On Location PhotographySubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2010-10-21 14:32

High fashion - low effort photography lighting

On location photo shoots are exciting. Especially when the subject is glamour, fashion or nude. I am really loving these type of photography and I would like to share my shoots with you in form of a new program, which I am going to post here on SmokingStrobes every 3rd Thursday of the month. It’s named “On Location Photography” and it’s going to be a behind the scenes look into my photo shoots on location. Of course with a good deal of explanation regarding the why and the how of the lighting we are using.


To start off I compiled the footage I and the photographs I took in the “Cool-1 Bar” in Beijing, when photographing a fashion collection. So it’s about high fashion photography lighting with Speedlights. It shows that even high fashion photography is no longer governed by rich white men with their cascade of octabanks (which is no offense to octabanks - they are awesome). Have a look how it is done:

The lighting diagram is pretty simple. Note that all photos where taken with one and the same camera setting. All speedlights are on TTL. So at the end of the day, it’s nothing but TTL which compensated for different situation, different poses and most of all different distances of the models to the lightsources.


Models: He Min and Sasha
Styling: Maomao
Fashion: Emily Wei
Photography: Michael Zelbel
Postproduction: Gina Hernandez
Graphic Design: AlexZlatev


I wish you good light!
-- Michael

As always you are a lighting genius! I have an opportunity to shoot a small fashion show (my first one) and this lighting set up would be great to use. Thanks.

Thank you so much for watching!

really nice pictures. I like your work only with strobist. Every post/picture I see from you I thought "wow"....isn't it incredible which result every photographer can have with strobist-setups?!? Awesome.
regards Oliver

Yes, thank you. And you can do the very same thing, too!

I must say your photos are simply inspiring, the most amazing speedlight lighting. I have one question can you describe the pole mount you used to attach the second spotlight to the bottom of the withstand. Thanks

Thanks a lot James. This mount is a combination of two clamps. One for the flash and another one for attaching it to the tripod pole. The flash and umbrella are held by a pretty regular multiclamp, just like this one: http://amzn.to/cNx1Ng The multiclamp itself is screwed onto a clamp that attaches to the pole, very similar to this one: http://amzn.to/c1Woty - see how they fit together?

I purchased both clamps (and more) on a photography market in Beijing. I use it very often and I am pretty happy with that construction. I hope this helps.

Great videos - good advice and amazing production. Out of interest, how are you producing your videos?

Hi cousin,

thanks a lot!

I am filming with a 5D MK II with a $10 lavalier mike connected via cable to the camera. In cases, in which I can't make that connection I record the sound on an Zoom H2 Handy recorder. 

Post is done in Premiere and Soundbooth. The titles/fx and lowerthirds are rendered in Aftereffects. 

For screencapturing I use Camtasia on a mac.

I use Sonicfire Pro and a number of albums from the Smartsound library to generate some juicy pieces of music.

Might sound intimidating but it's actually very easy and fast once you are a bit familiar with it. When I said that I am going to look into DSLR video, I was not joking. 

If you want to go pro in any of that production areas then I am happy to show you the details.

Great advices, your technic and the results are very nice, keep on the good work. Stefon.

Thanks a lot, Stefon!
Sure, I'll continue and make a lot more films in 2011.

Ooh nice. Thanks for the affordable insider tip to great lighting... very fashion -worthy. You do capture an image beautifully.

Thanks a lot, my fashionable cousin!

I love fashion and glamor photo shoots the most. There's so much that goes into those photo shoots that there's not one boring element in those shots. From the outfits, to the hair, to the makeup, to the shoes, to the great location- everything is beautiful.

Wow! where do you get these gorgeous models!!??
He Min is stunning! I would soooo love to shoot with her :)

Great work again Michael!


Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Hey fellow photographer! In this video, I will show you a lighting setup especially for fashion, a high fashion shoot. We are doing fashion on location, over here in a bar actually. Maybe you are shooting for a catalogue and they don’t want this boring stuff in front of grey background, some light coming from the front. They want to have photos with a bit of attitude, the light coming from the side, it is directional but it is still in a way that you can see of course every detail of the dress. Even if it is a black dress with black applications, you need to see every detail. At the same time, light should have attitude.

Alright, how do to that? We are doing it today in this way: We will have 2 umbrellas as our main lights; so they are illuminating the whole body. That’s important as they are the big light or the main light. For the fill on the other side - the feel needs to be quite strong. In order to bring across all the details of the dress we need a good fill. For the fill one umbrella is enough, for the main light, you actually want to illuminate the whole model and this is what we are doing over here with 2 umbrellas. All right!

Sometimes you just want more drama, you know, you want to dial it up a notch and this is where I bring in another speedlight as a back light. We will have this little baby in group c and we will fire directly into the lens or directly into the back of the model to rimlight her. To make the hair glowing, to make the dress glowing and it just adds this… it has this bit of drama which can really make a photo standing out. Let’s try that out!

So this little baby, it added a lot of drama. If you do that, don’t over do it, especially if you are shooting for a catalogue or something or for a fashion magazine, then you really want to see every detail of the dress and if you over do the back light and it really flares the lens then this detail is all washed away. So don’t over do it, but adding a little of backlight, it is great!

I hope you found this useful and I hope to see you in the next video, until then good light!


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