The Robocop Photoshoot By Douglas Sonders

The concept of doing a Robocop photoshoot has always been on my wish list, but have not been able to find someone with the proper original costume... until now. You see, my friends and I have always obsessed over the original Robocop film since it first came out (don't mention the sequels). I am just thankful that my photography career has allowed me to recreate the daydreams I had as a kid. Read below about how I put this ultimate personal shoot together and see the final results.


Thankfully 2013 was a very busy year for me, but that meant I had very little free time and was at risk of becoming burnt out. To avoid this, I have a habit of booking personal shoots as a creative release from hectic and structured schedules. Also, I've always said that personal shoots are extremely important for us photographers. They keep us excited and our portfolios fresh with the kind of content we want to show off to prospective clients. For me, I'd love to get hired to do photograph more projects with "character" and shoots like this in my portfolio will certainly help. Who knows! Maybe I'd get hired to do a few movie poster type projects!

Being an 80's movie lover as well as a big gear head, I've had this ongoing personal photo series where I've been capturing movie and TV cars called the Unicorn Project. For YEARS I've been trying to find someone with a proper original 1980's Robocop costume. I had found a couple in Europe, but didn't have the time or insane motivation to fly from my home in NYC to Europe just to photograph a guy in a Robocop suit. Suddenly, one day, my buddy Nate Truman from casually mentioned he knew a guy with a Robocop suit and replica of his original Ford Taurus police cruiser from the movie somewhere in Arizona. Nate had no idea that I had been searching for years. So he gave me a name, Reiko, and a number to try, and try I did...

One thing I've learned in this business and in life is that if you REALLY want something, you cannot give up on the first try. I tried his phone number and left a message, but received no response. Sent him an email, no response. Finally, I risked becoming a stalker and messaged him on Facebook and behold a response came! He happened to be really busy at the time and was happy I went out of my way to contact him. Thankfully Reiko was willing and able to pose in his Robo-suit, which was actually based off a mold from the original Robocop suit from the movie. We realized that nobody had done a modern high-production photoshoot of an original Robocop suit and both realized this was an awesome opportunity to create something cool.

Again, 2013 was an extremely busy year for me. I was very happy to have plenty of photo and video jobs booked and that left me with very little free time, especially on the weekends. Reiko and I put our heads together and finally found a window of time, the final weekend of the year.

My end goal for this shoot? To not only have a blast and add some fun content to my website, but I also was going to create a movie-like poster (Ill do a future post about this) to give away to friends and clients and ad agencies. I figure this poster would possibly make me memorable among clients future and old.


I had accumulated a bunch of frequent flier miles from the year and decided to use some to book a round trip flight. Additionally, I had a few weeks to search for a good hotel and rental car deal. Although, that was the easy part. Where was I going to do a photoshoot in sand and palm tree filled Phoenix, Arizona that looked like Detroit, Michigan (where the original film was supposed to take place)? This is where social media came in.

I turned to Twitter and Facebook and asked folks to suggest location ideas and ask if anyone wanted to volunteer to assist such an awesome shoot. Once again, social media came through. Folks were so excited about this project and not only did plenty of assistants volunteer, but they were nice enough to drive around town and location scout (thank you again by the way).

Apparently, there is a warehouse area in Downtown Phoenix which with the right lighting and post production, could look like warn-torn near-future Detroit. When I landed in Arizona, I scouted that part of town. I had to find a safe area where Reiko could get dressed and didn't have to walk far. With his Robo-legs on, he couldn't get into a car and just ride to different locations. Wherever we decided to do our shoot, he had to be within walking distance from his dressing area. I found the perfect area. There's a cool restaurant/shop called The Duce, which was a perfect home base/changing area/catering spot, and within one block I found our ultimate photoshoot location.


The day of the shoot was perfect weather-wise. The clouds were moody and evenly dispersed. Because Robocop's suit is reflective, it was better in my opinion to have a hazy sky so I could control the lighting and reflections better with my Profoto D1 strobes. I had 3 local assistants that were great volunteer helpers. I even had a pretend criminal, Ken Stanton, that was up to help for certain scenes. I rented some Honda EU2000 silent generators, extension cables, and sandbags locally.

The shoot itself was only about 2 hours or so. It took a bit of extra time to get Reiko suited up and days were shorter due to the time of year. We had to cram in a lot of content in a short amount of time. To prepare for this, I looked at hundreds of Robocop movie stills and sketched out some rough shots on paper the night before. I even organized each shoot sketch by order of importance in case the shoot was compromised by weather or some other unforeseen issue.

