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Professional Lighting in Model Photography

This case study shows how lighting was manipulated to create the perfect environment for a fashion photoshoot.

Materials Needed:

  • 2 Strobes
  • Shoot Thru Umbrella
  • Big Octagonal Softbox
  • Tall Black Gobo (deflector)
  • Round Silver Reflector
  • Big Octagonal Softbox

A Case Study in Lighting

This article in a close look at a project I recently worked on. Together with Stylist Natalie Svikle, we teamed up to create an fashion story that will be based on the way french woman dress. We called it L’Affaire Parissienne.

Step 1: Finding Perfect Model

It took a long time, before we found right model.
We needed someone very soft and friendly on the face, with cheeky smile that will bring an under layer to the shoot.
After about a week going through model books, we found Cathy from Compton Model Agency, here in Dublin.

She was sweet, nice and most important for our project, she had that French quality, even though she is not French at all.
She was the one we wanted…

The Model is more important than you might think!

Remember that the model is not only a pretty girl. She has to communicate with you very well too. In order to get desired look/pose, meet her before shooting to make sure that you are on the same page.

Step 2: Setting Key Light

Key Light Setup

I wanted to create a natural feel to the photographs. I decided to use an Octagonal Softbox as main light source, on tcamera right. Setting it up close to model will give very nice soft light wrapping around her face. This is similar to light you might get from the sun shining through light clouds.

Following idea of keeping light natural, the main source will have to be placed just above our models head, and pointed a little bit down. Keep an eye on the shadow under her nose and chin, they can’t be too long.

Step 3: Background Light

Background Light Setup

After setting my main light, I thought that the background (even though it is white) came out in my test shot too dark. Also, the model was casting a shadow which I didn’t want.

I needed additional light in the back. A Shoot Thru umbrella was the perfect solution: it gives nice, soft light, with quite an obvious hot spot. I placed it on the left of the camera.

As a White Shoot Thru umbrella is a type of light modifier that has very broad range of emitted light, it will also brighten up a whole scene a little bit. We will take care of this extra light in the next step.


White Shoot Thru Umbrella’s used in the way described above will spill on the model, creating unwanted shine on the side of the subject.

Step 4: Deflector, Reflector and Flag.

Reflector and Deflector Setup

First of all we have to get rid of light spilling on our model from Background Light. To do this, I used Black Gobo (a kind of flag used to block light) as a Flag and at the same time it helped me to deepen the shadow on the models left side. Creating nice contrast between the well lit background and the model’s left side, I gain more focus on the clothes she is wearing.

Everything seemed to be ready for shooting. But shadows created by my key light, under the chin and nose, were a bit too dark.

A Silver Reflector was the perfect solution. Placed just under the camera, flat on the floor, the reflector bounced light coming from the key light and filled unwanted shadows with soft light.

Step 5: Camera Settings

L'Affaire Parisienne by Maciej Pestka

Everything was shot with simple (yet powerful) Canon 400D and kit lens 18-55mm @ 55mm. As you can see, even with low budget camera it is possible to get very attractive shot.

My white balance was set to flash, I find it easier than adjusting in Adobe Camera Raw. I used ISO 100 to get away from any possible noise, and thanks to f16 I could be sure that everything will be sharp in the shot (this is very important in fashion photography). Exposure time was 1/125.

photography: Maciej Pestka
Styling: Natalie Svikle
Makeup: Ciara Hanlon
Model: Cathy @ Compton


  1. Add point Subtract point
    Yvette (1 Point) March 2, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Thanks, this was very helpful. And awesome shot by the way! I know of too many photographers who have way expensive cameras and equipment but can’t produce a photo as good as this one.

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    The sharpest apertures are f8 and f11. I would stay away from stuff over f14

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    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.

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    ทาสีคอนโด (1 Point) November 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    We’ll be publishing an extension of this article tomorrow by the same Contributor, Maciej.

    In tomorrow’s tutorial, you’ll get some outstanding post-production tips for this same lighting setup (and overall good advice for any portrait shot).

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    Prince Vasquez (3 Points) November 2, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    1/125 and f/16 ? Wow…I can imagine how much flash output you did on your stobes.

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  6. Add point Subtract point

    Totally Wow! Especially, when you stated that you set the camera to 100 ISO and the aperture to f/16??

    That’s amazing… I am still using the Rebel XT and I have several lens. I mostly shoot with the sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 or the Nifty-Fifty f/1.4.

    I have the lastolite with an Alienbee 800 light, the 530EX II on the camera, and the 430 eX on a white shoot through umbrella. I did several test shot and it worked. However, the room I used had flouresent light and made some of the pictures hot yellow! But overall it worked! Thanks for this info..

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    Tucker (0 Points) August 9, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Good stuff, thanks for sharing..

