How to Light Fabric - VELVET


Welcome back to the Breed Classroom!

Let’s keep going with our Series on How to Light Fabrics and jump right into Lesson 2 on how to shoot Velvet. Velvet is in our Opaque category like leather. What does opaque actually mean? The dictionary definition is that opaque is an adjective to describe: not transparent or translucent; impenetrable to light;  not allowing light to pass through.

So, what does that mean for us photographers when we have to shoot an opaque fabric like velvet? It means we have to have some power behind our lighting. In other words, we need to push a fair amount of power through our light source or adjust our camera’s exposure accordingly if we are working with available light or open shadow, etc. So A. A fair of power through your strobes or B. Open up that aperture! Because velvet is dense, it is impenetrable to light, it does not let light pass through. Remember what I said in the video……I’ve used black velvet curtains in place of duvetyne to block out light completely in a room I’ll be shooting.  So, with velvet…….. you got to light it!!



I decided to use a Profoto White Beauty Dish with a Grid placed about 5 feet from the model and directed in a Rembrandt way, off to the side about 3/4. I didn’t diffuse my beauty dish because the black velvet jacket needed light. And as I explained in the video, I used a white Profoto Beauty Dish but a silver one would’ve worked just as well! I think that using bare bulb or continuous light that isn’t diffused works great with velvet and listen, there will be times when you CAN diffuse velvet and it looks beautiful….. just pay attention to your metering. Expose for the shadows so you can pick up as much detail in the velvet. We also used a small Profoto RFi 2 x 3 Softbox to light the lower part of our model, Mathilda. Although the focus was on the velvet jacket, I wanted to be able to shoot her full length as well to show off the beautiful chiffon pants she was wearing. The key light is the beauty dish, though, just keep that in mind. When lighting for transparent fabrics, soft light is nice but those lessons are coming soon!



Because of the entire outfit, I wanted to shoot Mathilda full length but I also wanted to feature the velvet jacket since that’s what this lesson is about; Shooting Velvet! So half way through shooting her, we had Mathilda sit down and made an impromptu table using a Digitech table  for a bit for her to rest her arms on so I could shoot a portrait of the model. I just wanted something somewhat regal and noble so I had her look off and not really work directly with my camera….sort of a faraway gaze feeling.


One aspect of my workflow is working with a great Digitech. I have found such person in Gabriel Montagnani. Using a Digitech is vital in maintaining quality control while you’re shooting. While most of us look at the back of our cameras to make exposure and focus adjustments, it’s really tough to make important decisions based on such a small image. Gabriel uses CaptureOne which is the industry’s go-to platform for capturing images while shooting. We decided to pull Mathilda’s hair back off the Velvet jacket so we could focus on the detailing on the collar.




Nikon D750

Nikkor AF-S 85mm 1.4 lens

Profoto Pro 7A 2400  pack

Profoto RFi 2 x 3 Softbox




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Melissa Rodwell