The Science of Lighting Design and Its Effect on Apparel Photography

ECommerce and fashion photography can be as simple yet effective with the right lighting setup and design. Lighting plays a major role in building your composition and elevating the product details in focus. Building the perfect lighting design for fashion photography may appear tedious, but investing in photography lighting can pave the way for incredible eCommerce images that aptly represent your brand. 

The science behind lighting backgrounds is rather simple, but manipulating different light sources and props and using them together can result in interesting visual effects in apparel photography. It is important to learn about all the different ways you can use your equipment and lighting props to create intentional aesthetic effects in your pictures while ensuring a well-lit background. 

How Lighting Design Works in Fashion Photography

Lighting design is the placement and application of lighting equipment, such as light sources (mono lights, strobe lights, natural light), backlights, diffusers, and other props to create the desired lighting effect and image composition. Depending on your brand, eCommerce photography may require you to focus specifically on the product or you may need to develop on-model imagery that keeps the focus on the apparel. 

Keeping your light source right in front of the object will most likely yield flat images. Placing the light source at an angle would result in shadows and highlights, which can be controlled by changing the angles. Harsh shadows are often frowned upon in eCommerce photography because they create a moody and emotional effect and can take the focus away from the product. This is why photographers need to pay extra attention to the positioning of lights to ensure the exact effect and focus that is needed for your campaign or eCommerce imagery.

Understanding Different Types of Lights

Not all light sources have the same quality or effect when used for professional product photography. Understanding different types of lights and their specific qualities can help you choose the appropriate option for your photoshoot and create impactful images. 

Soft Light vs Hard Light

A soft light source emits diffused light that creates fewer shadows and lights up the environment in all directions. Hard light, on the other hand, creates stark shadows and harsh images, usually not preferred for fashion photography. Using light diffusers can be effective for softening the light when working with a single hard light source. Diffusers disperse the light to produce a soft light effect. 

Using Multiple Light Sources

Professional photographers often work with more than one light source to focus on the product while building the right balance between shadows and light. Strobe light photography often involves using two light sources at 45-degree angles on each side of the camera, resulting in softer shadows.

A sidelight can be introduced in this setup to shoot on-model images and portraits. The three lights create an evenly lit atmosphere with a sidelight or backlight to add depth to the image. 

Using Light Reflectors and Umbrellas

Light reflectors allow photographers to change the angle of the light by reflecting it. Reflectors help you to create the desired shadows and depth and build contrast as needed for the image, however, they can be very hard and harsh with the shadows. 

Photography umbrellas are common equipment used in professional studios and come in silver or white. Umbrellas are used with the light to reflect it back as a softer and directional light on the model or product.

Experiment with Lighting Techniques

Using different lighting techniques and designs will yield specific results in your fashion photo shoot. Depending on your photography needs, you can create images with softer background and depth, or you can create bright white background images that focus directly on the model and the product, keeping the colors vibrant. 

Working with a White Background

A white background is a safe bet for most fashion eCommerce photoshoots, but many brands prefer neutral backgrounds to add depth to the images. Some fashion brands even prefer using bright backdrops to create a distinct aesthetic for their eCommerce photography. Creating spectacular white background on-model imagery requires controlling the light coming from the backlight source. Reflectors can be used to direct the light away from the model and light the background evenly.


Working with a Single Light Source

Working with a single light source can yield beautiful images when combined with reflectors. A mono light can be used with a diffuser such as a softbox or octabox to build a strong yet soft light source. Reflectors on each side will ensure light fills the sides and everything is lit evenly. 

This technique can help photographers achieve stunning on-model imagery that focuses on the product but also adds aesthetic appeal to the final image. 


Adding an umbrella with the light source can produce a beautifully lit background. The directional bright light from the umbrella can be reflected by using a reflector to create an illuminating effect perfect for on-model and portraits. 

Working with Natural Light

We cannot forget about the most abundant source of light – the sun. Natural light can be excellent for fashion photography and many brands shoot outside to create contextual commercial imagery that aligns with their brand image. Working with natural light is similar to working with studio lighting, except that in natural light, you move the subject and not the light source.

Reflectors can be a good addition when shooting in natural light and can be used to direct the light in a specific direction and have more control on it. Playing with different angles is key when working with natural light – you can create softer shadows and diffused lighting when the sunlight isn’t direct, like on a cloudy day. Direct sunlight at noon is not preferred for photography because it results in harsh shadows and hard light.

Lighting is the Backbone of Fashion Photography

Lighting plays a key role in your image composition and needs to be prioritized when trying to create eCommerce fashion imagery. Planning your setup and lighting design beforehand results in intentional visual effects and aesthetics, and allows photographers to have more control over contrast, shadows, and other important qualities.

Not to mention, it can save a lot of time and effort in the post-production process, while yielding impactful images that convert and delight your website visitors. Powerful photography solutions such as FlixStudio are leveraging AI to offer catalog and eCommerce-ready on-model images at a fraction of the cost and time compared to traditional photoshoots. 

The AI-driven platform offers faster turnaround times – as little as 48 hours, to produce hundreds of catalog on-model images at one-fourth the cost of traditional photoshoots. 


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Arunava Acharjee

(Product Marketing Manager)