Any actually good fashion studio lighting tutorials?

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by pawel_baranski, Jan 3, 2018.

  1. Hello!
    Sooo there are lots of YouTube tutorials on studio lighting. However, most of them are crap :D
    and it's difficult to find videos featuring lighting setups capable of creating something that looks like actual high end fashion photography, and not some cheap lookbook for internet Store.
    Two actually usefully videos I have found are those:

    I just started working in studio. I shoot my first studio editorial, and it turned out pretty decent, but aesthetically it was not the style I'm after. And I don't know yet how to achieve what I want. And I would probably learn that sooner or later, on my own mistakes, but renting a studio is costy and it would be great to know certain lighting setups as a point of reference I could begin with.
    I have some upcoming paid lookbooks in studio too. And I don't really know what I am doing yet and I need to learn that quick.
    And yes, I read strobist, there was some useful info, but it's all extremely basic.
    I keep browsing YouTube videos, but it's difficult finding something worthwhile.
    So, good people of interested in fashion photography, do you have any videos, or channels, you would recommend for me?
    jonmesic likes this.
  2. I'm always amazed by these type of questions, basically claiming that 'the perfect' technical solution', either 'the best camera' or the best lens' or in this case 'the best studio lighting', is the instant solution to creat a (great) fashion picture

    A (great) fashion picture is first and foremost the result of a (great) concept/idea, classic or non conformist, a photographer with a mind creative enough to translate that concept in a captivating image, and last but definitely not least a team of stylists, MUA/hairstylists and models.

    The camera is just a tool used to capture that image when the photographer pushes the release button, the lens the optical means specifically chosen by the photographer to render the image the way he has in his head, and the lighting similarly chosen by the photographer to suit/help create the image he has in mind

    Rather then trying to find the perfect website/video/utorial on how supposedly to set up that kind of lighting (after all, you know the saying 'those who can't, teach - or nowadays 'have a site with tutorials or videos on the subject ' - and those who can do'), I would rather recommend to start reading/collecting magazines with fashion pictures with all kind of different types of lighting

    Yes, actual (boring :( )books and magazines, not a collection of images plucked from Pininterest or whatever site on the net etc
    So you can hold thpse pictures in your hands, see them in a larger size then on the screen of your phone, and study them more extensively then just flipping from one to the other in a folder on your computer.
    And if you really want a book on lighting, just get a classic, again probably boring one.

    Way back when I made my first tentative steps into 'serious' photography, the rage was the Time-Life series of books on photography
    Beautifully edited books, great images, and true gems for the coffeetable
    But the actual info in them actually was quite superficial and in fact really dissapointing, decribing the subjects discussed in beautiful prose and illustrated with amazing images of well known famous photographers
    But essentially lacking any specific real practical info that could was actually usefull for an (ambitious) beginner to help make any further steps into photography in a real world, working situation
    Basically much like all those 'now it all' websites and tutorials from wannabe 'know it all's (like you mention) you nowadays, based on clicks and the logarithms of your seac=rch machine, rather then an evaluation of actual level of real knowledge, inevitably run into when you do a search on the internet

    Admittedly being older, back when I started to get some interest in the subject, it was despite the lack of internet and absence of Google easier to, admittedly even nevertheless with some effort, find books to get some insight into fashion photography, and lighting
    My first brake was finding copies of Nancy Duncan's 'The history of Fashion {hotography' a,d Polly Devlin's 'Vogue Book of Fashion Photography', later followed by the purchase of "shots of Style' the book the V&A in London issued in corporation with David Bailey on he occasion of the exhibit of the same name.
    Not much theory on how to make the pictures shown, but all books giving a wide view on the many different styles of (studio) photography (and types of lighting used) basically ever since the biginning of fashion photography since the early 1900's
    In that period Fransesco Scavullo also wrote his 'Scavullo on Beauty' and "Scavullo on Women' books, highly acclaimed at that time, again little 'how to' info, but shot in a deceivingly easy technical way that 'invited' to try and emulate that (at which I miserably failed)

