Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

Started Jan 12, 2010 | Discussions
Franklin Al Regular Member • Posts: 183
Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

I will be shooting a professional fashion show with three designers and 30 models. The show will be on a single runway approximately 60 feet (20 meters) long with the models walking from the curtain to the end and back. I will have full access to any position I would like but would assume I will set up at the end of the runway on a ladder for a direct shot to the approaching model.

I have shot this event before( )with an on camera flash (on a bracket with bounce card) and it worked out pretty well but I now own and have access to several strobes, wireless transmitters, softboxes, grids, etc and I would like to "take it up a notch" I have considered setting up a couple of softboxes at the end of the runway with an appropriate ratio plus some backlighting/hairlighting all triggered by pocketwizards. Would this work or am I getting carried away?

The biggest problem I have is that the models will be moving and the lighting will change depending on where they are at the time. By focusing at the end of the runway, I can meter for that position where they will all pause, turn, etc and hopefully get some great shots but I don't know how I would shoot the "walk" Perhaps I should use two bodies, one with on board flash for the walk, another for when they are in the area covered by the strobes?

What is the "best practice" among the pro's at a fashion show?

Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Scott G Spellman Senior Member • Posts: 2,047
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

Best practice is that high quality fashion shows are lit with theatre lighting evenly across the whole runway. This allows you to shoot without flash and gives you a much faster frame rate. If you want to augment your flash, I would add an external battery pack to decrease your recycle time and give you a faster frame rate. An external flash that uses eTTL to adjust to the lighting intensity at whatever position on the runway should work much better than studio strobes that can't adjust intensity.

OP Franklin Al Regular Member • Posts: 183
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

Thanks for the reply. Makes a lot of sense. I may have been trying to over think the situation.

surajshetty Regular Member • Posts: 130
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

From a level position to the runway, and directly head on, I would use a 70-200 f2.8 shot wide open so that flash probably isn't required and it will nicely isolate your subject and blur any background or foreground in the shot.

That being said, I do think it would be nice to have maybe one softbox set up high facing down on the end of the runway, just to capture the 'pose'. Though I don't know how you set it up so that it didn't interfere with the show itself. The on camera flash, while filling in shadows, needs to be dialed down so that you can't tell you used a flash, imho. Maybe you can try this during a dress rehersal?

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Paul Glickman Junior Member • Posts: 37
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

When I shoot catwalk I make use of the lighting provided for the show, trying to capture the ambient atmosphere, rather than using flash which would interfere with the show. Also, the action happens fairly quickly, so you have little time to make adjustments to your flash compensation or exposure. Remember that the exact location of the model when you press the shutter will vary for each outfit - it's not like a studio where you position the model and lights.

I normally use a 70-200 f2.8 lens at around f3.2 to 4.0 (to isolate the background) with a monopod. I shoot on manual trying to get a shutter speed around 1/500.

You can see examples at ...

OP Franklin Al Regular Member • Posts: 183
Thanks for all the input

I really appreciate the input

Paul, thanks for the link to your site, great stuff. Hard to believe your shots are all available light.

I would like to shoot without flash, but in the past the runway lighting was dim and uneven, the girls were going in and out of dark areas, so it seem flash was needed.

I will be able to experiment at the rehearsal, so I can try some things,

Any C&C on my previous attempt shown here?
Thanks again

FatherlyFilms Regular Member • Posts: 160
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway


I shoot mainly fashion and sports. And many, many of my fashion shoots lead me to fashion shows. Which I shoot quite, quite frequently.

I have never, never shot with a flash (at fashion shows). I know it sounds strange, but I have never shot with a flash at a show! I don't know your equipment, but what I would recomend (I shoot Canon) is a 5DII with a 70-200f2.8 is. You'll want the is version to play it safe.

If I had to light a runway with lights, I'd set up one on full power at the "entrance" of the runway, where the model's come out. Then have 2 flashes at an appropriate levl of power on the each side of the end of the runway (close to the podium, or whatever you are going to be standing on) pointing up at the models.

If you'd like to see some of my show pictures, then go to Faces and Fashion under the portfolios.

Most shows will be using theater lighting, or something of the constant light sort. If you do end up using flashes, you'll want a battery pack, also, using the provided lighting fits with the mood.

I sometimes use a monopod, but I would highly recommend bringing one just in case. You won't normally want to take pictures of the models until they get to the pose. Unless theres a sick shot.

Using the 70-200f2.8 is will nicely isolate the background. If you have pretty much full access to the podium (where most photographers are, it's at the edge of the runway) you could also set up a softbox, but the flash would have to be rather powerful, and also the softbox would have to be rather big and close to the runway.

If there's a dress rehersal, I'd go. Also bring a light/flash meter!

Best of luck to you!

