How I Shot These Rooftop Fashion Images

I shot these images for fashion ecommerce store Zilingo when we were doing a recent campaign/catalog shoot. What a fun team to shoot with! They really have a vision for what they want to pull off and are very supportive in terms of getting there. 

That being said and outside the control of anyone involved, Zilingo included, we were on an incredibly tight schedule where after the catalog shoot, I had to set up and photograph the campaign within 30 minutes before the sun set. Sadly there still isn’t any gear that I’m aware of which can outright control the sun. Pity! This meant I had to use a very simple setup.

Right after the catalog was shot in studio, we quickly rushed up to the rooftop which is always a fun mix of cardio and weight training when you get to run with gear in hand! Fun, right? During the planning, we had imagined a beautiful golden hour lighting plus slightly dramatic skies. If possible I would have liked to shoot it in just natural light with a reflector. However the weather was not on our side and the sky was slightly uninspiring. The sun was also quickly setting which made my very limited time even more limited. 

On the one hand I could choose to complain about this but there really is nothing we can do to control the environment so in my experience a huge part of the artistic scene is of course having a plan but absolutely knowing how to adjust on the fly when that plan runs into issues.

Equipment List

Lighting Setup

Seeing how flat the natural light was at the angle I was shooting from, I decided to use my Profoto A1 fitted with small translucent umbrella to give a little more pop to the image. I initially wanted to add another reflector below the umbrella to lighten up some of the shadows but unfortunately the windy situation on the rooftop prevented it from being a possibility. Even handling the umbrella was already difficult. There’s that whole thing about having a plan or an idea and adjusting on the fly. I'm not trying to pat myself on the back but rather aiming to emphasize how absolutely critical it is to do so when needed! Already with the Profoto A1 and umbrella, I had my assistant to hold it instead of relying on a light stand as the wind made that too risky for my taste.


I initially wanted to preserve the natural sky so I shot darker than I would have liked. Due to being unable to lighten the shadows as much as I wanted with a reflector, I brought up the shadows quite a bit through Capture One. I also replaced the skies in the photos with images in Mike Kelley’s Ultimate Sky Library. Lastly, I finished off with some color grading using Pratik Naik’s Infinite Colour Panel.

After basic editing:

Sky replacement:

Colour grading:


It was fairly challenging to achieve what I had in mind and it included additional post work that I would have preferred not to do but it’s always good to know what steps can be taken to help achieve a good end product if ever needed. Have a plan and try to execute it but ultimately you have to work with what you have available and that is a philosophy I try to bring with me to every shoot Im working on. 

Photographer: Shavonne Wong 

Model: Lily Mezokozy, Mannequin Studio, Tereza Smejkalova, AVE Management

Makeup: Christian Maranion

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davidlovephotog's picture

Why even go to a rooftop if you're just going to swap the sky? May as well stay in the studio where the models are more comfortable and you have more control.

Daniel Medley's picture


rodney simba masarirambi's picture

nodding head.gif....

Shavonne Wong's picture

Seems like I wasn't as clear as I would like to be in my article, apologies. The plan was to shoot on the rooftop and retain the natural sky.
However I don't know about you guys but my life is unfortunate in the sense that sometimes, things actually don't go according to plan. There wasn't any more time to change the plan either but I generally like giving my clients photos that have non-boring skies so this was what I had to do.
But hey, if I had a portable always accurate psychic telling me when the weather is shit, I will definitely take your advice and shoot in studio (:

michaeljin's picture

"But hey, if I had a portable always accurate psychic telling me when the weather is shit, I will definitely take your advice and shoot in studio (:"

RadarScope could help a bit in this regard.

Shavonne Wong's picture

Hmm I think RadarScope would be useful to tell if it's raining and for how long etc. I don't think it'll look tooooo different for the sky in my original shot and the sky in the replacement. The replacement just had nicer, prettier clouds.

michaeljin's picture

Well, that's true. There's no real way to tell what the exact cloud formations will be without visual confirmation. That being said, a lot of landscape photographers will use RadarScope because it'll give them information that they can use in addition to their knowledge about general weather trends to help plan their shoots. Nothing involving weather is 100% and any shoot depending on it is a roll of the dice, but I think that's about as good as you're likely to get... :/

Alex Herbert's picture

Yeah, if you were a landscape photographer and you had a whole day to wait for the exact right cloud formation to settle overhead then I can see how checking the weather would be useful. But I'm pretty sure any weather app would tell you both of those skies are 'slightly overcast'. I think you did a brilliant job with what was available. And I'm willing to bet that your 'fake' sky looks a lot more natural in the image than lighting them in a studio and pasting in a sky would have.