    As one would, one would select the ones one liked and tried to, in a very amateur way and on a very basic level, to somehow imitate them.
    Nowadays people no longer are willing to experiment and fail, but rather ask on the internet 'how do I do this' to then expect to immediately get the desired result
    But in that failure lies the real knowledge to be found, and do the real questions arise, and can the real useful info be found

    So in my case, I started trying to analyze the lighting set up in the images I liked (by looking at the shadows, and the catchlights in the eyes of the models)
    and comparing my guesses with the very practical info in a very boring, by the time I bought my copy already old (40+ years) book on lighting I had found
    'Lighting for Portraiture' by Fred Nurnberg.

    Very boring and oldfashioned, unlike modern tutorials and videos no glamorous scantely dressed models, no slick product pushing moderators
    But instead a lot of theory and detailed technical info on different how to get a certain (lighting) look, illustrated with images shot with the actual set ups decribed, with detailed diagrams of the position and height of the lights, shadows created etc
    Not a 'how to' giving the illusion 'follow this precooked example and you're sure to succeed' but a lot of study material to work with/try to imitate and really learn sometning on the way
    With that 'knowledge' (and experience gathered from experimenting with it) in the back of my mind it was much easier to more or less understand/see through the shared 'wisdom described by photographers loke David Bailey, Artur Elgort, Horst P Horst and Chris von Wangenheim in 'Fashion: theory' by Caol Di Grappa for Lustrum Press

    And haven't stopped learning since, even nearly 40 years on I again and again still run into images I think "how did they do that?!'
    But rather then trying to find my answers on the internet ready to go like a hamburger from a fastfood restaurant, I study the image/lighting I'm interested in, try to find out tthe 'ingredients' (admittedly helped by some years of experience) and try, and don't shy away from failing, again and again till I get something I'm satisfied with even if it's not the perfect imitation

    So my recommendation, rather then trying to find yiur 'answers' on the internet, buy books and magazines, and practice and fail, and try again
    jonmesic, derick_miller and Gary Naka like this.
  3. You cannot watch a YouTube video and instantly become an expert.

    There are a lot of books on this subject, you just need to find them.
    Studying books is a lot harder than watching a YouTube video, but oh well.

    You will only get better with LOTS and LOTS of practice, making mistakes, and critical critique.

    If you don't want to rent a studio. Yes $$$ expensive.
    Then get some shoe flashes and slaves (see "strobist") or low end studio lights and practice at home. You cannot do everything that you can in a fully equipted studio, but you can learn a lot.
  4. All your advice is corrent, and i agree with most if it, however it's not every helpful for me because i know all of that already :p

    and i do shoot a lot
    and i do watch lots of magazines and fashion photography in general, i basically browsed through work of every photographer from a major talent agency
    and i really realize that great picture if result of many things, and lighting is only one of them, but this one certain aspect is what i feel needs the upgrade right now

    and i think there is nothing wrong about failing in general, but when I'm either getting paid for my job, or if there's whole creative team involved,
    this is when i cannot fail.

    And while i realize that practice is the most important ingredient of progress, i also think it may be accompanied by learning stuff from the internet and youtube.

    This is my fashion portfolio, if anyone wonders -
  5. You cannot fail on a paid gig, so practice and fail when it does not matter.
  6. Youtube: I think Joe Edelman gives some valuable lighting and studio lessons? - Search through his channel for "remember the egg" and "inverse square law" + other interesting sounding short videos.
    It seems possible to find something valuable on Adorama TV or to fish more than product pushing out of Westcott Lighting's stuff.
    Not sure what to think about entering a rented studio without any previous practice.
    In doubt I'd get a dummy, scale my planned setup down and practice at home.
    I do understand that one part of contemporary fashion photography is gear heavy; i.e. to keep clicking away you can't light with venerable hotshoe flashes set to full power, so substituting them with rentals makes sense. Nonetheless it should be possible to generate mock ups of your desired looks at home, i.e. light placement and ratios, a general idea of your concept. Mix light sources, sod color balance, shoot in B&W either at insane ISO or from a tripod, maybe even scale down, but get your concept together before you enter a studio.
    Gary Naka likes this.
  7. In terms of lighting equipment, I suggest Godox/Flashpoint. I am currently using their XPLOR-600, then a large enough light modifier you can manage. I agree with others that practice the diff. lighting would be the key. Otherwise, I think there are way too many variable. Model selection, facial expression, color b&w, make up, clothing, etc...! Then the lighting to create the mood.

