Lighting Tutorial: 3 Looks, 2 Lights

This past week I had a last-minute opportunity to work with the stunning 6’1″ model Raelia Lewis! Sidenote: I will be billing her for my therapy expenses, as I developed an acute Napoleon complex once she put her heels on – but I digress.  A Monday opening at the studio I shoot at presented itself on Saturday, which left me with a single day to come up with a theme and a team – just enough time for me to cross my fingers and see what I could come up with at a moment’s notice. Normally, I prefer to have atleast a week to develop an idea and pull all of the necessary elements together, but I have to say, flying by the seat of my pants was pretty exhilarating! In a single day I nabbed two awesome models (the drool-worthy Phil @ Colby Models NY being the second), acquired a great makeup artist (the consistently delightful Raushanah Washington), and brainstormed with stylist Lacora Emerson (who is as energetic as her rambunctious 8 year-old son)…phew! If there was ever a time I needed Hermoine’s Time Turner, this was it!

Inspired by textiles I found particularly interesting, I decided to do a beauty story centered around them, using some of my favorite commercial fashion images as a basis for each respective image.

VELVET: For this shot inspired by the wonderfully luxe velvet sofa, I needed lighting that was equally as sumptuous. I went with a classic 2-light setup with the model about 1.5ft away from a metallic olive-colored wall. A gridded beauty dish set about 3ft above and slightly to the left of the model served as a main light, creating the gentle definition of her bone structure, and adding dimension to the textures of her jewelry. Because of the angle I was shooting at, the angle of her face, and the height of the light, there were initially no reflections of a light source in her eyes – an occurrence I refer to as “twinkling”. To add a twinkle and soften the shadows a bit, I added a fill light, a small grid set slightly lower than the model’s head about 6ft away to the right. The power on this one was turned way down, so as not to interfere too much with the direction of the main light. To help illuminate the texture in her jewelry a bit more, I moved in a 3-panel silver reflector directly under her face, angled towards her. The effects of this are most noticeable on the snakeskin and in the sliver of light in the bottom of her eyes.

CRYSTAL: For this shot inspired by the glamtastic crystal chair, I needed light that would really help the jewelry sparkle. I went with a timeless 2-light setup, using the same lights as the previous shot at different settings, with the model about 7ft away from a black seamless. As before the beauty dish was my main light, but this time I increased the height to about 5ft and boosted the power up to create longer, more defined shadows and specular highlights. This increase in height also affected the model’s facial features, as her cheekbones and eye cavities became more pronounced. The accent light was a grid, turned up to about half power about 2ft behind and to the right of the model. I decided to only highlight one side as opposed to both because I felt a complete rim light would throw off the balance of the frame in the left. Also, this way more attention is drawn to her bling!!

LEATHER: For this shot inspired by the sleek leather chair, I wanted a light that was just as chic, so I opted for a bit more modern approach, again using a simple 2-light setup with the model about 4ft away from a white seamless. The main light in this was our faithful beauty dish, set about 3ft above and slightly to the left of the model, exactly like the velvet shot. This time though, there was no second light to serve as fill light to soften the shadows. Instead, for the sake of the jewelry and to create a little more life in the eyes, I brought back in the 3-panel silver reflector directly under her face, angled towards her. The second light in this is a light with a dome reflector (no grid) with a red gel attached aimed directly at the white seamless. It is turned up to full power, which rendered the background yellow because of the light’s intensity. As the light traveled, the color of the gel took over, resulting in the red haze that washes over the model until it crosses paths with the main light. Admittedly, the yellow was a complete surprise, but I went with it. Gotta love experimenting and happy accidents!

I hope this post was helpful, informative, or atleast entertaining! If you have any questions or comments, by all means don’t keep them to yourself! Share them down below in the comment section or email them to me directly at

Also, if there are any studio lighting setups that you’d like to me to recreate, or any from my website that you’d like an explanation of, let me know! I’m up for the challenge and here to help!!