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Clothing Photography – Step by step

Recently I was asked to photograph a lot of garment for Swedish fashion designer and brand Fräulein von Hast, she was planning to start a web shop and needed photos of every skirt, blouse, jacket and dress she had available.

For every item she needed at least three, but more often four different angles so the customers can view the front, back and sides of the skirt or jacket they might be interested in.

This is how I set the light, planned the day and shot 325 photos.

The brief

As I mentioned earlier, the reason for this photo shoot was to produce photos for her web shop, every item must be photographed from three different angles. The model must be on the exact same spot (almost) in every picture and the background needed to be white or very light grey.

The workflow

We had neither time or money to do extensive retouching on every photo, five minutes of Photoshop on 325 photos adds up to almost a whole week. So we planned the work flow to consist of only the studio part and rely on Lightroom to do the post processing for us.

Every photo had the same adjustments applied, and as soon as we very happy with the results from a few test photos, one click on the “Export”-button was enough.

To be sure that the settings I applied in Lightroom would work on every item, I took some samples from very white dresses, very black dresses and some colourful ones. Together with test shots and a grey card, the white balance stayed the same in every photo.

The studio lighting setup

I didn’t feel the need for a completely white background, as long as every photo has the same light background tone and shadows. Personally, I think that a light grey background works better in displaying everything from white to black than a blown out white one.


Four lights and some light modifiers

My idea with the studio lighting was to set a light that was big enough to cover the model and her clothing, without making the images seem too flat. Adding a little contrast and shadows makes it easier to understand how the garments will fit without hiding too much detail.

Main light

The key/main light is actually two flash heads with different light modifiers. The Profoto Softbox Octa (5 foot/150 cm) from camera right creates a soft light for the whole scene, including the background.

The Profoto White Softlight Reflector (beauty dish) camera right also, but a little higher up, adds a bit of contrast and shadows.

I tried this setup earlier and liked the results, you can see it here together with some examples; Lighting setup for fashion dad & daughter

Fill light

To avoid making the model’s right side too dark, I used the third light (Profoto Compact 300) as fill, the easiest way in my small photo studio was to point it toward a corner of the room and let the white walls act as a V-card or book end.

On the Profoto Compact I used a standard reflector and placed a black piece of cardboard to shield the camera and lens from flare. By adjusting the height of the light it is easy to control the direction the fill light comes from, but the main point is just to add a little more light in the room. For more control over the the fill, some sort of light modifier is probably better, as well as pointing it toward the model, not the other way.

Rim light

To create some sort of separation from the light grey background, I used the last of the four flash heads from behind in a Strip Softbox (1’x6’/30×180 cm) together with a soft grid to control the light beam and spill a little.

Pointed toward the back of the model, slightly upwards a bit to avoid creating a light pattern on the floor, the effect is maybe most visible in her face. In the photos where she is turned left or right, it helps by adding a strip of light.

Subtracting light

My photo studio is very small as you might see in the photos, and wanting to define her body and clothing with a darker edge camera left I had to reduce the reflections from the white wall.

The easiest solution was to place two stands and a roll of black background paper to create a black wall, like a big black flag.

I think I could have made the effect stronger by placing the black background closer to her, but this worked fine and I wanted her to have some space to move.

The result

The photo above is very close to how the final images came out. I made the background a little lighter and removed some vignetting to create a more even light grey tone all over.

As I write this, the web shop is not quite ready to open, so I don’t know if they have removed the small piece of duct tape at her feet.

What I have learned

Most of the photo shoot went really smooth. Working with a professional model is very nice for a change, most of my work as a photographer consists of taking pictures of people that has ordinary jobs. Not as models. So having a professional saves a lot of time, and makes everything easier (than having a friend model, for example).

Changing clothes takes time. Even with a professional model and a fashion designer, the biggest part of the day I think was spent getting out of or into new clothes. Adding another dresser (?) and another model would have let me work twice as fast.

Delete delete delete. Easiest way to speed up the post processing part (apart from getting the light right) is to reduce the number of files that you have to transfer to the computer and then import to Lightroom. Deleting the bad ones directly in the camera saves a lot of time.

