Gothic Lolita

On October 2nd I did a TFP (trade for print) spooky Lolita session with my friend Eowinth. The session revolved around lots of skulls, dark flowers, and the color red.

For this session I used:

Photography Equipment


Cannon 80D


3 strobes

2 c-stands

1 Backdrop stands

Dark Grey Backdrop


3 bell reflectors

Red gels

Barn Doors


Foam triangle

Black tulle

Fake spider

Fake ghosts



Dowl rods


Black cloth

Smoke machine



The set up

For this session I wanted a dark gothic Halloween look, which looks pretty but has those creepy elements like skulls, ghosts, and giant spiders.  The first thing I did was create a chair out of a large foam block and dowl rods, which I then covered in black fabric and tulle. I then added some black vines, some dark flowers and a giant spider hanging on the edge. I then added a side table with dark flowers and a pile of skulls. Surrounding the table and chair I added more skulls and more dark flowers. So spooky but pretty.

For lighting I decided to go with hard light sources and not use soft boxes, but bell reflectors with grids and barn doors.  I started with a small strobe behind the chair to give the backdrop a red hue. Then to my left I placed a strobe with a bell reflector, to which I taped a red gel. This light acted as my main fill light.  To my right was the main light, which was a bell reflector with a 30-degree grid and barn doors.  This light I did not gel, and left as a white light. I used this light more as a spot to illuminate the top portion of the model.

Camera Settings

For this session I used ISO 200 with an aperture of F8, and shutter speed of 1/200s. My focal length ranged from 18mm to 50mm with most of the images being taken at 32mm.  By keeping the same camera setting throughout the sessions, it makes the post processing easier. I also then can focus on the lighting and strobe power to get the look I’m trying to achieve.

The Photos

For this session, I kept the camera setting the same so it sped up the post processing. However, because I was working with harder light closer to a spot, and changing power settings I had to do a bit more tweaking after I made the major adjustments.  For all the images I adjusted the white balance (which can be difficult when your whole frame is red), exposure, clarity, and crop.  I also added vignettes to the images to increase the dark gothic vibe. After all the base edits and minor adjustments were done, I then went through the images to determine if they needed a color grade or if a different color profile would work for the images.  You might be thinking why would I do that if I just used a bunch of red gels, won’t that change the work?  Yes changing the color profile or color grading the image does change the image but it certain cases it actually enhances the image.  I’m going to talk about a few of those below. 

I’m going to start with one of my favorite images from the session, which I call ‘portrait with a pet spider’ I did all the standard edits to this image in Lightroom, then decided to change the color profile from Adobe Color (standard) to Artistic 08. Which added some dusty purple tone to the image and muted the colors as seen in the first image. So, the image went from having very bold vibrant reds, second image, to a more muted color pallet which works well for a gothic Lolita.      

I like this second image because I think it captures, Eowinth, personality.  She is not one to really wear frilly dresses and her cosplays rarely if ever involve pretty, pretty, princesses. As you can see the main light producing a spot effect creating stronger shadows on the left had side of the image. After the basic adjustments for this image, I did go in and add a radial filter to the model’s face just to brighten the shadow slightly, so it was a bit easier to see both eyes.   I also changed the color profile to Artistic 08, as I felt it was more flattering. In Photoshop I did do a little dodge and burn work on the skulls, just to pop out their details a little bit more within the image.

Now for this last image, lets talk about some barndoors and smoke, both of which didn’t work how I wanted them to work. Barndoors can help you focus your light, control light spill, and create slits of light. In my case I was trying to create a slit of light, and I just could not get the light to cooperate. It would have been easier if I had an optical spot. So, while I was successful keeping the light only to the very top of the model, I didn’t get my slit of light. Next, I wanted to show that beam of light; and how do you show beams of light by adding haze or smoke.  However, you need to photograph it from the correct angle for it to show up.  Just like you must be at the correct angle to see sunbeams projecting through clouds. So, I added smoke using my little smoke genie, but I just could not get it show a beam of light.  You can see some of the smoke coming in from the upper right-hand corner of the image.  Now I could have cheated and added the smoke and beam in post, but it wouldn’t have looked natural. I try to get as much right in camera as possible, so I don’t have to do any compositing later. I’m not a fan of compositing images or doing heavy Photoshop work.  Overall, the image is a good image, just not the image I had in my minds eye.

I liked being able to work with Eowinth again, on a fun little shoot.  I also appreciate that she broke out one of her frilly outfits for this shoot. I’m happy with how the images turned out. You can see all the images from this session here: Gothic Lolita II.  



Model: Eowinth Cosplay (Instagram: @Eowinth Cosplay)


Set Design: Heather of Munchkin Photos (Instagram: @munckin_photos_by_heather)


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