A Quick Guide to Fashion Runway Lighting

Key Points

Lighting might not be the first thing people think of when it comes to the fashion runway, but it is plays a key role in every catwalk show. Below we take a closer look at fashion runway lighting:

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fashion lighting catwalk

Why fashion lighting is such big business

Carefully balancing a mix of theatrical stage lighting, the clothes unique requirements, and the wishes of a designer or producer mean that Fashion Lighting can translate into big money at the top levels.

Business Insider estimated that for the New York run, lighting designers can cost from $10,000 upwards.

However, for this money, designers and producers have high expectations. Flawless lighting for the clothes should not forget the brands' overall theme, and it is the lighting designers job to couple together these sometimes conflicting ideas into something which is visually stunning.

fashion lighting catwalk lights

What makes great lighting so integral to a successful fashion show

  • The show's main star is the clothes, and so presentation is everything, and this includes lighting them to perfection. If they are lit incorrectly, this can change the look of the designs, which can be disastrous for the designer if it changes the look of a show.
  • Also, photography is such a key element in the business, especially from an advertising angle. The lights need to be geared towards making each photo as clear and crisp as possible and, with the advent of social media and smartphones, this photographic presence is that bit more pronounced. To add to this, cameras can detect contrasts much clearer than the human eye can, and so the lighting needs to be able to deal with this difference in image quality.
  • Lighting creates atmosphere. Along with the sound, lighting can set the mood for a show and so if either of these is out of sync, the entire show is going to appear off-kilter. Good lighting should be able to add an extra flair to the show. Great lighting should be able to do this without you even knowing.
  • Lighting designer and fashion show producer Thierry Dreyfus has also pointed out that a models complexion is liable to change over the weeks. Although they begin tanned in New York, as the intensity of the weeks starts to take hold, by Paris, skin imperfections are only natural. Therefore the lighting at the highest levels need to be adaptable to these changes so the show looks the same throughout the whole run.

Why PAR lights are commonly used in fashion show lighting

PAR lights are the lights most commonly used in theatre productions and in fashion shows. Shortened from Parabolic Aluminized Reflector light, PAR possess a lens and reflector which cannot be altered relative to the filament.

They are used so much because of their simplicity, their affordability and their lightweight. When timing is tight, having a majority of the lights as simple as possible can actually be a bonus! Also, affordability is useful when dealing with the number of lights that are sometimes needed to light a show to the correct standard, and with a lot of lights can come a lot of weight. So, when travelling all over the globe, and to keep the people setting up the show happier, it's important to keep the weight at a reasonable level, which PAR lamps can do.

Top tips for lighting a fashion show successfully

So, if you want your fashion runway to look like it could have come straight from Milan or London, here are some things to consider:


Colour tones matter when it comes to fashion, and the lighting needs to make sure each and every hue stand out. Full-Spectrum white light is needed for this, which means many uses conventional incandescent bulbs, although some LED alternatives are appearing as the technology becomes available.


Another thing that can change both the tone and the look of the clothes is the colour temperature itself. A majority of shows keep the ambient lighting to a medium temperature as this makes sure the temperature is not too yellow or blue.


The light needs to be even across the stage, as uneven light distribution can cause 'Hot' spots were the lighting is too bright, and 'Cold' spots were the light is too shadowed. Finer details can be lost when the lighting is like this, plus it makes photography much more difficult. One way to ensure this consistency is an even distribution of the lights.


Some may have exact ideas, others may have a vague concept, but all designers need to be consulted and considered when creating the lighting. Trying to understand what the overall image and vision they have will influence the lights used, and in what ways you use them.  For example, if the designer wants to present a collection based around florals, it's unlikely that they want darker, more dramatic lighting in any pre-show build up.


Tailoring the shows lighting to the photographers may seem like an odd concept but they are really important to the shows set up. Not only are professionals looking for the best angles, but the growth of social media means a tweeted photo can travel the world in seconds. To make sure that the lighting translates well into the photo, checking beforehand through an actual camera lens can help you solve problem areas before they are captured forever.


To light or not to light, That is the question! This all depends on the location of the show and the designer. Sometimes the front row is lit purely by chance, as the lights from the runway overspill. If the audience is going to be lit, light them dimmer than the runway to ensure that the focus is on the show, and not who is in the row next to them!


Making sure that the clothes look good is a top priority but also lighting the people presenting them is important too! Having a run through and Dress Rehearsal will help flag up any problems with the lights when put onto the models which can be altered before the show. Also, some people advise placing lights on the edging of the stage, so the model knows where they are walking and the parameters of the stage. However, this needs to be checked so it doesn't interfere with the photographers or the audience's view.

Speak to the team today on 0113 8876270 to find out more about buying the right bulbs for your next fashion show.

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