Equipment used

  • Nikon D700
  • Nikon 24-70mm/2.8
  • 5 st SanDisk Extreme IV CF 4 GB memory card
  • Pocket Wizard radio transmitter
  • Manfrotto camera stand
  • White paper background
  • Assorted light stands
  • Autopoles
  • Black background paper
  • 2 st Profoto Compact 300
  • 1 st Profoto Compact 600R
  • 1 st Profoto AcuteB 600R + flash head
  • 1 st Profoto White Softlight Reflector (beauty dish)
  • 1 st Profoto Softbox Octa (5 foot/150 cm)
  • 1 st Profoto Strip Softbox (1×6/30×180 cm + soft grid)
  • Duct tape

Post processing

I used Lightroom 2.7 for the post processing part (Lightroom 3 was not yet installed when I did this job). Capture NX2 can sometimes produce wonderful results, but when dealing with a large amount of files it slows down to a crawl and becomes unusable.

The main thing I did in Lightroom was to set the white balance for all photos, add a little contrast and sharpening, not much more.

For some more photos, have a look in my portfolio

Don’t hesitate to ask if there is something I missed.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Edd Carlile August 20, 2010, 16:18

    I really enjoyed reading this post…..particularly how you achieved such a nice crisp even light and how the post processing was done through lightroom.

  • Edd Carlile August 20, 2010, 16:21

    When you mentioned using Lightroom to save on post processing each image individually…does that mean you batch processed all the shots automatically?
    I never knew that was possible(I thought only in Photoshop with an action set) in lightroom….can you tell me of any useful tutorials on that function?

    Thank you so much!


  • Stefan Tell August 20, 2010, 21:42

    and yes. With no time or budget for going through every photo in Photoshop, I tried to set the lights and everything so the photos could be batch processed in Lightroom.

    How you do it is simple, just edit one or more photos until you have a results that you are pleased with, then copy the settings and apply it to all the other photos. Ta-da!

    But, it only works that easy when you have the same model and background on every photo (or products that doesn’t need individual adjustments to look good). For portraits and such you still have to go through every frame and adjust for skin tone etc.

    Regardless of the subject, I think Lightroom is the best starting point even if some photos need a little more adjustments in Photoshop later.

  • ikuma September 10, 2010, 20:24

    nice write-up, thank you. I particularly love the series of photos of the girl turning around in the dress, how your lighting setup emphasizes the drapery, simply gorgeous…

    one thing I’d like to add to your comment – instead of copying and applying to all the other photos, you could also just select the one that’s edited, then select the rest and syncronize the changes, might be a bit faster and it works in the develop module as well – I think you can paste the settings from the clipboard to multiple selected photos when you’re in the library module but not in the develop module, but I might be wrong.

    And at least as important as the same model and background, I would say the lighting conditions and white balance in particular should also be the same, you can get very weird results otherwise 🙂

    • Stefan Tell September 11, 2010, 00:06

      Thanks for the comments.
      Regarding the Lightroom tip, I will try that. Most of the time I go with things I know how they work, but this sounded like a smart and easy way as well.

      99% of the photos were very static poses, but once she had that dress on, she had to dance a little 🙂

  • Michael September 10, 2010, 20:56

    Hej Stefan, thanks for the informative read. Your blog is now saved in my google reader, looking forward to more.

  • Bruno Ázera September 10, 2010, 23:50

    Great work!
    Thanks for the time to create such on informative blog.
    Bookmarked 🙂

    • Stefan Tell September 11, 2010, 00:01

      Thanks for stopping by and for the comment, glad you liked it. Will be back with more as soon as I can.

  • Edd Carlile September 11, 2010, 07:28

    Hi Stefan.
    Here you can see the finished result of the initial 200 person shoot (I have another 1200 people to do in September) I did on Wednesday…this image is straight from the camera,no colour corrections,no tweaks.

