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Fashion Runway Lighting Ideas

Updated on January 3, 2013

Running your own fashion show? Have no idea where to start with lighting for the runway? Fear not! I have years of experience in lighting runways so I know the best ways to do it as well as the most cost effective.

I run a small company that hire fashion show lighting in London and work with lots of very different budgets so I should be able to recommend the best options for you.

Fresnel Lighting
If all you need is a nice clean white wash over the runway, the best option for you in to use fresnels (Pronounced without the middle 's'!). These give a great dispersion of light over a wide area. The key thing to remember is make sure you get them with 'barn doors'. These barn doors are what help to focus the beam and cut off the light in the places you don't need it.

Minimum Fresnel Lights Required
I would suggest that the minimum you could use is one fresnel per side for every 2 meters of runway, plus one at the end of the runway to give light directly on the front of the models. Remember that this is a minimum, and not ideal. The more you have, the more balanced the light will be as the models walk down the runway.

Par Cans

Another option is to use par cans to light your runway. The first thing to remember is to avoid cheap LED Par cans. These usually don't have a white LED, but rather mix red, green and blue to produce white, giving a rather horrid purple tinged white. They are generally not bright enough to show any detail on the clothes nor can you focus the beam very well. More expensive LED par cans might begin to give you a better white but traditional par cans with a hallogen bulb do a much better job and are more cost effective.

You need lots of par cans to create a good wash of light over a runway. You would need more par cans than you would need fresnels. This means more work rigging the equipment as well as more cables and larger dimmer packs to power the lights.

Profile Spots

By far the most professional way to light your cat walk is to use a profile spot lights along with a mix of the fresnels. The profiles will give you a very clear, sharp and focusable beam that will appear crisp and clear on the catwalk. With the Profile spots being so good and focusing on a certain area, they help to make sure the coverage is well balanced and there are no dead spots.


Height is something that you need to consider in the venue. Ideally you want to hang the lights high enough so that they can angle down, hit the models from head to toe but only hit the first row of people in the audience (They are usually there to be seen!). Hanging lights too low means that you either have light shining in the eyes of the audience on the opposite side, or you only light up the bottom half of the models!

Obviously the ceiling of the venue needs to be high enough. If its not then there isn't allot you can do, appart from have the lighting dim enough so not to annoy the audience too much. There are a few different options that you have for getting lighting high enough if the ceiling will allow. The best is to hang truss from any hang points there might be, steel girders or beams being the most common. The next is to hang the truss on tripods and wind them up as high as they will go. Using tripods means you don't need any hang points in the roof and don't need expensive equipment. It does take up valuable floor space though.

A good angle to aim for is 75 degrees. This needs to be complimented by other lighting but its a great place to start from.


The most over looked issue with any event is always the power. Each light requires a certain amount of electricity to work and each venue only has a certain amount of power to give. A six meter catwalk will require a minimum of 7 fresnels (as discussed earlier). These fresnels use 650 watts of electricity each, thats 4550 watts in total. This means you need around 20 amps of power, plus a decent amount of head room. A domestic UK plug can only provide 13 amps of power, meaning if you are using one dimmer pack for the whole show, you will need to find a larger power supply in the form of a c-form socket. If the venue has a special power supply for things like this then that is great, if not then you may need to look at hiring a generator, or splitting the power over two rings, using two dimmer packs.

If this is getting a little complicated then its probably best to not risk guessing what is the correct thing to do. Not only could your show be compromised if you get it wrong but electricity is dangerous and experimenting with it can lead to accidents. I am based in London and happy to chat with anyone to discuss their best options, even if you don't have to budget to hire anyone in.

Frosting or Colour?

You can add frost or colour gels to your lighting if you wish. Some people put a really light shade of blue in to get a more natural white. Personally I leave them open as I think the natural light from the cans or fresnels is usually good.

Its probably a good idea to make sure all your bulbs are around the same age, or at least giving the same colour. Some older bulbs might not be quite the same colour as newer ones and will give an uneven coverage across the stage.

Notice the smoke screen in the background!
Notice the smoke screen in the background! | Source


If you have the budget, hanging lights directly above the catwalk can help to light those hard to reach places. Having a small amount of light pointing directly down will give you very few dark spots to worry about and will really give you a professional look. Having these little extras gives you a chance to balance the lights and get them just right.

Of course, you might want to add a little extra before and after the actual show. Up lighters against the back wall are a cost effective and classy way to add a little colour to your show. You can use LED par cans for this, or LED battons.

Moving lights on the corners of the catwalk pointing upwards with a little haze can give you a cool look, particularly if you use a tight beam.

I worked on The 3D Print Show in London a few months ago where we used a smoke curtain at the entrance to the runway and projected images on to it, now that was cool!


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