Shoot Breakdowns

Sci-Fi Inspired Four Light Fashion Portrait Tutorial

Shoot Breakdown

What can we create with four strobes, some blue gels, a big fan, and a gorgeous model with incredible eyes? Two unique sci-fi fashion portraits. I’m going to show you how I did it and share with you why it’s important to emotionally LET GO of your work once you show it to other people.

Here is a shot that I did recently while getting acclimated to my new Olympus camera gear and Interfit lighting equipment.
Like many of my shots, the real credit for this one goes to my makeup artist. Her awesome makeup combined with an amazing set of eyes on a beautiful model – how could I go wrong?

This shot is really about the makeup and the amazing amount of detail that was involved and about the incredible eyes that this young model has, so I wanted to keep it simple and clean.

The Setup

Monae with Claire, Soft box hanging from ceiling

The lighting setup is what I would call intermediate skill level. In front of the model, I have one Interfit Honey Badger mounted on a boom arm and modified with the Interfit 24in. Pop-up Softbox with the baffle and front diffuser in place. You can see above that I have this placed directly in front of and above her. I also have a white Walmart reflector below her and just out of frame to create a soft clamshell lighting effect.

My model is seated on a posing stool about 8 ft. in front of a white Savage Seamless Paper Background and behind her I have two more Honey Badgers mounted one on either side and above, both with 30 degree honeycombs and blue gels in place. You can see the barn doors – they are just part of the light mod that holds my filters and honeycombs – so they are having no impact on the shot. I used honeycombs to narrow the light spread because I have my model placed about 5 ft. in front of the gelled lights. I didn’t want to risk any light spilling into my lens and creating flair while I was shooting.

LightRoom digital rendering of setup

Last I have the fourth Honey Badger mounted on a Baby Pin floor stand like the ones I talk about in this video on the same topic. I have a 7 in. reflector and a dark blue gel on this strobe that is set about 3 ft. in front of the background and aimed up so that the hot spot is directly behind my models head.

The Pose

Because the makeup is very symmetrical I knew walking onto the set that I wanted the model looking straight ahead – but I also knew that I didn’t want everything in the image to be square to the camera. So I had the model push her left shoulder forward without turning her whole body. This gives me the diagonal line on camera right that leads up to her face and the nice flowing curve of her neck and shoulder on camera left.

Claire with blue makeup first of fashion portraits square

The gear

This shot was made with an Olympus E-M1 Mark II and the new 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/5.6.


The final image 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. BTW, the blue tint on her skin is NOT post production – that is from the rim lights with the blue gels. I did enhance the color a bit, but it was already in the original shot.

You could of course also do this shot with four speedlights. And it would look equally as cool if you did a traditional clamshell light with the softboxes stacked, one on the top and one on the bottom. If you wanted more drama and defined shadows, a beauty dish would be the way to go.

The Second Shot

You know I always promote the idea of “work your shot.” Don’t assume that your first idea is your best idea. So I wanted to explore this a bit more by adding some material. Our first idea was to drape some blue tulle over the model’s head – but this felt a little too much like a hood for my taste so I decided to set up a fan on the floor behind my model, aimed upwards at the ceiling. I took an 8 ft. length of sheer blue material and clipped it in the middle to the back of the models tube top. Then I used the fan to blow the material up behind my model.

Claire with material behind her, Joe off to the side

This fan technique takes a little practice to reach a point where you can get predictable results. I had my makeup artist positioned in front of the model, behind the camera, to coach the model on head positioning and facial expressions. I worked from behind the model on camera right manipulating the material and triggering the camera with a wireless remote control.

It was important to position myself in a way that I wasn’t in the shot, but I was still able to control the material and wasn’t blocking the light from the camera right rim light behind the model.

Exposure settings were the same for this shot as they were the first one.


This image also required very little post production. I did eliminate the stitching in the blue material and use a little Gaussian blur to remove the texture of the material so that it wouldn’t become a distraction.

The result:

Claire with Tulle behind her head second of fashion portraits

There is only ONE Best Shot

Yes – I am a firm believer that there is only one best shot. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing people show off their work by showing 15 images that are all clearly shot at the same time. The more of those images that you look at the less impressed you are.

That said – I wound up with TWO very different photos, and each had elements that I really liked. There have been times that I have kept TWO versions of an image and used them for different purposes. Indeed, in this case, the image on the left is square – well suited for Instagram or even a magazine cover, while the image on the right is horizontal and well suited for a Facebook timeline cover or post or even a two page spread in a magazine. So I decided to post both shots on Facebook and Instagram and ask people which one they prefer and why.

The result was an excellent illustration of another lesson that I frequently give to new photographers. As an artist, you have to do what you do to the best of your ability and do it in a way that you are motivated by and satisfied by. You then have to be gutsy enough to share it with the world and understand that NOBODY else will have exactly the same experience with the image as you did creating it. And that’s okay.

Needless to say, I got a great response from my followers and it was split almost 50 /50. So I wanted to read you just a few of the hundreds of votes that I got so that you could better understand how somebody else might see and experience something completely different than you do – and that’s okay too.

Rhonda commented: I like the square one. Simplicity is often best. I think the material behind detracts from her face.

Kiko explained: I would go for the horizontal image because it shows more emotion that in a way communicates with the audience. The space between her lips and the squint in her eyes is something that lets me connect with the image.

Derrick countered with: I would say the square one. I think her eyes get lost by the fabric.. yes I know the fabric is not covering her eyes. But my attention is more captivated by her eyes in the the square shot. And I like the mouth closed in that one as well.

Jim voted: The horizontal one. The Eyes are a bit more alluring. The Flow of the material adds to it. And the slightly parted lips are more interesting as well.

Steve explains: The square gets my vote. The model looks more assertive. I prefer the skin tone too. Also the bones around the neck flatter the model more than the fabric in the other image. The shoulder position in the square image gives the impression that the model has turned her attention to something or someone.

There you have just five of the several hundred comments that I got about which picture is best. None of them are wrong. All of them are the personal experiences that people had with my photo.

As a photographer this is a great way to learn about your own work and how others perceive it. Certainly, you know what you intended, and you know why you did the things that you did, but when you show your photo to someone else, their experience is their own. As a photographer, you have no control over it… or do you?

I like to think that I have some control. I told you before that I wanted to show off the makeup and the eyes, and to use symmetry to really hold the viewer’s attention. I explained in the first shot that I used the pushed shoulder to create the diagonal line that leads to the face, and in the second shot I was looking for shape in the material that would frame the face and draw attention to it.

Each result had a different effect for different people. But if you read through all of the comments, overwhelmingly people noticed the model’s eyes – which is always my goal.

Which is my favorite? I am still torn. I love the material on the second shot, but I think part of that is because I know how hard it was to get the material to behave like that. The square shot with its simplicity is more along the lines of what I would usually pick. So I will keep both finished images available and use them independently, but, in the future, never together at the same time.

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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