Motti Bembaron's picture

No, not in this case. The photographer has a point, visually appealing sky is not something any app can tell you.

michaeljin's picture

What's not the case?

Motti Bembaron's picture

The app (or any app) cannot tell you if the sky will be ideal for a photo shoot. It can tell you if it's cloudy, rainy etc. but that is not always helpful. Also, the client's requirements are first. If that's what they wanted then what can be done?

michaeljin's picture

I didn't say it would solve her problems. I said it could help, which it would. If it's cloudy, then it's a pretty safe bet that the sky isn't going to be very pretty. The same thing if it's raining. Right before rain or right after rain, however, there's a fairly safe chance that the sky will be interesting if not beautiful. Similarly, if the app shows zero cloud cover, you can expect that the light is going to be harsh and go up with the equipment to deal with it.

No, there's no 100% guarantee and in the end you need visual confirmation, but if your app shows you immense cloud cover over the building, it saves you, more models, and your clients a trip up to the rooftop.

Motti Bembaron's picture

You are still depending on the client's schedule and requests. I worked in situations which I thought a studio would be much better but did not want to push the issue too much. After all, they hired me.

I also believe that in this case, studio setting would have been ten times better but hey if the client is happy...

michaeljin's picture

If you're depending on the client's schedule and requests and you have no say in it, then it would be irrelevant even if you had an app that COULD tell you exactly what the aesthetic conditions of the sky are. At very least being informed allows you to be better prepared to deal with your clients requests and perhaps she would have gone up to the roof with something other than an A1 and an umbrella. Then again, perhaps not. If I have a tool that can give me a better idea of what to expect so that I don't have to go in completely blind, I'll take it all day long even if it's not 100% accurate.

Motti Bembaron's picture

That's exactly what I am saying. If you are dependant on client's schedule and requests, very little you can do, right? Everyone here seems to criticize her for not doing what THEY THINK is better.

We all know the tools we can have for photography, a compass app, a sunset app, an app telling us where the sun will set in different times and different locations etc. In the end, we can only advise the client. The decision is ultimately theirs.

Shavonne Wong's picture

The sky that I replaced with was cloudy too but much prettier so saying ". If it's cloudy, then it's a pretty safe bet that the sky isn't going to be very pretty." is not exactly accurate. (:

Daniel Medley's picture

You raise a good point.

John W's picture

She didn't go to the rooftop with an intention to swap the sky. She swapped the sky because she was already there with the models and client and had to work with what was there. Gosh, people can be so dense.

davidlovephotog's picture

You liked your own comment didn't you?

Shavonne Wong's picture

I did.

Deleted Account's picture

Just me, or is this more basic than basic? Sorry, it's pretty much a non-content post. :/

Shavonne Wong's picture

I’m sorry this article wasn’t for you, I was writing for the photographer I was years ago, a beginner. A stage I was pretty sure everybody went through but clearly not! Please link me to your next article submission. Can't wait to read it.

michaeljin's picture

I think that the photographer you were years ago, a beginner, might have appreciated a bit more detail in regard to the "how" part rather than the rather lengthy description of how chaotic the shoot was. Stuff like "Where did you position more models in relation to the sun and why?", "Where did you position the light and why?", "How did you determine what power setting you would use on the light?", "Why use an umbrella instead of a reflector or softbox of some sort?". Stuff like that would be useful. This is a bit more of a story of overcoming adversity rather than something really instructive.

For full disclosure, I might actually be that photographer at this juncture in my life. I've mostly done real estate photography for money and street photography on the side as a hobby. My experience photographing people has largely been corporate headshots, which are pretty formulaic and snapshots of my family so stuff like this would actually be informative as I've been getting more interested in lighting and photographing people.

Shavonne Wong's picture

Haha I'm not a technical photographer by any length and many decisions I make are based on, "ooh this looks nice!".
Was also generally trying to show how far a change of sky + color grading can help improve an image too but fine feedback. Will need to generally think of how the describe the decisions I make on intuition (:

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

More articles like this please, not less :) I have a secret habit of trying to deconstruct how images were shot and lit in my head, so this was the perfect article for someone like me, even you think the information may have been a bit too "basic."

Shavonne Wong's picture

Will do! And that's a great habit to have! I do that as a weirdo in front of huge posters while in malls and airports wondering how it's lit haha.

Glem Let's picture

It’s refreshing to see Ms. Wong writing an original article about what she has created rather than people posting links to YouTube vids,

The soft diffused light often found on the equator is very nice to work with and expensive to replicate indoors, you need a ton of lights and a ton of space..

The light on the roof is free..

Also, Shavonne is working for a team of people who know what they want, and a big part of being a pro is listening to what your clients want and delivering it, despite what ‘might’ be best.

