How I Got the Shot – Scott Kelby Collaborating on a Fashion Photo Shoot

Posted by: on Oct 16, 2017

How I Got the Shot – Scott Kelby Collaborating on a Fashion Photo Shoot

Bio: Scott Kelby is a photographer, award-winning author and the original “Photoshop Guy” as well as the CEO of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. Connect with Scott online at and follow him on Instagram at @scottkelby.


One of the best things about insisting that in all your instructional books you use all your own photography is that it gives you a great excuse to have to shoot a lot in a short amount of time. This is especially true when it’s a 500+ page book, and you have to fill every page with images you’ve never used before. That was the case with the latest update of my Adobe Photoshop CC book, and one of the photo projects I did for the book was a fashion shoot, staged in an empty warehouse in Tampa, Florida and for this shoot, we flew in New York City-based fashion model Kristina Lezhepekova.

We wanted to maximize our time with Kristina and create three totally different looks. On shoots of this size, I bring in Kalebra to do all the styling (she really has a gift for that) and then I can concentrate on the lighting and work with the subject. Kalebra used, an NYC-based service that lets you rent high-end fashion clothing for a fraction of the cost of buying it, and she found three different looks there that would work for our shoot.

Once Kalebra found the outfits and had them shipped, she had three different wigs designed locally for the looks we were trying to achieve. She put together a hair and makeup team, and we had three assistants (and a couple of friends) helping us on the shoot because we knew we had to cover a lot in a short time. That’s also why we chose the warehouse – so we’d have enough room to set up multiple backgrounds and sets. Plus, we’d have enough room for a hair/makeup area, an area for wardrobe, and room for a video crew to work and capture the behind-the-scenes videos clips, which would also be used in the book in the chapter on creating videos right within Photoshop itself. This is a much larger crew than normal (usually it’s just me, Kalebra and one assistant, and sometimes a single hair/makeup artist, but again, we were trying to do a lot in a little time, and extra hands help things go a lot faster on the set).

Our first shoot used a Victorian look dress and wig. I found a chair-rail look backdrop by going to Google and typing “chair rail backdrop, ” and I found an online retailer that had it in stock, so I ordered it on the spot. Spoiler alert — to save a few bucks on an already expensive shoot, I ordered a backdrop that was only 5-feet wide (I could have chosen one up to 12’ feet wide). Huge mistake, and I ate up a lot of time trying to make sure we didn’t see the edges of the backdrop in the shot, and it wound up being a big time-suck. Whatever I saved in money buying the shorter width backdrop, I lost on taking way too much time trying to stay within that small width. Lesson learned.


Setup and Lighting

In general, I try to keep my lighting really simple, so I can set it up, get it looking good, and then stop messing with it so I can focus on working and interacting with my subject. When you’re messing with the lights, and tweaking them all the time, I feel it usually takes you further and further away from your goal, because when you’re messing with the lights, you’re losing contact and engagement with your subject.

For this shoot, I used my favorite softbox of all time —  the Elinchrom Rotalux 74” Indirect OctaBank (Elinchrom doesn’t make this particular model anymore — they replaced it with their Litemotiv 190cm Parabolic Softbox. Still 74” but much deeper and shaped more like what you’re seeing used in high-end fashion these days).

Anyway, I used this glorious 74” softbox for the first two shots. It’s so big and beautiful — sending a wall of gorgeous wrapping light at anything you aim it at. On this shoot I wanted the light even softer so I put my subject near the back edge of the light, feathering it so the light that falls on her is from the outside edge of the softbox, making it as soft as possible. After a few test shots, I brought in a white 8-foot tall v-flat reflector on the opposite side of her (and the light) because I wanted to bounce some of that light back toward her to make sure we lit the dress fully from both sides. The side of the dress opposite side of the light was getting a little too dark for fashion work (though I think it would have been fine for portrait work, where I don’t mind strong shadows on the opposite side).

To keep the white chair rail backdrop looking crisp white (and not a dirty gray), I put an Elinchrom BRX-500 strobe down low with a bare bulb and a wide pan reflector to help fill that background evenly with light.

The backdrop for this image is a 10’x24’ Savage Reversible Dark Gray Washed Muslin Backdrop I found at B&H Photo (and being 10’ wide really made this 2nd shoot a lot easier from that perspective). It was only $119, which for a backdrop this size and quality I felt was a really good deal (and I’ve used it many times since this shoot, so it’s more than paid for itself).

