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From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

When it comes to light, I hardly ever make it up as I go along.

Lots of things require forethought when you’re planning a shoot. If you want to make sure that your resulting images are folio-worthy and you make them in an efficient way, you’ve got to plan how you get those images. Few planning steps are as important, nor as exciting, as planning lighting.

Light, as they say, makes the photograph. But within the tenet of “make good light” are some details that could make the difference between an image that is OK, and an image that is dramatic and expressive.

Start with the question, What are you lighting?

If you are showcasing clothing with your image, it’s important to know how to light clothes. This sounds strange, but it’s quite true that the nature of the lighting can create an image of the clothing that sends a message: this is good stuff.

Get to know your subject.

It’s important that you see the clothes before the shoot, so you can plan the lighting. I make it a point to have several meetings with the client before the shoot, to see the fabrics, to feel their texture, to get a sense of how they will show up in an image when lit.

Two things affect the lighting of clothes. First is the color of the clothing versus the color of the light, and second is nature and intensity of the light.

Show off the color when lighting colorful clothes.

If you’re lighting clothing with vibrant color, it’s advisable to make the light bright so in the image it is reflected in the color of the clothes. For this image, I wanted the yellow and mint to punch through the image. I also wanted to minimize the wonderfully textured background, so it didn’t take away from the focus of the image, the dress.

June Fifth featuring Natalie Glebova copyright Aloha Lavina 2011. All rights reserved.

Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

I placed a large, soft light camera left, big enough to light the whole dress from the left (as well as the model’s beautiful face). To light the right side, I placed a diffused smaller light, just enough to punch through the shadows and create some dimensionality in the portrait.

Make a white dress glow.

Lighting a white dress is slightly different. We all know that white is all colors of the spectrum reflected back to the eye, so white is itself a lighting tool. That means if I bounce light off a white dress, I get some reflected lighting from the garment itself.

For this image, I knew that the model was fair with light hair, the dress was all white, and the location had dark wood, but had these wonderful narrow windows that provided some directional light. What I needed to do was one, light the dress, two light the model, three, balance the backlight from the windows with some light in front. Knowing the situation, I brought three lights for this portrait. I wanted that dress to glow.

Irina Lysiuk in Khoon Esmode Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011. All rights reserved.

Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

The first light was a soft, large light for the model’s face. This light was at camera right, simulating a window. To balance the bright back light, I punched a couple of lights below, with a large diffuser to soften them, right at the model. All that light swirled around and mixed up for a softly lit portrait that looks like it was lit with window light. But the dress glows.

Planning lighting for a shoot begins with the subject. Then, you have to go through some lighting solutions for the subject, and finally, pack the right equipment and then set up the lights according to your solutions. With this simple process, you can ensure that the idea you started with is lit in a way that turns it into the image you had in mind.

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You might also like:
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Finding Good Photos Where They Hide

Up next: From Idea to Image Part 3: How to Make it Up as You Go
Join me to find out what happens when you have to shoot without prior information to help you plan!

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

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