Chimera Octa portable beauty dishes Chimera Octa portable beauty dishes

I brought more gear than I needed. I ended up using my strobes either bare bulb with 7" reflector, with extra large softbox, or my new favorite, the Chimera Octa 2 portable beauty dish. On a side note, that Chimera Octa 2 is AWESOME. Works just like a metal 24" beauty dish (same quality of light), but folds down just like a feather lightweight softbox. All you need is a speedring for your applicable flash (in this case a Profoto speed ring). The beauty dish created a harder more dramatic key light, where the extra large softbox created a broad softer light source. Two different modifiers for 2 different looks.

75-150 focal plane shutter lens (left) vs the 75-150 leaf shutter lens (right) 75-150 focal plane shutter lens (left) vs the 75-150 leaf shutter lens (right)

6979b230701211e3b8681269cae230a4_8 My Phase One IQ140 with the 75-150 leaf shutter and Profoto Air transmitter

I shot with my trusty Phase One 645DF+ IQ140 digital medium format and used primarily my 75-150 leaf shutter lens. That Phase One 75-150 Leaf Shutter is a BIG and heavy lens, but my favorite. It's focal length is very versatile for portraits, its extremely sharp (comparable to prime lenses), and has a flash sync speed up to 1/1000 of a second with its leaf shutter. I used my Schneider 55mm leaf shutter prime for a few of the wider shots, but mainly stayed with the 75-150. The IQ140 medium format back has a wide dynamic range of about 12.5 stops, which did a good job of capturing sky detail in most of my shots while I mixed in strobe lighting on my portrait subject in the foreground.


My biggest challenge was removing palm trees from the background on some of the images since this was Phoenix and not Detroit. The GIF below demonstrates the changes I made. I added a composite sky to the image below since it was a bit blown out for this photo, but most of my shots had enough cloud detail that I didn't have to drop in anything.


I also spent time removing blemishes on the suit and car (normal wear and tear / cracks and chips) and dodging and burning to add extra detail in the suit. I also ended up dropping in police strobes from other images and blended them in. It was nearly impossible to get detail from the strobes while shooting with my flashes (they just weren't bright enough to show up) so they had to be captured in separate shots. I then added blue and red glow to the lights. Also, an extensive amount of time was spent color-grading these images to make them semi-desaturated, but also a bit cool. I think coloring plays a big factor to the mood of the final images to give them a cinematic look.


Since I did this shoot without intending any profit, I thought it would be fun to share a RAW file or two with my photographer friends (like you) to retouch as you see fit. Some people's vision of Robocop may be different than my own. How would you like to play with one of the files to create a new composite and maybe even win something? I've put together a panel of celebrity retouchers to judge the entries and will be giving away free photography gear and software. I'll even post the finalists and winners here on Fstoppers. Keep an eye on my facebook page for more info on the upcoming contest announcement and how to download the RAW files: 




photo 1

photo 2

Some of the edited final images are below. Although, I still am retouching a few more shots which I hope to finish soon! I plan on giving away free computer wallpapers from this shoot for you guys as well. Just keep an eye on my facebook page.






 If you have questions about the shoot, comment below and I will answer to my best ability!

PS! Looking to do a similar shoot but with an Iron Man character. If you know of someone, send them my way (click here)!

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totally sniped my location haha ;)

good stuff though!

Douglas Sonders's picture

HAHA crazy! same spot exactly. the car was parked right there

haha random, Kyle Pope mentioned you were gonna be in town. hit me up next time.

LOL KP's in the know!

Thanks again for another BTS! Did you just use the single softbox to light the car? Or did you take multiple shots and move the box to light the car (and the robocop subject)? I don't think I saw a tripod in the video so, that's making me thing it was all one shot...?

Douglas Sonders's picture

Thanks! To answer your question...because it was a tighter shot, I used the x-large softbox to light robo and the car and the beauty dish to fill light robo. for the wider shot, i only strobed robo and used natural light on the car. matte paint sure does make things easy :) Hope that helps!

Very cool, but I feel like the high contrast "After" photos look like tilt-shift. I thought you were photographing toys.

Seems like a fun shoot. How did you get 20th Centry Fox to approve this??

Douglas Sonders's picture

its a personal shoot. no profit to be made from it. no resale.

Nathan Joseph Dodson's picture

Kickin' work, Doug! I dig it, man!

Awesome! I noticed that in the first GIF showing the post processing that Robo had a bit of a tummy tuck, too! ;-)

Douglas Sonders's picture

just trying to make sure he looks like the original robocop. Reiko is very fit, that pose didnt make him look as slim as he really is while wearing that suit. He looks more like the original robo that way

That is a fun personal project, photographing iconic TV and movie cars. You've done Kitt, the General Lee; I'm jealous! What's next? The Beverly Hillbillies truck?

Douglas Sonders's picture

the assault mode viper from the 90's show Viper is on the list (I found it), also want to move into more movie characters like iron man and batman