The Classic Fashion Shot

Look in any fashion magazine, Sunday supplement or even High Street shop window displays and you’re bound to find the classic grey background fashion shots. Many are shot using a pretty basic and simple lighting technique using one main light such as these images here. I interviewed David Bailey several years ago, and he told me that he mostly used one light, “God uses the one light, so if it’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.”

I personally like this set up because, apart from its simplicity, it’s flattering to the model and the clothes and can be adapted simply by moving the light, adding a reflector or black panel or switching to black or white backgrounds. It’s always a good set up to use for model portfolios as chances are a model will eventually be used for a commercial, advertising or even editorial shoot using a similar set up. This give the agency and client the opportunity to judge their suitability for this kind of work.

It’s popular in fashion because it enhances the textures in the clothes, especially if there are pleats or folds. The first shot, for example, is a white dress, which could look flat if lit from the front or with two lights but the side light with a black panel gives depth and texture to the folds.

For this technique I usually use the Lencarta 150cm Profold Folding Octa Softbox, which gives a beautiful soft light with plenty of coverage for full length. Placed on the Lencarta Elite Pro 300at full power, I begin with the light at 45degrees to the subject at about 2-3 feet away. The closer the softbox is to the model, the more diffuse, or soft, the light. Bringing the light further away increases contrast on the skin tones, with harder edged shadows. A smaller softbox will also result in harder shadows and more contrast.

A black 8x 4ft poly panel is placed to the other side of the model to produce the black edge down the side of the body, and increase shadows. This results in the beautiful triangular shape on the cheekbone or enhanced cheekbone and face shape if the model turns to the light as below.

Adjust the position to achieve the look you want. Raise the light higher to place more shadow under the chin, or move the black panel to reduce the shadow depth. You could even use a white reflector instead to bounce light back and give more fill in the unlit side.

For a clean background place the model around 4 feet away. If you want some shadow on the background or on the curve of an infinity wall, which is popular nowadays, move the model closer to the background.

Depending on the position of the light, the model’s skin tones and the tones of the clothes, I usually shoot this at f/8 to f/11 at 1/125, which gives plenty of depth of field for sharp results and texture in the clothes. All images taken with Olympus E5 and shot at around 50mm (100mm 35mm equivalent).

Models: Andrea, Maria, Laura – Mission Models

Images: © Jamie Harrison