    Last edited: Jan 4, 2018
  8. I'm curious to hear how it went.

    My advice would be to hire an assistant with good lighting skills. This is a common practice in the industry.
  9. Hi Pawel,

    Time is part of the process. If you are shooting and watching videos/websites, magazines, you are doing alot of what is necessary.

    Give yourself goals or assignments. Take a course or seminar. I took the Annie Leibovitz Masterclass and it pushed me forward.

    What lighting styles do you like? Show us your work and let others give feedback. As steel sharpens steel...
  10. the question is really "wrong", here's why: one must learn studio lighting in and its own, starting with how the strobes work, using one light, multiple strobes, light modifiers, reflectors, ratios, etc.. lots of stuff. However, that's just the "technical" side of thing, which is important and a necessary FIRST step, but in fashion you need to have a style you specialize in. Lighting will be a function of that style, not the other way around.

    It's a very competitive field and it will take a while for anyone to develop a unique style that would make them in demand.
    michael_radika likes this.
  11. After looking at your website, I have two comments: first, I like your own lighting better than the style I think that you are trying to emulate. Second, I believe the difference between your work and what I see in magazines is that most fashion today seems to be shot with very large light sources--much larger than yours.
  12. If you want to see a real fashion shoot why not watch a shoot from a major fashion magazine. They have video clips of there cover shot shoots which clearly shows equipment used. What better is that?
    Wilmarco Imaging likes this.
  13. Sure, this is probably useful if you already understand how all the lights work, etc. But there is a big difference between watching a skilled person at work vs that same person giving a tutorial - explaining how and why they are doing what they do.

    I think about any skilled trade is like this. Someone who really knows what they're doing makes it look easy. But most likely a casual viewer would fail miserably at the same task, even though they may start out thinking, oh, that's pretty easy, I can do that.

    Sorry I don't know of any fashion tutorials; that's a field I've never had any interest in. But I think the photographic fundamentals are probably not that different from portraiture, which has been one of my specialties. So I'd suggest to study principles of lighting - mainly whether it is diffuse or "directed" (via an optical system) as well as light source "size" (as "seen" by the subject) as well as how it falls off, and how to restrict coverage. (Light, Science & Magic is a good primer for this.) Then work with a variety of real lights to understand their appearance on a subject, and you will have a good start. Or, as derick_miller suggests, "hire an assistant with good lighting skills."
    michaelmowery likes this.
  14. Quote
    Sure, this is probably useful if you already understand how all the lights work, etc. But there is a big difference between watching a skilled person at work vs that same person giving a tutorial - explaining how and why they are doing what they do.

    I think about any skilled trade is like this. Someone who really knows what they're doing makes it look easy. But most likely a casual viewer would fail miserably at the same task, even though they may start out thinking, oh, that's pretty easy, I can do that.

    Sorry I don't know of any fashion tutorials; that's a field I've never had any interest in. But I think the photographic fundamentals are probably not that different from portraiture, which has been one of my specialties. So I'd suggest to study principles of lighting - mainly whether it is diffuse or "directed" (via an optical system) as well as light source "size" (as "seen" by the subject) as well as how it falls off, and how to restrict coverage. (Light, Science & Magic is a good primer for this.) Then work with a variety of real lights to understand their appearance on a subject, and you will have a good start. Or, as derick_miller suggests, "hire an assistant with good lighting skills."

