Rossella Vanon reveals her light and colour shaping tips and tricks | Profoto (UK)

Rossella Vanon reveals her light and colour shaping tips and tricks

12 October, 2018

Written by: Ailish Cook

Fashion and beauty photographer Rossella Vanon is an expert at light shaping. Her work is defined by attentive use of light and colour, which are two of her favourite things. Rossella talks to us about one her recent shoots and explains her light shaping techniques using the Profoto D1 and gels.

Could you please tell us about your recent beauty shoot?

This shoot was a test shoot organised by me and the makeup artist for our portfolio. Even when I'm really busy with shooting editorials and commercials, I like to make time for sneaking in a personal shoot where there are no guidelines or deadlines, and our creativity can run free. It is also a great way of meeting and working with new teams and get a sense of the chemistry on set before heading on to bigger jobs together.

This was a beauty shoot, and lighting was the element the shoot revolved around. Lighting is one of the main components of my work, and it happens often that it is also one of the main elements I plan shoots around.

What was your end goal for this shoot?

On this shoot, I wanted to use gels to create a colourful but soft lighting on the model's face, which was then complemented by beautiful makeup and hair recreated by my makeup artist Cat Parnell.

I wanted to incorporate several colours in the lighting, but I wanted the colours to blend into each other seamlessly, creating an overall interesting, but at the same time soft and feminine lighting. Although tests are to experiment, I like to make sure the imagery I produce on tests is true to my taste and vision in line with my existing work, so the new images can find a good place in my portfolio.

What were the main shoot considerations?

As beauty photography usually involves quite tight crops on the face, all elements are dramatically exposed, and all need to be equally perfect for the success of the beauty shoot.

Makeup and hair, the model's pose and expression, the focus, the lighting and the retouching as well: everything is enhanced when the shot is closeup, and every little inaccuracy can easily become a big distraction.

I always make sure I have a great makeup/hair artist and often someone to do nails too. It's so important to have a team who believe in your vision and are active on set, making any adjustments required as the pictures come through.

I take extra care when choosing a model for beauty too. I'm looking for a subject with something captivating about her who has a good range of natural facial expressions, and of course - good skin! And last, but certainly not least: the lighting needs to be spot on. Any shadow falling out of place can be quite a problematic distracting element on a beauty shoot.

How did you achieve your final images?

The lighting set up for this shoot was:

  • One main light nearly opposite the subject equipped with a medium softbox
  • One fill light around 45 degrees around the subject's right side equipped with a small 3x2 softbox and a Profoto blue gel disc placed inside (remember to keep the modelling light switched off when you place any gels in close contact with the lamp!)
  • One fill light around 90 degrees around the subject's left side, equipped with a white beauty dish and a purple gel sheet
  • One accent light around 135 degrees around the subject's left side (behind the subject), equipped with a zoom reflector and an orange gel

The main illumination was created by the 'white' (non-gelled) light from the main light opposite the subject, equipped with the medium softbox.

The light with the smaller softbox and the blue gel disc inside, on the subject's right side, was kept at a fairly low power. This way, its blue light could blend with the white light from the main unit and the blue wouldn't take over the image.

The unit with the beauty dish and purple gel was kept at a slightly higher power. As this light was only meant to brush off the model's cheek, it was okay for this light to be slightly more intense than the rest. This light created a colourful highlight on the model's cheek that complimented the other colours well.

The backlight with the orange gel was used to create a harsher accent light on the model's hair. For this reason, I chose a reflector and not a softbox, and taped an orange gel to it.

What are your top tips for using gels and lighting?

  1. Ensure the gel colours you pick work well in either matching or complimenting the already existing colours in your scene (background, clothes, props, makeup etc). Like all colours, gels also respond to Colour Theory rules, and images are much more effective when the gels are picked with a certain criteria.
  2. Start simple, then build up. Start by picking your favourite colour and use one gel only in the most predominant lighting position (as a main light or fill, for instance). Then try to build up the setup - pick other colours to work well with the first and other colours in the scene, and think about where else these accents of light and colour could be introduced, one by one. Before you know it, you'll have a great exciting setup on your hands!
  3. Try softening the output of lights equipped with gels for a gentler effect. You can use softboxes, or bounce the light off a white poly board or wall.
  4. Keep in mind that any gels used on front lights are very likely to add a tint to the background. Choose neutral background colours to avoid clashing (white, grey or black are great), or pick an intense colour that either matches or compliments the colour of the gels you are using.


A big thank you to Rossella for featuring in Profoto stories. To see more of her work, visit her website or Instagram page.

Written by: Ailish Cook