self-contained units for background illumination. "I also carry umbrellas, grids, black and silver paper foil, and some standard and nonstandard light modifiers-but no softboxes," he says. "I bring lots of plastic mirrors, having picked up this trick from the Italian fashion shooters."

Shooting Atop a Miami Rooftop in September

In mid-September, Parra is teaming with Renegade Photo Shoots to produce "Miami Hot, Hot, Hot," a day of sexy, cinematic-style photo education and immersion at the Miami Beach Fashion TV studio. Parra will direct photographers as they explore the clock system in both indoor settings and atop a rooftop set with a 360-degree view overlooking the beach. "We'll do hands-on assignments with a variety of lighting challenges: a fine-art shoot with florals and a near-nude model; a whimsical set with water, Plexiglas, props, and a model; and a high-end fashion editorial spread," he says. "Participants will break into small teams to concurrently plan, shoot, and edit assignments."

Parra's one-day course will cover topics such as:
• Why a light meter is still necessary.
• Should I consider strobes?
• The clock system of old Hollywood school lighting, rigging, and staging.
• High-impact blending of natural and artificial light.
• Benefits of using medium-format (studio) cameras.
• Managing creative teams (model, stylist, hair, makeup).

Latin Vibes

A native of Venezuela, Parra has carved out a noteworthy commercial, fine-art, and social-issues photography career. His images have been featured in countless campaigns; one, for Viasa Airlines, received worldwide coverage. "I was fortunate to start shooting in a market that was on fire-the late '80s was an exhilarating time for photographers in Latin America," he says. "We were enjoying a large share of the market, but unfortunately things started shifting by the mid-'90s as political instability grew. The agencies and accounts moved away to avoid the political mess, so all that great business vanished overnight."

Despite the challenges, Parra continued to nab prime assignments with transnational clients such as Hunter Douglas, along with local work from swimwear/lingerie houses. One significant project placed him in charge of all production values for Zenda Mineral Water. Advertising and marketing images featuring underwater nudes earned several advertising awards in the U.S. And a follow-up campaign was again shot with nudes, but this time in the rain forest at the site where the fresh water was bottled. Parra also brought vision to "Absolute Gourmet," a campaign for Absolut Vodka featuring three internationally recognized Latin-American chefs.

In 2001, Parra was invited to provide images for the Mammoth Book of Erotica Photography-a 479-page edition with multiple reprints that sold out in England, Australia, and the United States. Parra's talent was also enlisted to photograph historically relevant architectural structures in Caracas for the Worldwide Dictionary of Contemporary Architecture. He then began interspersing his love for commercial work with a growing desire to chronicle social documentary issues at home. "It became important to document the protests over abuses from the current government," he stresses. "I'd photograph, then blast images to American and European news agencies. The photos appeared in Le Nouvel Observateur, The New York Times, and other publications."

But his civil disobedience was quelled completely one afternoon when a bullet hissed past his left ear. "I actually heard it-meaning it was intended to reach my head." With the situation growing worse, Parra relocated his family to Miami in 2005 and has since been building his full-service commercial and advertising photography business.

For more information about the September lighting course, visit

Jorge Parra is currently vice president of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), South Florida chapter. He is a member of the Advertising Photographers of America (APA) and Editorial Photographers (EP). To view Parra's original photography and his quirky projects, visit,, and