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vocaleyes New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

I shot a fashion show in a small shopping mall last weekend. The ambient light in the mall was expectedly atrocious, and the stage lighting provided by a local wedding DJ was well-meaning, but not extraordinarily crisp, and was only focused on the very front of the catwalk. To over come these problems, I used three strobes -- a hair light and two strobes at the front of the catwalk. I put my front lights at different heights, with the top one honeycombed and flagged to put light only on the back end of the catwalk.

It was a great experiment. I wish I could have put one of the strobes directly over the stage, though. My limitation there was that I didn't know how long the batteries in my radio slaves would last, and the scissor lift had to be locked up when the mall opened, three to four hours before the show.

I used the 70-200 f/2.8 with the collar mounted on a monopod as is frequently recommended by fashion shooters. This focal length gave me full-length models at both ends of the catwalk, plus an option to shoot waist-&-above at the near end.


The strobes gave me the extra snap I needed to get stop-action, plus even white balance and a quick recycle time. I say it was worth the hassle. Next year, more strobes!

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SterlingFX New Member • Posts: 11
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

If you are shooting a BIG show that is very well done, they will be flooding the catwalk with light and you can shoot as the gentleman mentioned. If you are shooting a local show, it is VERY rare that there is good light where you can shoot at high speed at f2.8. I always take lighting equipment with me so if I see a need for lights, I have them. I agree that shooting with ambient light is the BEST but reality for local shows in my area is that you can't because the light is crap. Be very aware that the light for the actual show is OFTEN much less than when you are setting up to shoot an hour before the start. If the light in the setting comes from diretly overhead and goes directly down, you will get some serious shadowing with available light. Flash fill will help GREATLY!

Denton Taylor Regular Member • Posts: 383
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

Totally agree with SterlingFX, it depends on the show. A high end Fashion Week type event will have perfect lighting and it is easy to shoot.

I recently was with a local designer who used the back room of a restaurant with heavy tungsten 'romantic' lighting. She asked me to shoot as the second shooter. I basically used as much ambient as I dared and bounced off the ceiling.

The paid shooter was using a pair of ABs in umbrellas, maybe 36". He had one over his head in one corner, the other at the opposite end of the room in the other corner. I saw his work and it was well lit.

Here are a pair of photos showing his setup:

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Lawrence Keeney
Lawrence Keeney Veteran Member • Posts: 6,815
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

If you insist on shooting with flash, I would make sure it is approved by the organization running the show.

I have photographed a number of runway fashion shows. I started using flash, but found the images look much better by using the ambient light. The only problem I had in shooting natural light was on one fashion show, they had colored lighting that were automatically swinging around lighting different parts of the runway at different times. The images from this shoot were marginal at best.

I had one runway fashion shoot at a pool side at a major resort location just after sundown. I assumed they would have good lighting set up for this event. However, I took my A.B. ring flash and Vagabond power supply, just in case. It was a good thing I had my lighting because the only lighting at the location was the light coming up from the lights inside the pool, which was horrible at best. I did get some very nice shots with the ring flash though.

If I am asked to shoot another fashion runway event, I will make sure I understand what the lighting will be before I go, and even then I will have backup lighting with me.

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historianx Veteran Member • Posts: 3,092
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

Imma gonna play Devil's Advocate here.  Ive been shooting runway shows since the late 1970s and I have never run into a situation where flash is expressly forbidden (but then the largest market Ive shot in is LA).  A lot of the runway work I do is not only fashion, but hair and makeup as well, and IMO available light does not do justice to hair and makeup.  Being of photojournalism background, I am an expert at flash, on and off camera, and can set my exposures based on what light is available, how soft or bright, and what kind it is.  IOW, if I can't see the color of a model's eyes on a tight head shot, which is part of my runway documentary process, I am not doing the designer's or hmua's work justice.

All too often, I see photographers use available light, and quite frankly the results are terrible (muddy, splotched, and more often than not WAY too yellow) esp. if they are working on uncalibrated monitors, cant color-correct, using kit lenses, or shooting at too high ISO.   I really think a lot of photographers have a fear of flash or strobe lighting, and are very unsure as to how it's done, or they don't have the equipment to do so, so they attempt available light with very mixed results.

Or they dont have external battery packs that allow fast recycling....

Im not saying all are terrible, many of the more experienced a/l shooters with extensive film backgrounds and pricey fast pro glass do quite good, Im just one of those that prefers flash due to more accurate color renditions and clarity.   This is the way I was taught, and that's the way I do it.

Your results may vary.

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glowvolt New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Lighting a Fashion Show Runway

I've tried a few time to photograph a runway with studio stobes. I placed one light facing front left to the model (main light) and another from rear right (hair light). I metered the lights, so this means that some shots got to dark, some got too light and some got just right. And those shots that got just right are the keepers. You can see two runway shoots from me here:

Next time i might try using a ring flash and a hair light to see what happens.

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