Promo Shoot Fashion Lighting

We had the awesome fun of shooting Stephen Knuth & Scarlett Lillian‘s promo material for their new blog site back in April, and now we wanted to take you through a few of the images and show you exactly how we did some of the more advanced off-camera lighting techniques that we used. You ready? Here we go!

Today we are going to show you exactly how we pulled this shot off in Jacksonville, Florida while shooting this promo. We shot a lot of cool shots in a local restaurant that had a really cool vibe, then headed back toward the Knuth’s place for the last set-up. On the way, we spotted this really cool metal door behind an old abandoned building, so we headed over to check it out.

This area was in the shade from the hot sun, and some light was bouncing off the sky and coming back into this open shaded area. I (Zach) knew that the in-direct sun that was coming into this area would act as a great fill-light (to fill in any shadows that we would create with the flashes), so we decided to shoot it. That is the exciting thing about flash photography, is even though the lighting here was nothing too killer, we could shape and create a look with our flashes and make it look really cool! Here is the set up.

The natural light, as you can see in the above shot, was metered at F/5, ISO 50 at 1/100th of a second. So, in order to pull of the shot, all we really had to do was set the main light one stop brighter than the existing light, then build our other lights in around the main light settings.

Does the fab Chloe Austin look cool or what holding that umbrella? :)

Now, in the above shot, you can see that the big main light (in this case we used the 7 foot parabolic umbrella from Westcott because it can light both of their whole bodies top to bottom very evenly due to it’s big size) is set exactly one stop brighter than the existing light. The existing light was F/5 (ISO 50, 1/100th of a second) and now the main light is set to F/7.1 (ISO 50, 1/100th of a second).

What this does when you power up the flash one stop brighter than the existing light, is it makes all the existing light a bit darker than our main light so that our main light becomes the center of attention and we can move that big light around to create highlights and shadows exactly where we want them.

Positioning of the main light:

Next, we position the main light so that the center of the light is just above eye level. This creates a catch light in the eyes that is just above the pupil and makes the shadows that fall on their faces go right into the correct spots. We don’t want to put the light to high and then have the shadow that this light creates to hit their noses, then fall all the way to their lips, thus making it look like they have a mustache. We also don’t want the light to be too low, which would make the shadows shoot straight across their faces and make the image appear flat. You can see by looking at the above image that there is lots of contrast and nice highlight and shadows that make the image very engaging and 3 dimensional.

Kicker Lights:

Both of our background kicker lights have Westcott Strip Banks with 40 degree grids in them. This helps the light to just hit the rim of our subjects and not shoot back into the camera and create flair (which would give away the effect). Grids help you control and shape light and do lots of things you can’t do with a big softbox or umbrella.

They are also positioned at 45 degree angles to the back and right/left of our subjects and are also coming down at a 45 degree angle, with the center of the light just above the shoulders. If we were using the sun in our shot as a kicker light, we would most likely put it in one of these two positions that the kicker lights are in. When you put the lights at these 45 degree positions, then you get a really good separation and 3d effect from your subject.

The power we set the lights to is simple, they are set to exactly one stop brighter than the main light. This makes it REALLY obvious that they are there and makes the image look much more fashion-forward and slick. The kicker lights are set to F/10.

Background Light:

The last light in the set up is the background light. This light should be set up high on a boom shooting down onto the background to stay out of the shot (that is how we do it in the studio), but being on-location we were not able to bring that much gear, so we had to improvise. We used a small lightstand, a 580 flash and gelled it with a tungsten gel to make the light turn orange for added effect. The light was metered to the same as the kicker lights, F/10. This is the one light that may need adjusting depending on how the light reacts when it hits the wall. Sometimes the light can hit shiny metal and be very reflective, so less power could be needed. This wall was moderately reflective due to the old paint on it, so it needed lots of power to give the effect. We postitioned the light so that it hit directly behind our couple and created a sort of circle of light behind them. We don’t want it too close to the wall, otherwise the light may not be even enough. The other trick is of course hiding it behind our couple so it is not in the shot.


The last thing to keep in mind is how close the lights are to your subjects. The closer the lights are, the softer and more hyper-real the lighting will look (the closer the light, the “bigger” it is and the softer it gets). Closer is almost always better and we put them as close as possible without them being in the shot. That is why they look so styled and the light looks so painted on.


Here you can see side by side the before and after from the natural light to the flash and see what an incredible difference it makes in the shot. This kind of lighting takes time to set up and execute, so doing this on a wedding is not practical, but for a fashion-style engagement shoot, a senior session and so on, it could be perfect to do one set-up like this and really exiting for your client when they see it!

Flashes Used:

Elinchrom Ranger Quadra 2 light kit (main light and camera right kicker light)

Einstein Light

Westcott 7 foot umbrella (main light modifier)

Westcott 12×36 strip bank with 40% grid/strip bank.

We hope you enjoyed the post, and don’t forget that our workshops are coming up and we will be teaching some of this content first hand! We hope to see you there!! :)