    Totally agree with the above observation
    Nowadays too many 'photographers' (and I use that description very lightly, as many after buying a camera with a or at best a few lenses, and reading some blogs/tutorials/watchiing some 'how to' videos consider themselves full fledged photographers, just check all those site with amateur level pictures but nevertheless a big price list) pretend they know what they're doing despite not having taken the trouble to learn the basics

    Just this Sunday I was witness of such attitude
    Ran into a very last minute call for a MUA, and being apart being a photographer also a MUA myself, decided would help him out
    Of course I had checked out his website, wasn't impressed despite all the trimmings, like portfolio in various fields, 'references' and inevitably a pricelist, but decided to go ahead nevertheless (no payment, but hopefully good for my Karma)

    First part of the 'shoot' was in his living room studio, maybe a bit cramped, but nothing wrong so far
    But then the 's**t started to hit the fan
    Rather then to make a lighting set up to agree with the intended images (natural look head shots) in mind, the 'photographer', already boasting about all the 'for free run in' model shoots he had attended and 'famous' (locally on the Internet) photographers he had seen at work, fell back in what he admitted was his standard routine of a 5 foot Octobox 8 feet away, hitting the midel from as high as possible (not that high due to its size and the low ceiling of the ling room) at 60 degrees from the side.
    Along the way prouldy pointing out that he was using a (one single) Godox flash, basically just as 'good' as Profoto, so that should be seen to be a guarantee for a succesful result

    In the whole story though I was missing an understanding that for each situation a different light set up is/might be needed and the basic knowledge of those different set ups, and character of the lights used
    As a consequence het completely overlooked the change in the character of the light de to the distnce from the model (if placed too far away, as was now the case, a softbox becomes just another harsh light source), consequences due to the position of the light (now creating a harsh shadow along the nose, cheek on the 'unlit' side of the face) and too high contrast (considering it was intended for a natural looking shot)

    For a natural look shot the lighting should of course be soft, with if going for a softbox (I personally rather would go for an much softer light umbrella, with the less directly aimed light being much kinder on possible skin problems, and softer shadows), placing the light closer then the diameter of the light near the model, more frontal (and less from the side) to avoid ugly/harsh shadows besides the nose etc, and a large reflection screen for fill in of the 'shadow' side of the models face

    Tried to stay positive and tentatively made some carefull remarks to point out those mistakes
    But his (almost Pavlov-like) 'defense' was that having read all those tutorails and watched those videos he already considered himself highly skilled as far as lighting was concerned, and that he anyway would 'restore/correct' any mistakes in Photoshop, another field he boasted his skills about, afterwards (although IMO that only made a proficient digital retoucher, but still left him a 'so so' photographer at best for not having spotted, and not having been able to corrected the faults when he was setting up the light/taking the pictures.

    In my own modest way I think I have a proven track record with fashion photography Fashion by Paul K
    But I learned my skills not by watching videos of reading tutorials (those weren't even around when I started beng interested in fashion photography) which make things look so easy to do
    Rather did so by doing a lot of basic, unglamorous footwork, taking my first steps/making my first pictures shooting portraits and eg dance, and in the meantime looking at a lot of fashion images, and along the way trying to /understand/analyze the techniques and lighting used)
    Thus learning the skills (light, lense choice, shooting techniques) I later was able to use when I started shooting beauty, catwalk and fashion (I prefer to have my models move, project some energy, rather then pose them as flesh and blood, but neverthelss standing in frozen and cramped poses, mannequins)

    As said in my earlier reaction, IMO the only way to really learn what to do (rather then copying no matter the situation something some wannabee expert told in a video or during a two bit workshop) is reading, studing, and doing (and failing, probably a lot at first, hopefully less after some time)
    Last edited: May 24, 2018
  15. You don't need a full-blown studio to practice.

    As suggested above, there are some moderately priced Godox units which will work as well as anything else for your purpose and are quite handy since they can run off of a battery. You don't need the TTL version for studio, which saves a little. For the cost of a few studio sessions, you can practice as much as you want and you have a handy tool.

