How to Light Fabric - OXFORD COTTON


Today we’re moving into the Semi-Transparent Category of Fabrics. Fabrics in this category include Oxford Cotton, Linen, and Cotton. These fabrics are sturdy fabrics and can often time absorb a lot of light but they are more translucent than our opaque fabrics so they are grouped in another category and therefore are handled differently than are denser, more opaque fabrics. The first one in this new category that I am going to cover is Oxford Cotton. This is a fabric you won’t see a lot of in my own wardrobe. It’s somewhat plain and not very dramatic but it’s very useful. You see oxford cotton in a lot of uniforms, military shirts, and men’s shirts. Like I comment in the video, I have used Oxford Cotton on more men’s shoots, but I’ve also shot plenty of dense cotton dresses and shirts for women.

You can use a softer light with oxford cotton. Softboxes are a good, safe go-to light source or modifier. Using a broad, soft light to the side of your model will pick up enough detail but also the softness of the light will compliment this particular fabric without weighing it down or blowing it out. I used a simple light set up on this shoot: a 3 x 3 Profoto Softbox! That’s it. I placed it high and to the side so it created some depth to the image.



I had Damian and Maria keep her look very clean and natural, which is complementary to oxford cotton. When I think of oxford cotton, I think of prep schools and Ivy League. It’s not very goth, is it? It’s pretty simple, played down, clean, neat and simple. So it’s a good idea to keep lighting simple and hair and makeup simple too. Even accessorizing oxford cotton should be kept simple. No need for lots of jewelry or crazy headwear, think Harvard co-eds!


Again, keeping it simple is a safe bet when shooting oxford cotton. And placing the light to the side is always optimum to pick up detail. Using modifiers with diffusion is also a safe bet so you don’t overpower the simplicity of the cotton. It’s not a dramatic fabric, remember. So no need for dramatic lighting! Any kind of modifier will work, depending on what results you want. I chose a small 3 x 3 Profoto modifier on a Profoto head and we then used a black V-Flat on one side to create even more depth!



These are outtakes from shoots I’ve done in the past when I was shooting oxford cotton and all were shot with soft modifiers.





Nikon D750

Nikkor AF-S 85mm 1.4 Lens

Profoto Pro 7A 2400 Pack

Profoto 3 x 3 Softbox





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Melissa Rodwell