How to Light Fabric - LEATHER


Starting with one of my favorite fabrics because it’s just so sexy and rock and roll, Leather can be a little tricky to light so one thing I have learned is to use a silver lined modifier when I light leather, especially black leather. Obviously, black absorbs light so black leather can really tough to work with but having a “shiny” type surface to bounce the light from will help to create an edge or “sheen” to the leather otherwise it can end up looking flat and kind of boring.


I recently traded in my Nikon D800 to a Nikon D750 and I have been so happy with this decision. As most of you know, I am a die-hard Nikon fan but the D800 was giving me problems with focusing from Day 1. I blamed everything but the camera, even trading in lenses for newer models, etc. It wasn’t until I was on set with a fellow photographer who dropped by with coffee and to say hello because we were both in LA for work. Dario shared how he had the same experience with the camera. He even said how the question made him question his own eye, which is EXACTLY what I started doing! He suggested the D750 and the very next day I went to Samy’s Camera on Fairfax in West Hollywood and traded it in. Best decision I’ve made on gear in a long time! I shot this series with my Nikon D750 and my 85mm AF-S 1.4 lens.

I have to point out that I see a great many images shot today where the clothing is just completely ignored by the emerging fashion photographers. They will go to great lengths to make sure the model looks great, paying very close attention to retouching the model but then completely ignore the clothing. I hope this series will help point out that the clothing is just as important as the model wearing them. We are, after all, FASHION photographers. We must pay attention to how the clothing is lit, how it is retouched and how the final images depict the fabric in the best way possible!


Obviously, since this a Lighting Class, the lighting I chose was very important. I used a Profoto 7 A pack with a 39″ Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octabox silver-lined modifier and I used a diffuser so the light wouldn’t be too harsh. I only used one light source on this shot and I placed the light to the right of my set so I could create shadow and contrast. I didn’t light the background on the cyc, I knew the one light would give me a nice gradient background didn’t feel the background needed to pop. I brought in a black V-flat to help kick in even more contrast! I do love my contrast!


I decided to work with Mathilda from Surface Models here in NYC because I love her ethereal, feminine vibe and I also wanted to use a blonde girl with black leather. I wanted to go with a soft, feminine blonde girl and put some black leather on her! She also has great skin which really helps save time when you are retouching! I did keep that in mind when I cast her!


The dress Mathilda is wearing had this fabulous flounce to it so even when she just moved slightly, the whole skirt would move in a lovely way. I had her shift her weight back and forth so it would give the skirt a little lift each time she moved. Since the top part of the dress was our black leather to feature and it wasn’t moving anywhere, she just posed her body in ways to show off the leather and also move the skirt to create a dynamic image. If you want more tips on how to pose models, you can check out this post:


I asked Mickey Freeman to pull a leather look that wasn’t all leather but strong and sexy none the less. I love this dress because it has such a strong upper part and yet the skirt is so flouncy and feminine! So the juxtaposition is surprising and captivating! This also helps one create a more powerful and dynamic image ( some just extra advice ) Damian Monzillo worked his magic doing Mathilda’s hair and it was nice to reconnect with him after a few years. But I was super happy to have finally met and work with makeup artist Maria Scali! What a talented woman she is! And just great energy too. Damian kept Mathilda’s hair just clean and sleek and Maria used minimal makeup so it didn’t look too dramatic! When you’re shooting a black leather dress like this the last thing you want to do is just go overboard with tons of hair and makeup. It just can get too crazy looking!


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Melissa Rodwell