I shoot photos for a personal men's fashion blog. Which means frequently photographing dark navy and grey suits with white shirts. I'm having trouble exposing the photo so that the details of the weave of the suiting fabric is present without having to overexpose the fabric (overexposing throws off the fidelity of color). Either the model's shirt is overexposed or blown out or the suit he is wearing is too dark or very little detail.

I have less trouble getting a good exposure in filtered sunlight but in my home studio, I shoot in a darkened room in aperture priority mode. Using CFL lighting or flash causes the most amount of problem for me.

I shoot with a cropped sensor DSLR and in RAW.

What techniques or approaches should I try?


2 Answers 2


First, forget about anything priority. Shoot in manual mode so that you have actual control over the exposure. A change of pose should never change your exposure, and autoexposure is very good at making that happen. If the model (or the clothing) remains the same distance from the light, you can meter with your camera by taking an frame-filling shot of the suit/jacket. Consult the histogram, but don't be afraid to go by what you actually see on the back of the camera.

Let the fill light determine the colour and tone of the suit, and use a relatively harsh/hard light at a significant off-axis angle to highlight both the shape/cut/drape of the clothing and the texture of the fabric. (And by significant, I mean start at 45 degrees and work towards 90.) Yes, some of the fabric will wind up above its average tone. That's perfectly okay; that happens in the real world too. Just make sure you aren't using enough light to make everything look like sharkskin. You don't have to blast it into oblivion, a half-stop to a stop over the "ambient" will do to establish both shape and texture.

By establishing the "body tone" with relatively flat, soft light (a seven foot parabolic reflector umbrella is perfect for this sort of thing, but a five-footer or a V-flat will do the job and may be quite a bit cheaper) you can also control the light on the troublesome white shirt. (We almost never used white shirts for punchy commercial shots in the film days; we'd grey them slightly to bring them within the film's latitude. For real people wearing their own clothing, we'd have to use a low-contrast print film like Vericolor III or let dark colours disappear into blocked shadow.) Add a kicker, and with a little work on the positioning and posing, you also get sharp, angular and thoroughly masculine facial lighting.

Yes, you can shoot flat and artificially raise the texture and pattern using high-pass sharpening, and no doubt somebody is going to suggest doing just that sooner or later. What you will wind up with is boring photography with obviously oversharpened fabric. Put some time into figuring out a simple lighting strategy and you get much more dramatic photography while still presenting the clothing well. "Catalog" lighting is for people with catalog production schedules. It will only take a couple of hours of play time to take these two or three basic lights (big fill, small key, optional small kicker) to find something that will work for your studio/shooting space, your camera and your blog.


If latitude of image is too wide to properly expose both dark and bright areas at the same time, use HDR mapping.

Proper 14/16bit RAW file already contains all the information you need - in one file - to map the values and produce a good looking, balanced image that shows well on today's 8-bit computer monitors.


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