Often ‘new’ fashion retailers have loads of great ideas and they contribute to take imagery forward, however, that shot is very ‘Instagram’ and hopefully is used to inspire purchases but you also need colour accurate boring info shots... why..? To keep the mail order returns to a minimum, if the colours of the garments in the promo pic are way off compared to the real item, things will sometimes be returned.

To make a profit and stay in business a fashion brand needs the headliner shots and the boring info shots... more work for photographers which is a good thing.


Shavonne Wong's picture

Glad you understand Glem! Appreciate your support (:

Dana Cole's picture

the images look great !
Awesome article Shavonne

Shavonne Wong's picture

Thank you Dana 😘

michaeljin's picture

So as I understand it, you essentially went to the rooftop for a shoot and the only thing you did was use a speedlight and umbrella to augment the sunlight from the direction it was already coming from? The description was a bit confusing...

Shavonne Wong's picture

The sun came on the right so my light was actually on the left for fill!

michaeljin's picture

Ok, that makes more sense. ^^;;

Matthias Dengler's picture

The flesh tones became all red. Liked it more before the grading.

Shavonne Wong's picture

Colour grading is quite subjective but sure, thanks for your thoughts! (:

Dan Howell's picture

honestly my first reaction when I saw the shots was: didn't your client have a problem with the crop of the photos? You mentioned that it was e-commerce and catalog. Don't you need to actually show the clothes for a catalog shot? Not to detract from your technical information presentation, but I think it is important to convey that there are parameters for certain types of professional photography.

Frankly, it is more difficult to take a compelling full-length fashion photo than it is to take a cropped shot. I have faced this on numerous fashion catalog shoot. It is definitely easier when you can narrow the scope of an image, but I have found on some catalog shoots clients want to see the skirts/slack and shoes of an outfit, if not on every view, at least so they can make the selection or have options for different views. Working professionally is not only about the technique of the capture, it is at least as much taking your client's needs into account.

Shavonne Wong's picture

This photographs were meant for the campaign, not the catalog so it's aim was more to capture the mood and vibe of the brand!
Examples are like the images below, was was a campaign for a brand named Carven that isn't even in focus, and another for Tom Ford where the the mood of the shot is a bigger factor than showing each and every outfit clearly.

If this was the catalog shoot, it will definitely be shot a lot differently. However for this brand, they just wanted the clean white background images for their catalog, which was shot right before this.

Mark Fa'amaoni's picture

An entire article on the "out-of-focus" image would be a great read :) As photographers we tend to focus on working through the checklist: as Dan said "show the outfit", "don't crop at the joints", yet ticking the boxes often misses the point. The photo for Carven absolutely works. It sets the mood and the tone. But unless I was specifically directed to do this it never would have occured to me that this could have worked. I'm now curious as to how the idea was conceived, did you pitch it or did they?

Shavonne Wong's picture

Oh it's not shot by me! Sorry if that wasn't clear!! But yeah takes a brave and creative client to go ahead with that.

Jairo Melara's picture

Snoozefest 😴😴😴💤💤

John W's picture


Shavonne Wong's picture

Hope you had a great nap!

Brandon Ericksen's picture

Sky replacement? Did you consider taking a picture of the sky in the frame without the models, then with and making a composite? Or did you find out the sky wasn’t recoverable in post? I apologize in advance if it seems I’m badgering I’m a cream puff who’s just getting started and I’m wondering if blown skies are gonna be something I have to look out for.. I noticed you used a 5Dsr (a camera I might buy if I don’t go with a Pentax Medium format) would something like a Nikon D850 or Sony A99MK2 with greater dynamic range have helped?

Shavonne Wong's picture

I did actually take some shots of the sky without the models and was planning to use them too. However I also just got my hands on Mike Kelley's Sky Library and he had prettier skies so I figured why not. 😂

Honestly, not a techie photographer and I have not tried those Nikon or Sony cameras so I can't advise you on that!

John W's picture

Another great post, Shavonne!

It's always great to see insight from those that do actual work for clients, as opposed to taking pictures for their personal Instagram.

Don't pay attention to the naysayers who would rather argue semantics instead of the finished product. Which in this case looks great! And as long as the client likes it, that's all that matters!

I swear, it's so easy to figure out the people who actually do this for a living versus the people that are armchair photographers, just by seeing their thought processes. Which unfortunately leans more towards the latter judging from the comments here.

Keep posting what you've been doing. Honestly, you post the most insightful, real-world thoughts and techniques that actually matter to professionals. It's a breath of fresh air from the overwhelming amount of "is this camera/lens sharper than this one" that we see all the time. And quite frankly, your articles are the only reason I really check this site out anyways!

Shavonne Wong's picture

Thank you for your very kind words John, am flattered and humbled (: