Fashion Photographer’s Guide to Snow Location Lighting

Fashion photography is a specialisation devoted to photographing clothing and other fashion items, typically for advertisements or fashion magazines. As the fashion photography genre has developed so has the style and standard of the shoots with the clothes often enhanced by exotic locations and props such as vehicles or animals for an eye catching effect.

In the studio, commercial photographers are working with a blank canvas. They are in control of every aspect of their shot, from the choice of backdrop right through to the mood and atmosphere of the lighting. On their own, studio flash units simply produce a high powered burst of artificial daylight, which can be positioned as required and modified using a wide range of accessories to control the quality of the light.

On location, things are quite different. The weather is pretty much in control of the quality of the natural lighting. Apart from planning ahead, the best the photographer can do is to react to the prevalent ambient lighting conditions and, where necessary, to modify its quality. At the most basic level, this means that dull lighting will need to be brightened, or bright lighting softened using reflectors, portable flash or, in some cases, a combination of both.

For the fashion photographer, although the model has to look good, the client is going to be looking at the quality of the lighting on his or her products – the garments. It is for photographers to use the natural lighting found at a particular location to its best advantage.

Case study: Snow scene

Shooting for an Autumn/Winter in the Alps at 4pm the sun would have normally been fairly high in the sky, but at this altitude the angle is considerably reduced. The model is positioned with the sun at around 90 degrees to the left of the camera. With no cloud cover to soften the light, shadows are well defined and hard edged. To soften this effect, I positioned my assistant to the right of the camera with a 48in reversible gold/silver Lastolite reflector to bounce some light back into the shadows. Gold reflectors are traditionally used to warm up a subject, for example by adding a golden glow to a model’s skin.

However these warm reflections are very much more pronounced in low-light shooting conditions. For very bright-light shooting situations, I believe the gold effect is noticeably reduced, but that the light produced works better for him than the harshness of the light from the sliver side of the reflector. Exposure was carefully measured from both highlight and shadow areas; with and without the reflector.

Now of course the only real way to improve your location photography, whether for fashion, advertising or editorial, is to get out there and do it. And if you’re just starting out don’t wait to get paid; with digital test shoots meaning no expensive film and development costs there’s no excuse not to be out shooting anyone who will stay still for a few minutes! I hope a couple of these tips will help you develop your location photographer skills and look forward to seeing your published work soon!

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