The final shoot for this project had Kristina dressed in a black feathered outfit with a beaded headpiece on a black seamless paper background. This was going to be more of a head-and-shoulders type shot, so instead of using a huge softbox, I went with a single strobe with a 17” beauty dish, and a diffusion sock over the beauty dish to soften the light a bit. The beauty is placed at about a 45° angle to the subject.

Now, we knew that between each of these three shoots we’d have a lot of time standing around doing nothing. Since we had two sets already in place and lots of assistants, we decided to have a local model come in, and we’d do some beauty style headshots. Our hair stylist had a “bob-style” wig in three different colors, so we did that shoot in-between the main shoot. Whew!

The lighting set-up looks more complicated than is it — it’s a pretty standard ‘clam-shell’ lighting set-up, with a little twist — there’s one large softbox behind her which sends some light forward to help sculpt the jawline and add an edge light. Since it’s aimed toward my camera position, I tilt this softbox back at a 45° angle (or more), so I don’t get lens flare. Another benefit of this backlight is that it creates a solid white background behind her. The main light, placed directly in front of her, is a 17” beauty dish with diffusion sock aiming down at a 45° angle. To fill in the shadows under her eyes and neck, is a 24”x24” softbox down low, aiming up at her at a 45° angle, and I shoot in the gap between those two lights.


Shooting Tethered

I used the same camera and lens throughout all three shoots: A Canon 1Dx (way overkill for a shoot like this — I normally use a Canon 5D Mark IV, don’t quite know why I grabbed the 1Dx, an action/sports camera, but of course, it did the job splendidly). My go-to lens is my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, and I’m usually shooting at the long end of the lens, around 150-200mm to get that nice flattering lens compression, and that’s why you see me standing back so far in the behind-the-scenes video.

I’m shooting tethered directly into Lightroom (anytime I’m shooting indoors or even on location if, at all possible, I shoot tethered). Seeing the images on my 15” laptop at that large size (rather than on the tiny 3” display on the back of my camera) I feel gives me a huge advantage in evaluating the lighting, sharpness, focus, and expression. It keeps from getting surprises later when I open the images on my computer and find that perhaps that a key shot isn’t as sharp as I thought it was, or the expression isn’t as on the money as it seemed like on the back of the camera. When I can see the images large like this, live while I’m still shooting, I can really access the images in real time and if something’s not right, I can re-shoot right then — while everybody’s still there; everything’s still in place, and I’m still in ‘the zone.’

The 2nd shoot of the day was the most fun and took the most extra hands because one of the dresses Kalebra rented (a bright red flowing gown) had four 8-foot long trains extending from it (which is what attracted Kalebra to it in the first place). We decided to put a high-powered fan on the floor under the dress to blow the four trains up into the air. Then I would try to time it just right to capture the dress in the air at an interesting position, while at the same time that had to correspond with the look/pose/emotion coming from our model. Unfortunately, that fan alone just wasn’t enough to get the dress really up in the air like we were hoping. So, we got the hair and makeup team to help our two assistants, and we had the four of them toss the dress into the air and then literally jump back out of the scene so I could take the shot. It was a bit of a calamity getting the timing down (and it took a few minutes between each shot to regroup and have everybody re-gather their leg of the train, stop giggling, and toss the dress up at the right time again and again), but it worked way better than the fan.

It took some tries to get the timing of both the dress and the model down, but when you see things really starting to come together, it inspires everybody and keeps the energy high on the set, so nobody was complaining, and everybody was laughing, and dancing in-between takes. As for the dancing: I always play music on the set, at a pretty decently loud volume, to help create a fun mood for the team. I ask the model choose the music style because if you pick the music, instead of the model, it might help you get in the zone, but he/she — the subject of your shoot, probably won’t be, so I always let them choose their favorite genre. When your model is having fun, everybody’s having fun, and that translates into better images. Pandora Radio or Apple Music are both great as a source for music on set. If your model says, “I like hip-hop,” (or they like country or rap; club music, or classic rock), you can just pick that genre, and then Pandora (or Apple Music) take over and become your on-set DJ.

We had the whole thing wrapped in four hours, and all in all, we wound up with six different looks total from our two models, and we had behind-the-scenes footage I could use for my chapter on video in Photoshop. All-in-all, a really fun, productive shoot.

Thanks for letting me share “How I Got the Shot” with you. A quick shout out to the folks at Tether Tools, who create such wonderful, useful, and thoughtfully designed tools for photographers. They are helping us make better images, and I’m very grateful I found them.

To download this guide and 14 more How I Got the Shot guides, download version 3 of the How I Got the Shot Guide. Each educational article features a different image, behind-the-scenes video, as well as a detailed breakdown of how the shot was made.