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Style Setter: Lighting Fashion Shows

Posted on May 24, 2017

Fashion shows are stepping out beyond the runways of New York, Paris, and Milan. Once the province of the haute couture set, they have become popular fundraising events for charities everywhere, creating new opportunities for lighting designers who work far from chic style centers.
Justin Haas, owner of AMP’D Lighting and Audio Visual has built an extensive portfolio lighting charity fashion shows in and around his Spokane, WA market. We’ve been impressed with his work, so we’ve asked him to share some of his insights with us.

How do you highlight the models in a fashion show without having light spill over and blind the people in the front row?
“That is always a challenge when you light fashion shows, but it is one that is always manageable with the right fixtures and a little planning. I rely on ellipsoidals utilizing the shutter and Fresnels with barn doors to keep the light where I want it and not where I don’t, so it lights the models and not the audience.”

You have models of various complexions, how do you get a color temperature that flatters them all?
“The optimal range is 3,050K – 3,200K. This has always been my preferred go to color temperature for fashion shows, non-profits and conferences. In my opinion it isn’t as harsh as 5,500K – 6,500K.”

Photo: James & Kathy Mangis Photography

How far from the runway do you like to position ellipsoidals?
“I wish I had the luxury to answer that question! Most of the time we don’t have a choice where we put ellipsoidals. We have a very wide variety of different sized lenses to achieve the desired coverage from almost any distance.”

Do you make changes in your lighting brightness, color temp, positioning, etc. during a show to accommodate for different costumes or props?
“We like to keep the runway lights on the whole time and use specials, such as LED Wash lighting or moving lights with gobo breakups or iris effects, to light props and different costumes or costume pieces. This gives you a consistent look overall, but still allows you to highlight key moments.”

Most shows are photographed and videoed, so how does this affect your lighting decisions?
“Well one time I had a photographer setup an 8’ ladder right in front of the end of the runway blocking a lot of my front lighting, casting a shadow on the stage. The biggest concern when doing these fashion shows is making sure the person in charge knows to communicate with the other vendors that obstructing views and blocking our lighting is a NO-NO.

“We now like to make a recommendation to set up a media platform next to front of house where photographers or video personnel can utilize to get the shots they need. They are still welcomed to walk around, but their equipment is set up on this platform. Our Lighting design doesn’t get affected by the photographers and the video teams. They work around our lighting. As far as our lighting goes, I think if you’re lighting the show well, it works out fine for photographers.”

Do you take the architectural elements of a room into account when designing for a fashion show?
“Yes, we do look at the room architecture. We try to utilize pillars and columns to display lighting on. We once put fake windows on a wall, using gobos, and it looked like there were windows to the outside. It was kind of a cool effect. Hanging chandeliers sometimes hinder our lighting design and we have to work around those, especially since it would be easy for light to reflect off the chandeliers and really disrupt our light design.”

We know you’ve also lit areas of rooms outside the runaway for fashion shows. Any advice on lighting these spaces without conflicting with the runway lighting?
“When I light the rest of the room, I like to use gobos and colors that are used in the show so the rest of the room blends into the show and brings the whole thing together.”

Going beyond the basics of illuminating the runway, are there things you can do with lighting to make fashion shows more exciting?
“Yes – you can use effects, such as moving lights, beam effects, pixel effects. These are also such a huge part of the design element, not just runway lighting. It helps get the guests excited which engages them more and makes them remember the clothes they liked the most.

“Also, when it comes to fashion shows, I have done shows that don’t have a theme and they are so boring… you have to pick a theme and stick with it. Get with the design team, event planner, and LD, and spend some time brainstorming. The more planning there is, the better.”