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    roneybalack (2 Points) August 8, 2010 at 3:38 am

    In this photoshop tutorial we will learn to design a clean website layout. … This photoshop tutorial show you how to design a very beautiful and shining …
    thanks.. find more best tutorials here

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  9. Add point Subtract point
    Manish (2 Points) July 2, 2010 at 7:15 am

    It’s very fine, Give some more information….

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    Aestetica (2 Points) June 30, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Excellent tutorial.
    I’m a “cheap light setup” fan, so I use home made softboxes mainly because they are cheap and cast soft cheap lights.

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    marvin Dulay (1 Point) June 28, 2010 at 3:43 am

    thank you!! great advice, sharp photo!! i will try to do this..

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    zandro (1 Point) June 26, 2010 at 8:48 am

    paano po ba maka pag simula mag edited ng mga picture at paano po mag photoshop pwede po paki sagot nalang po maraming salamt po sa inyo

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    Gebel Scarduzio (1 Point) June 19, 2010 at 5:14 pm is a graphic designing website. photoshop tutorials.

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  14. Add point Subtract point

    great stuff, i love to see final shots then an explanation of the set up. Most useful

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    Dewey H. (2 Points) June 16, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Makes me wonder; how expensive was all of the lighting equipment?

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      Maciej Pestka (2 Points) June 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm

      silver reflector can be made out of pvc board and tin foil. As black hobo I used my black couch. Lights do cost a little bit…. but if you are taking this seriously it’s an investment.

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      You can buy relatively inexpensive flash/speedlights as well for your lighting setup. This is what I use. They are much less expensive than standard lights, and you can get away with umbrellas (both shoot through and reflective) instead of softboxes. Nominal cost, great results. I bought my entire setup for about $600 as opposed to $3000+

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    Herbig Raduenz (2 Points) June 12, 2010 at 6:09 pm is a graphic designing website. photoshop tutorials.

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    Symon (2 Points) June 10, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Read the two articles in reverse but good to see the say clear and well explained style in both. Studio photography is an art in itself and this article goes a great way to explaining just the maticulous planning and set up that’s involved. Thanks for the time and explenation.

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  18. Add point Subtract point
    николай (2 Points) June 10, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Видео и фото

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    Jeprie (2 Points) June 3, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Very nice article. I hope to see the real photos of the studio, not just illustration.

    I guess setting on lighting is much more important than setting the camera.

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    Johan de Jong (2 Points) June 3, 2010 at 4:09 am

    “even with low budget camera”
    A low bugdet camera, but medium/high budget studio equipment.

    Nevertheless it’s a great example of how to setup your equipment for the perfect photoshoot. But as WizKid says above, it would be nice to see a tutorial about “real” budget photography (which only requires a camera).

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      Maciej Pestka (3 Points) June 3, 2010 at 6:43 am

      Well, I do understand where you are coming from Johan. I had that problem too when I was starting up.
      But having case study like this you can go wild with your creativity and find replacements for equipment used….

      Anyway, definitely I will think about writing walk thru light set up on a budget, maybe with natural light and reflectors etc…

      btw, lights used, are low/medium budget…. there is plenty of very cheap equipment around, but it’s hard to find.

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      The exact same lighting situation can be achieved with cheapie speedlight systems as well. It doesn’t have to be continuous lighting and you don’t have to buy a bunch of gear you can make out of bits and pieces for cheap. That way you can learn then go for the big upgrade to real gear later. :)

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    WizKid (2 Points) June 2, 2010 at 10:34 pm

    This is a great tutorial, very informational for me. I’m an aspiring photographer and at the moment don’t have the means to purchase high quality equipment . . . It would be nice to see some “On A Budget” photography walk-throughs on top of all the other great content here. Thanks for the time in posting this!

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    Vectorbunker (2 Points) June 2, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Interisting Love it.

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    Phototshop Tutorials (1 Point) June 2, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Love this one nice tut. CS5 really made somethings quite easy and will be working on to produce quality work

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    Erlend (2 Points) June 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Loved the tutorial! I’ll try this out sometime :)

    You should make a video tutorial of this, since i doubt everyone will bother to read it. (Though, everyone should of course :D )

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    Alex (2 Points) June 2, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Cool tutorial. Another great photoshop resource I found that explains the new features of CS5! Check it out:

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    Diana Eftaiha (2 Points) June 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

    love the final result. im more of a natural light chick but this pic sure looks good.

    i wanna take this chance to tell you that i would love to see more about photography on your site. its a great site and i love it but it would be great if there were a little extra focus on photography for guys like me =)

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    Heam (0 Points) June 2, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Good job !
    I am interested if you write more about photography.

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    designfollow (2 Points) June 2, 2010 at 9:34 am

    great tips,

    thank you very much.

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