    Get one good modifier and practice anywhere you can set up a lightstand. Both of the videos you shared use Beauty Dishes, which are a fashion standard, and reflectors. So, as your first modifier, it might be worth investing in a Beauty Dish. Mola is the gold standard in the fashion world, but there are inexpensive alternatives on Amazon.

    The big free-standing reflectors, being used with the black side out in Sadowska's video, look to be v-flats--easy and cheap to make, incredibly versatile. You make them with two sheets which are about 4'x8' (1.2m x2.4m), White on one side, black on the other. Tape the two together along one long end, so they can be in a V shape. They stand by themselves. Google search for how to make videos etc.

    Indoors is better so you are not pitting your strobes against the sun. A wall will do fine as a background. The images don't need to be perfect in all the location details, just to give you the option to practice with the lights.

    Once you nail a lighting look you like, perfect the other details and you have something to build upon.

    And the same skills work on location, so investing in a strobe and beauty dish can serve your other work:


  16. Bill hit the nail on the head. Everyone wants to take short cuts without putting the time in to study photography and studio lighting. There are a lot of text books out there that are great. You may also take formal training in a class. Assisting pros that you like is also a great training field. Youtube is not the place to learn for the most part as a beginner. When you understand the basic principles then you can skim through Youtube and you will know what is legit and what is not. You can also pick up on subtle techniques that you would have not noticed before. Thank you Bill for reminding me that my comment was from my perspective as a pro and not as a beginner.
    Wilmarco Imaging likes this.
  17. I spent thirty years working as a fashion photographer and I, like all the other photographers I know, learned lighting technique as an assistant. This is the "standard" route into the industry and the best one. Get a job as an assistant to someone whose work you like, or just to someone who is working a lot and learn everything you can. Or freelance as an assistant and advertise yourself to all the local professionals. It helps if you live somewhere like London, New York, Milan etc but there are pro photographers everywhere - and don't be choosey - catalogue photographers produce boring "middle of the road" work but they know a LOT about lighting and you will learn all the fundamentals.

    Without access to pro kit and studios (which you will get for free as an assistant) it will be difficult for you to produce results like you see in magazines and ads etc. As someone said earlier, it's one thing watching someone skilled use things in a video, quite another to try to do it yourself with little or no training. As an assistant you will be asked (told) where to place lights and polys, reflectors and wind machines - and WHY. You'll learn the subtleties of a flash meter, why we sometimes over expose things, sometimes under and why you sometimes use the white side of a poly and sometimes the black. Lighting is technical and there is a lot to learn even for a basic butterfly portrait on a white background.

    Personally I wouldn't take on a paid studio gig until you know at least the basics because you may well alienate what could turn out to be a long term client.

    You won't find any "good" tutorials on studio lighting for two reasons: 1) most of them are just long adverts for equipment which won't really teach you anything and 2) having spent all that time learning as an assistant and then working as a pro not many people are just going to give away their secrets ! (and we all have secrets)...

    Lastly a note on kit. I know a lot of photographers and I've worked in a lot of studios. I don't know any photographer or studio who don't exclusively use Elinchrom kit (and I wouldn't either). Learn on whatever you can get your hands on but if you go to a pro rental place or half decent studio it will be Elinchrom and little else.

    Best wishes
    An Old Guy
    Wilmarco Imaging likes this.
  18. Don't get hung up on this statement. There are a lot of people at every level from bottom to top shooting a lot of great stuff with Buff, Profoto, Phottix, Godox, BrandX, BrandY and one MUA told me she walked in to a shoot, saw wall to wall Impact, and wondered if she should walk out but the result was some great photography and a national billboard campaign. PDN had an article some years ago about a shoot (I think for Prada) where the crew was painting with $5 flashlights. There's a gob of stuff happening with LED's which offers lots of other options. And then theres the world of natural light and nothing but a variety of reflectors.
    Wilmarco Imaging likes this.
  19. I like your stuff

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