Skip to main content

Home photography ideas: Take Hollywood headshots using pantyhose!

Watch video: Home photography ideas – Hollywood portraits with pantyhose!

Useful links

Photography projects at home
Home photography ideas

Useful home photography kit
Best tripods
Best lighting kits
Best reflectors
Best macro lenses

Adding a touch of soft focus can transform the mood of your photography. It can add a dreamy quality to portraits, produce fantastic flare and halation effects for lighting, and can recreate those glamorous black-and-white movie star headshots of Hollywood's golden age.

You can achieve soft focus in a number of ways: you can buy a speciality lens, such as the Lensbaby Velvet 28; you can mimic the effect using Photoshop Elements; or you can use a classic cinematography technique called ‘netting’ to do it in-camera, on any lens you like.

This process uses a pair of tights or stockings to ‘net’ your lens, giving you a unique degree of control to produce an ultra-creative soft focus effect. Using either light or dark tights, stretched either tightly or loosely, enables you to manipulate the amount of diffusion in your shot, as well as whether the highlights or the shadows and midtones are affected. 

• 10 best online photography courses

Lens and lights with no netting (left) achieve a dreamy effect by adding pantyhose (right) (Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

In addition to increasing or decreasing the diffusion of your light sources, netting your lens can also produce halos, flares and starbursts. So this technique can also modify your lighting, even used bare, giving you an amazing amount of creative agency for a minimal amount of effort and expenditure. 

Best of all, the technique can be performed using any lens mounted on any camera. So once you’ve acquired your tights, you can start experimenting with every bit of glass in your kit bag.

This is a legitimate cinematography technique that has been used in filmmaking for decades. It may seem hard to believe, and you might feel silly doing it, but shoot safely in the knowledge that some of Hollywood's finest cinematographers have got this pantyhose filter down to a science – even knowing which brand and patterns to use for particular effects!

How to 'net' your lens

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

01 Fogal length

You can use any make of tights, though the lightness / darkness make a key difference to the effect; we suggest trying a nude and a black pair for starters. It should be noted that Hollywood filmmakers favor the Swiss brand Fogal, particularly its Noblisse and Tulle patterns. Just remember, as with all your ‘proper’ kit, the idea is far more important than the gear – try a cheap pair from eBay or the laundry basket! 

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

02 Use a portrait lens

Obviously you should always use a portrait lens to shoot a portrait (we're using the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8), but especially so here as a longer focal length lens will compress the pattern more and increase the level of diffusion. Conversely, a wider lens will produce inherently less diffusion.

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

03 Stretch your net

In cinematography the net would be applied to the rear element, but we’re going to stretch it over the front of the lens. A looser stretch will produce more diffusion, a tighter stretch will produce less.

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

04 Band aid

Secure the net with an elastic band. You can cut off the excess material if you want to, but we recommend shooting a bit first in case you want to tighten or loosen the net (to control the diffusion).

Join the Dark Side, or the Light?

Light stockings will primarily diffuse the shadows and midtones, while dark stocking primarily affect the highlights. So, as strange as it sounds, choosing a pair of nude tights or a pair of black tights will yield very specific effects.  

And when you introduce lighting, that's when netting can produce truly dreamy Hollywood-style portraits. Netted lenses lose between a third to half a stop of light, so you will need to overexpose your image – particularly with dark tights, which soak up even more illumination. 

Here's how using the different tights affects images when we introduce a touch of flash using a speed light.  

Image 1 of 2

On the left is a shot with no netting, using only the ambient light to see how the image is with no effects. On the right we've added light-colored netting, which diffuses the shadows and midtones, and a speed light at 1/16 power to achieve an ethereal look.

On the left is a shot with no netting, using only the ambient light to see how the image is with no effects. On the right we've added light-colored netting, which diffuses the shadows and midtones, and a speed light at 1/16 power to achieve an ethereal look. (Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)
Image 2 of 2

When we use dark tights, we have to push the flash power up to 1/8 as they soak up so much light. On the left you can see how overexposed the image is with no netting, but on the right you can see how the dark tights diffuse the highlights to create a much more contrasty look than the light tights.

When we use dark tights, we have to push the flash power up to 1/8 as they soak up so much light. On the left you can see how overexposed the image is with no netting, but on the right you can see how the dark tights diffuse the highlights to create a much more contrasty look than the light tights. (Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

One of the most striking effects that a netted lens can create is starbursting. When a bare light source is visible in your frame, different degrees of stretch (and different darkness) on your tights will produce halos around your light – as well as some striking starbursts. 

In the first image below you will see the effect of using pale tights, which produces a strong starburst (since pale tights mainly affect the midtones and shadows). However, using dark tights doesn't achieve as strong an effect as it controls the highlights and doesn't diffuse as much. 

Image 1 of 2

Here we've netted our lens with a pale pair of Fogal tights, which diffuses the light and produces a strong starburst.

Here we've netted our lens with a pale pair of Fogal tights, which diffuses the light and produces a strong starburst. (Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)
Image 2 of 2

This image has no netting at all – as you can see, the light gives us no starburst effect without it.

This image has no netting at all – as you can see, the light gives us no starburst effect without it. (Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)

PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine is the world's only monthly newsstand title that's 100% devoted to Canon, so you can be sure the magazine is completely relevant to your system. 

Special digital edition sale - Five issue for $5/£5/€5View Deal

Read more: 

• The best camera for portraits: cameras and lenses perfect for portraits
• The best lens for portraits: our pick of the best 85mm lenses right now
• Lensbaby Velvet 28 review
Boudoir photography tips