How 2019 Fstoppers Photographer of the Year Jan Gonzales Shot 'Circus of Doom'

How 2019 Fstoppers Photographer of the Year Jan Gonzales Shot 'Circus of Doom'

“Circus of Doom” is a circus-inspired conceptual portraiture with the Fujifilm X-T200. “Doom” sounds scary, but “Circus” sounds awesome, so I'm slightly confused, but I'm definitely in! This is not the first time Fujifilm ambassador Jan Gonzales has been written about and definitely will not be last. I mean, have you seen his work? There is no question as to why Gonzales garners the attention that he does. His work is fun, inventive, and unique, which is ultimately what every creative should be aiming for.

Gonzales is a photographer who has always been excited about new gear. Aren’t we all? Every time he receives an email from Fujifilm HQ (Japan), he gets ecstatic. Wouldn’t we all? He gets a code name of the project at first; in this case, it was Project Andromeda, which meant he would not know what lens or camera it was until it arrived in his studio. How incredibly nerve-wracking and exciting!

New gear, mysterious project names, and a sense of the unknown: Gonzales mentioned how his mind would quickly explode with ideas of what he could shoot and what he would put together. Gonzales has a fortunate position with Fujifilm in that he is given full creative freedom on what he would like to do with the camera, something that he greatly appreciates. Again, wouldn't we all? With freedom comes expectations, though, and so I’m sure many of us can appreciate the pressure he juggles, as there is no option to fail. The hardest part is that he always wants to outdo the previous shoots that he did, which is very tough for him.

The Concept

Gonzales has always wanted to do a 1900 circus-inspired concept for the longest time and was just waiting for the right timing, and this was it. He had acquired enough props through the years, and the timing couldn't have been more right when his good friend and fellow X Photographer Elia Locardi sent him a message that he would be visiting Gonzales for an episode of "Moments in Time" the same week the shoot was scheduled. In case there was any doubt, the stars lined up, and the timing was perfect! This was clearly meant to be. 

Gonzales did not divulge to Locardi his plan on the photoshoot aside from telling him they'd be doing a video together. Gonzales was really grateful that Locardi was actually up for it.


Gonzales went through his usual preplanning, which starts with calling his team in for a meeting and discussing with them his ideas, while at the same time getting their opinions about it. His team plays a very big and important role with his production, and he could not imagine doing something like this without them. Gonzales really focused on the discussion with his production designer to figure out the set that they could create for the amount of time and budget they had, as it would be one of the biggest factors, aside from the subject and the wardrobe needed to properly execute the concept and tell the story.

Lighting Setup

For this shoot, Gonzales decided to use five-point lighting to make the subjects pop out on the busy background. He didn't want them to blend in. He placed two Profoto B10 Plus lights with a gridded Profoto OCF 1x3' Softbox (Strip) as his rim lights (left and right), and he used a Profoto D2 1,000 with same gridded Profoto OCF 1x3' Softbox (Strip) for hair light and at the same time, positioned to be lighting the top part of the background as well for additional separation.

Then, he had a gridded Profoto B1 with a diffused beauty dish in front and on top of the stage where the curtains were hanging (hidden from camera view) acting as his main light. He then added another Profoto D2 1,000 in front of the set, boomed high up and facing down to simulate light coming from above, and this was modified by a diffused Profoto Deep Umbrella XL to provide lighting on the curtains in front of the stage as well as giving fill on the floor area outside the stage.

Lastly, he added a Profoto B1 with a gridded Profoto RFI 4' Octa directed to the subject for fill. In some layouts, he swapped out this light with a spot modifier to create a spotlight effect on the subject to mimic actual stage spotlighting.

Lighting Setup Diagrams

Setup One

Setup One Result

Setup Two

Setup Two Result: Main Light Changed to a Spot Projector Modifier to Mimic Spotlight Effect on Stage.

Equipment List:

Strong Woman

Aerial Hoop Girl

Circus Clown

Sexy Singer


Video BTS: Fujifilm X-T200: Leverage Yourself


Gonzales mentions how he really had a blast shooting this project and how so many different components played a part in achieving that satisfaction: the initial mystery of the project, the way it came together, and the freedom to bring his own vision to life. Oh... and the gear! Oh my goodness, the gear! He finds that the Fujifilm X-T200 is such a capable camera in a very small package and that he cannot wait for the next big project that he'll do. It will be interesting to see what other concepts he’ll come up with!

He would like to again thank Fujifilm HQ (Japan) for trusting him always and as well as his Fujifilm USA and Fujifilm PH family for the unending support! “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the proverb goes, and so, no matter how fortunate we are to participate in amazing projects, so much of it comes down to the team around us. Onwards together! 

Images used with permission of Jan Gonzales

Shavonne Wong's picture

Shavonne Wong is an award-winning fashion/ celebrity/ advertising photographer based in Singapore.

She has worked with Vogue Global Network, Glamour South Africa, Female Malaysia, Cosmopolitan HK, Lancôme, Sephora and is a returning guest photographer for Asia's Next Top Model. She is also an X-Photographer for Fujifilm.

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Elia makes a great ring-leader!

It's quite the new profile photo to have! 😂


The setting and props are great but I think these are horribly over-lit. They should be dark and moody. My go to for creepy circus vibe is Theatre Bizarre, an event in Detroit every year around Halloween.

I agree. For my personal taste all of these are way over lit

Obviously art is subjective but I've always found that there is something I can learn or pick up from photographers who are willing to share their thought process and how they do their work, even if it's not my style.

Absolutely agreed.

To my eye, in the photos that use setup 2 (with the "spot"), are the ones most noticeable overly bright. If they dialed everything down 0.5-1 so that the spot provides proper skin exposure instead of overexposure -- especially on the paler skinned singer -- that might be more appealing.

"Proper skin exposure" - This is where I deviate from "standard" photography practice in a lot of my work. When you make moody, story-telling images you have to throw out the kinds of processes you would use for portraiture and glamour and just do what needs doing to capture the right vibe. In my mind images like these should use a snoot on the key light, as if the subject were lit by a real spotlight, and then maybe use a couple lights with colored gels for ambiance. Overall they need to be darker and more shadowy.

Thanks god he had profoto or who knows how these would've turned out. Well, exactly the same.

No one said it wouldn't.

The production value here is off the charts. That entire set looks to be custom designed and built (judging from the BTS on his site), which also looks to be supported by a large team of professionals. Most of us don't have any of these things ready at hand, but it's nice to see what can be aspired to.

Beautiful sets and concept. Really nice work. Often in that period it would be keyed from stage floor lights. I could see much debate on how to light these. Ultimately it works well.