Shoot Breakdowns

Fashion Portraits With Cellophane

Shoot Breakdown

I’m always on the lookout for things that I can drape around a model, or turn into an outfit, or place over a light source to change the color of the light, or even turn into a background. As a result, I make frequent trips to local fabric stores and arts and craft stores like Joann, Michaels and A.C. Moore and I am always digging through the clearance sections to see what I can make use of without breaking the bank.

On a recent trip to Michaels, I found bright colored rolls of transparent packaging wrap for just $4.99 a roll. These are basically 30 in. wide by 25 ft. long rolls of colored cellophane, and at five bucks a roll that’s a steal when you think of all the things you could do with it – including making your own custom gels for your LEDS, speedlights or studio strobes.

Sometimes when I find stuff like this it immediately gives me an idea for a shot and other times, it’s something I’ll find a use for. In the case of the colored cellophane, I had no idea what I would do with it – but I knew it would be fun.

Sure enough a week later, my makeup artist came up with this very colorful makeup look that had lots of different colors and geometric shapes. Now you frequently hear me talk about the idea of working your shot to make sure that you haven’t missed a potentially great idea. I’ve also shared some of my failures to show you how I come up with these shots such 

In this case, I honestly had no idea how to shoot this look. There were so many colors and so much detail, that I was struggling to come up with something in my head that really got me excited. When that happens to me, I have learned to just pick an idea, not second guess myself and begin shooting. I begin shooting knowing that I will work the shot and keep exploring until it all comes together in a way that excites me.

How it evolved

When my model came on the set for the first shot, I decided to go with this idea of draping some gold material over her head. You can see below that I also draped some gold colored tulle around her neck just to add an additional texture at the bottom of the frame. I hated this look.

Gold fabric around model's head

Then I took a step back and thought maybe if I keep it real simple and go with just the girl and the gold tulle on the bottom, like in the second image in the first row, or the video here. But it was too simple.

Then I second guessed myself and went back to the shiny gold material draped over her head. I looked for ways to also use the dull side of the material, like maybe aiming some light through it, like you see in the frames above and like I try in this video here.

Then I tried wrapping the material around her head, like you see in the second row above or in the video here. 

Then I went all the way back to the beginning and tried to finesse the shiny gold material draped over her head, like you can see on the bottom left above. But it still wasn’t working.

Then I remembered the roll of yellow cellophane, and it all came together in my head.

The set-up

This was a basic clamshell lighting setup using 320ws Interfit Honey Badger strobes mounted in Medium Sized Photoflex Lite Dome softboxes. I used the grids on the boxes to keep as much of the light on my subject as possible and to prevent it from reaching the white background.

I had an additional Honey Badger on the floor in front of the Savage Universal White seamless paper backdrop to make sure that I had a pure white background.

Honey badger creating white background

Once I added the cellophane to the shot I placed a yellow gel on the background strobes to turn the white background to a bright yellow. Then I added two more Honey Badgers – one on each side and aimed back towards my model – also with yellow gels to create the rim lighting that would accent her face and makeup.

Honey badgers with gels

So the finished shot was a total of five 320ws lights. It is important to understand that you could do this shot with speedlights or pocket flashes. And if you have enough space you could actually pull this shot off with just three lights.

The gear

The shot was made with my Olympus E-M1 Mark II, which I talk about in this article, and the M. Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO lens which is a 90mm full frame equivalent. The ISO was 200 which is the base ISO for the Mark II and the shutter speed 1/250th of a second and the aperture was set at f/8 .

I was shooting tethered with the TetherPro cables from Tether Tools and using the Olympus Capture software to manage the camera and downloads.

For camera support I used a Benro carbon fiber tripod with an Acratech Ballhead mounted on top.

The Cellophane

Model with cellophane

Now that I had the yellow gels creating a yellow background and yellow rims, I started by adding a collar of cellophane around my model’s shoulders. I left the gold tulle in place to have just a little extra texture.

At this point I know I was onto the right idea, but it still needed more. Since I am a glutton for punishment – when I am looking for that little something extra and I am not quite sure what it is – I tend to go for chaos and look for something that will surprise me.

So I added a fan on the floor behind my model. I also moved my Digital ala Cart case with my laptop behind the model so that I could see the shots as they were downloading. I had Monae, my makeup artist, move behind the camera to coach the model on her expression and head tilts.

Cellophane with fan

Then I took a section of cellophane that was about six feet long and started letting the fan blow it around to see what kinds of shapes and textures I could create just behind the model.

I am triggering the camera using a Vello wireless remote control.

I did try a few frames without the background lights, which you can check out here, so that the white background turned dark gray. While it is cool in how dramatic it feels, I still preferred the bright yellow that you see in my finished shot.

yellow cellophane


The final images required very little post production beyond the usual color, contrast and sharpening, and of course removing of blemishes. I say this just as reminder of the importance of great hair and makeup.

In conclusion

So there you have it. Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it. It’s not as hard as it looks unless you allow yourself to be afraid. Fear of failure is the biggest obstacle to being creative. You simply have to keep shooting. Work the shot. Try things – even things that seem ridiculous. Your model will always respect your effort. You will learn lots of new things and your photography will head in directions that you hadn’t previously imagined.

I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman

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Joe Edelman

Joe Edelman is an award winning Photographer, Author, and "No Bull" Photo Educator.  Follow this link to learn more about Joe or view his portfolio. Please be sure to connect on the social media platforms below.
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