Lighting in Challenging Environments with Grant Menmuir

As a photographer who enjoys nothing more than getting out of a traditional studio space and finding interesting and unique locations to shoot the kind of work I do, which tends to veer away from the mainstream in both style and aesthetics, I often find myself thinking a lot about how to adapt my lighting setup to get the best results I can.

Recently, I found myself shooting some alternative fashion in a very particular type of space a lot of common-sense photographers would probably steer clear of, Murder Mile Studios in Walthamstow, London (they used to be based at Whitechapel in the East End, with all its Jack the Ripper history, hence the name) it’s a very special location, and has been the venue of choice for many a shoot that required something a bit different (the old rockers amongst you may recall seeing it pop up many a time on the cover of Metal Hammer or Kerrang!).

It does come with some caveats for all that gothic coolness though; Windowless, so no natural light at all, and every wall, ceiling and floor is black. If you love painting with light, it is perfect, not so much if you are a lover of the one light setup.

The Set-Up

Fortunately, my usual lighting setup is a four light anyway. I use two Godox SK300II strobes in PiXAPRO 120cm Octagonal softboxes, with the grid mounted, so I can get very close to the subject for maximum diffusion, while still having a sense of definition to my shadows, as my key and fill lights. These are placed either side of the subject to light both sides of her face evenly.

I then compliment these with another two SK300II’s, although often for space and time, I bring a pair of Li-ION580III speedlites. These act as the hair/rim and background lights, as I often find with the darker tones of both background and clothing choices, things just need that extra push to provide a good degree of separation. For these, I usually use either PiXAPRO 95cm Octagonal softboxes, or a Black/Silver Umbrella and Snoot combo if I am pushed for space.

At this point, I suppose I should point out that budgetary considerations have been a big factor in my purchases, I’m still relatively starting out on my photography journey (albeit with a long background in design and marketing) so it was perfect, from my point of view, to find that the PiXAPRO and Godox range not only offer me have those all-important entry level price points, but that they still provide a great deal of reliability, flexibility and above all, a great controlled range of solutions. I look forward to moving onto the next level of the ecosystem as I progress forward.


Another big factor in my choice of lighting is how solution-based things are. I mainly shoot with the Canon 250D (also known as the SL3 or Kiss X10 in other territories) for now, as I very much enjoy how light it is and the great images it can produce. However, it does come with an ‘interesting’ design choice on the flash hot shoe, in that it is missing the middle pin most trigger systems rely on to fire. But, not to worry, PiXAPRO came to the rescue with the ST-III Trigger, which allows me complete lighting control.

This setup option does come without the benefit of TTL, but as I am very much a manual shooter when it comes to light, this doesn’t present an issue, the option to also control everything on the strobes, via the trigger or using the downloadable app makes for speedy adjustments. As an extra bonus, the trigger unit also comes with an extra hot shoe on top that I’ve used in studios to fire their in-house strobes without any issues in the past too.

The Shoot

So, onto the shoot itself, which had dual aims, firstly to showcase the main model, Zarah from Superstitchous Clothing’s outfits, and secondly to provide some support shots for my usual presenter Natalie’s accompanying video, for continuity with previous videos we had shot together, I had Natalie dress in a more traditional fashion style, although the juxtaposition of high street fashion and the location did seem to work quite well.

I have noticed that with the ‘bright and airy, street location’ look having become the Instagram Influencer standard for clothing, high end shoots are starting to lean in to the quirky and left-field more to give themselves that crucial point of difference, so it will be interesting to see how this trend progresses.

As the clothing and make-up styles are in a sense retro, being heavily influenced by the late nineties gothic look (Yes, dear reader, I too am struggling with the idea that the nineties are ‘vintage’ but at the time, we very much would have described the sixties in the same way) so the brief was an easy one to match,  we needed bold, dark rich colours, with a warm but bright aesthetic to skin tones.

One thing all modern photographers always need to consider of course, is deliverables, gone are the days for most of us, where an editorial shoot would be shot specifically for print, with lighting and post-production geared towards that end.


To this end, I always aim to shoot a variety of lighting treatments, bolder and rich for social and portfolios, brighter and defined for applications such as E-commerce. It is always an enjoyable challenge to remember that as much as we photographers love to make our art, when shooting fashion, we are essentially often shooting with the same mindset as product photography; the product is key!


Interested in more of Grant's work? Why not head over to his website or Instagram page?