Lighting for Beauty

I love being outside my comfort zone on a project—that is when I know I am learning. If I am comfortable, I am not expanding my experiences or knowledge. While I’m known mostly for moody, narrative work, I had a chance to jump into another fashion piece for a new lingerie line from Chantelle Paris.

Model in three poses from the Chantelle Paris: SoftStretch commercial

Model in three poses from the Chantelle Paris: SoftStretch commercial

Good cinematographers do not only know one style. They can light anything because they know how light works, and how to affect it and shape it for different types of content and moods. For this spot, I knew I would have to work with a lot more fill light than I normally like to use and had to dive into the beautiful things about lighting for fashion.


Production had a set built of three walls made of Chantelle’s fabric for their new lingerie. We were to shoot three different models against these walls interacting with other long pieces of fabric. The entire vibe was all about the soft quality and flexibility of this fabric. Fashion shoots are usually all about beauty and soft light, especially as a key. Ensuring that skin looks soft and beautiful is really important, so in addition to shooting on 16mm, we lit with large sources.

Since I love how tungsten looks on skin, my gaffer and I chose a 10K fresnel as our key and decided to double break it through muslin and a grid. Opposite the key, we had an ARRI Skypanel S60 with an octodome attached so we could easily set fill light levels. We set the Skypanel to tungsten as well and kept it just out of frame on camera right, while our large 10K rig was off camera left. The 10K key made for a great eye light as well, so we kept the Skypanel even more out of the way as to not create dual eye lights.

We knew we would have to consistently have some soft ambience coming from above—beauty also loves soft top light—so we stuck two 2x8 LiteGear LiteTile fixtures up above on the grid. Alongside them, to add some more intensity and cover more area, we added two LiteMat 2Ls. My key grip then threw up a 20x12 rag of diffusion underneath them to spread everything softly into the set. We ran all our dimmers to the ground so we could easily adjust levels and kept everything tungsten balanced.

Top light was not only great for skin, it also allowed us to have a natural gradient on the walls of fabric as the light got less and less intense toward the floor. When shooting inserts of the fabric, the top light also gave us soft shadows from the waves in the fabric and we could kill or knock down the key light so as to avoid the hero fabric looking flat.

Finally, a 5K fresnel went up directly behind the main back wall to create a stronger gradient and shape on the background. In shots that centered up the back wall, we also got a soft flare as we moved in to meet the dancers on the platform. The more intense light hitting the top and then falling off down the wall made for a striking image.


When everything is so soft, separation might be a question that pops up. However, in creating this world of Chantelle SoftStretch, there were enough subtle variations in skin tones and different options in the fabric that everything was able to blend really nicely without it being muddy. Their black lingerie that is made of the same fabric really pops as a result. The large top source we set up also created lovely highlights on skin and hair as the dancers moved through the space.

The important thing to remember in beauty is that it doesn’t have to be flat. For this commercial, although initially conceived as flatter than I would normally go for, I implemented shadow on the fabric, beautiful falloff and gentle highlights. It’s always about making the product and subjects look their best, and having a lot of soft LED sources and some classic tungsten fresnels easily allowed for the creation of beauty lighting. It ultimately allowed us to create a world for this product.