Lighting Solutions For A Special Fashion Assignment!

by William Lulow

I write a lot about lighting for portraits and about seeing light in nature, but this is an example of a real lighting “tour de force.” I was asked to do some special fashion photographs for a client of mine back in the late 1980s, Hanes Hosiery. I had done several projects for them over the years, but this was a special collection of clothes that were period pieces and so the location and the lighting had to be special. The art director and I chose one of the great mansions on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, arranged to rent the property for the shoot (which lasted a couple of days) and booked several models for the sessions. The models really got into doing this and were able to strike many poses to highlight the period clothing as well as Hanes’ stockings. Here are two images from that shoot:


The idea was to use the location for effect and make the gowns and the stockings stand out. This image was actually lit with six strobes! A main light and a fill-in light in the front (on each side of the camera), two edge lights hidden behind the doorway to create highlights on the dress itself and two more (also hidden behind the doors) to light up the background so that the flavor of the room would be shown. Remember, if you want the background to show, you have to make sure it is lit separately from the main subject.


This image was not quite as complicated because all the lighting was in the same room. It only took three lights to make this picture. There was a main light and a fill-in light in front, again, on either side of the camera and one edge light creating the highlights on the left. Again, since this was supposed to be a 1920s look, the lighting and background kept that feel to it.

The real lesson here is that the lighting should never really call attention to itself. The placement of flash heads should always be used to show the subject off in the best possible way in order to have enough light in general, and to make the subject have some three-dimensional qualities by separating it from the background.

Interestingly enough, when we finished this shoot, the client asked me to shoot Hanes’ newly remodeled showroom. Shooting interiors presents very different lighting problems. In the days before digital cameras, color films had to be balanced for either daylight or tungsten (indoor) light. For this shot, there were quite a few fluorescent bulbs as well as tungsten high hats and sconces. But I was shooting with strobe lights which were the same color temperature as daylight. So, we had to wrap all the fluorescent bulbs with magenta filter cellophane gels in order to balance them for daylight. Here is the shot:


There was a strobe lighting the table in the foreground, one off to the side to the right, one down on the floor at the back of the room and one in the hall, outside the glass doors. The fluorescent light was under the red cabinets to the left. I shot with daylight film because I also wanted the sconces in the back to reproduce a yellow color to add warmth to the space.

With a digital camera, you wouldn’t have to go to all this trouble because of the automatic white balance feature built into every camera these days. But in order to have the tungsten lights reproduce a yellowish color, you would need to slow down your shutter speed in order to let them “paint the color in” to the overall shot. In other words, the normal exposure from the strobe units would probably generate an aperture of around f/8 or f/11 and since the speed of flash units is more or less constant at around 1/600th of a second or so, tungsten lights would be completely overpowered by the flash. So, if you slow the camera’s shutter speed down to 1/5 of a second or so, the exposure of the tungsten would “burn in” and the small aperture would still keep the overall exposure correct. Naturally, the slow shutter speed necessitated the use of a tripod for all images.