  • Diego September 18, 2010, 16:04

    Hi Stefan! I’m very happy to have stumbled upon your website. I was trying a very similar setup a few months back and was a bit befuddled by the key light. To avoid blowing out my subject, I had to dial down one of the lights (either the octa or the dish) a lot. It didn’t turn out as I wanted and had to quickly resort to another kind of shot (was on-location for a shoot).

    Can you help me understand the ratio of power of the octa and the dish? Would be very much appreciated 🙂

    Many thanks!

  • Christopher September 20, 2010, 21:33

    Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed your write-up!

  • Paula March 29, 2011, 04:25

    This is a great article. I am brand new to photography and lighting seems to be the science of it all. My question is … how “small” was the room you used? Would you happen to have the measurements?

  • Stefan Tell April 4, 2011, 23:32

    Thanks for all the comments again,
    I have completely forgotten to answer your questions here, but now I will try.

    Regarding the ratio between the beautydish and the Octa, I think the beautydish was a little bit stronger, but gave a bigger impact due to the relatively smaller light source it was. The Octa was more of a fill, and lit the whole body, the beautydish was more focused on the face and upper body.

    The room has now been two different rooms, as I have done work for this client with the same setup a couple of times now. The first room, as the photos in this blog post comes from, was about 4 meters wide and the shooting distance somewhere between 5 and 6 meters, maybe a little less. The distance from model to background was something around 1 or 1,5 meters.

    Hope this helps.

  • PRAVEEN KUMAR June 6, 2011, 04:37

    Very usefull articel , your lighting arrangements are really good , also creative . Thank u sir.

  • scott November 30, 2011, 11:22

    hello Stefan, thank you for your valuable sharing.
    I would like to know the dimesion of your beautydish.
    would you please tell me about that?

    • Stefan Tell December 2, 2011, 08:29

      Thanks, I use the standard Profoto Softlight Reflector, 52,5 cm or approx. 20,5 inches.

  • Maria Ines rivero July 12, 2012, 01:10

    great article. thanks for sharing.

  • klaas De Loose July 18, 2012, 13:18

    Dear Stefan,

    I like your setup very much and used it several times.
    The light is very soft and nice!

    Yet I would like to ask you how I can achieve such a shadow under the chin as in this picture:

    Yet the light is very soft…what would be their setup do you think?

    Kind regards,

  • Stefan Tell August 6, 2012, 10:41

    Hello Klaas,

    glad you find it useful. Regarding your question, I would guess they use a big fill for overall light and something with harder light to get that shadow under her chin. I would try that at least.

  • saurabh October 6, 2012, 00:31

    it was indeed a pleasure reading this, i am a web catalogue photographer, and wanted to break the monotony and also reduce the editing time, sure helped me a lot. the images you shot are smooth and crisp. i enjoyed the color temperature,
    i need help in converting these images to smaller jpg sizes so they take less web space. as reducing size on photoshop changes color of the clothing.

  • David December 21, 2012, 13:03

    I love your setup, but… how you get rid of the white seamless fabric wrinkles?
    In the first photo with ambient light, wrinkles on the floor are obvious but you make it disappear in your final images.

  • Stefan Tell December 21, 2012, 15:45

    David: Thanks. The answer is probably that I didn’t really get rid of them. What you see in the behind the scenes shot is much worse than what my camera saw when the lights were on.

    Using curves in Lightroom to lighten the white areas a bit gets rid of most of them, but I never aimed for perfect white. The room was a bit too small for that. I think this works.

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  • Adorique February 11, 2016, 17:11

    Hi Stefan!
    I’m designer, also opening web shop for ladies’ clothing and looking for the photography tips, I could apply in my home studio. And I really enjoyed reading this article! It’s very informative and written in easy manner. Thank you!

  • ronald ronald January 30, 2019, 17:53

    you are talentad man l like your ld how mach dose it cost to open a studio with full iqepment?????????????

    all l can say again you are genneas

    • Stefan Tell February 6, 2019, 00:19

      but that question is impossible for me to answer. There is no upper limit what it can cost, and you can get a lot of good equipment cheap if you plan smart and all that.

      Sorry if I can’t give a better answer.

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