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Fancy Portraits with Venetian Masks

Updated on April 26, 2015

Fancy Portraits with Venetian Masks

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

"Venetian masks are a centuries-old tradition of Venice, Italy. The masks are typically worn during the Carnival (Carnival of Venice), but have been used on many other occasions in the past, usually as a device for hiding the wearer's identity and social status. The mask would permit the wearer to act more freely in cases where he or she wanted to interact with other members of the society outside the bounds of identity and everyday convention. It was useful for a variety of purposes, some of them illicit or criminal, others just personal, such as romantic encounters.

Venetian masks are characterized by their ornate design, featuring bright colours such as gold or silver and the use of complex decorations in the baroque style. Many designs of Venetian masks stem from Commedia dell'arte. They can be full-face masks (e.g. the bauta) or eye masks (e.g. the Columbina)."

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

When you place a beautiful face in a beautiful mask the portrait is nothing short of a work of pure beauty.

Venetian masks are probably some of the most beautifully designed ones and making or buying one to use in portraits is not that difficult.

Some can cost about $ 179.00 to as low as $7.00 but keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

You can also make your own from simple ingredients which include some papier mache mix, paints, glue and some basic tools.

However to use in a good professionally looking portrait sometimes it is better to get a professionally made one which not only will look good but will last quite a long time, assuming you render it the proper care.

This project is doing a portrait with a model wearing a mask, preferably an elegant and well made Venetian type one.

This is not only a creative way to shoot a portrait but adds another dimension to the level of work that you can do. Everyone can get their portrait done but not that many can get an unusual, creative and beautiful portrait.

Like in some portrait sessions where the makeup is the key, here the mask is the center of attention.

This is sometimes used in boudoir photography as it lets the model assume an air of anonymity and can even let her feel more at ease and willing to let the guard down, thus allowing for more relaxed postures and poses.

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Another good thing is that you can photograph ladies or men. The mask really hides the person's identity and due to their nature (and tradition), it can be worn by either sex.

Along with the mask you can also use other props to enhance the appearance like feathers, leaves, twigs, fancy costumes, fake jewels, rhinestones and so on.

If making your own then there's really no limit to how creative or fancy or both you can go. However making the mask look pleasing is important so you should try not to go overboard with your design.

I have three professionally made ones that I bought several years ago on line and were about the $89.00 dollar range. They have been used countless times not only for portraits but for other projects.

Along with these I also have two that I made from papier mache and decorated with gold leaf paint and rhinestones. Although not as fancy or pretty as the real ones, they too have served the purpose well.


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This is best suited for studio work where you have total control of the lights and the props.

Some will argue that you can do the project outdoors like in a park or the beach or even within some nice looking ruins.

I will not argue against the ruins since they fit the theme quite well but for the rest I rather conduct the shoot in a studio.

I like to use a totally dark backdrop and illuminate nothing but the face area with a photo snoot.

I also want the mask as well as the eyes of the models to be clearly visible and not to feature any other elements around it that can distract the eye from the main center of attention.

Shooting outdoors can often result in you losing sharpness in the eyes and might lends itself for unwanted shadows.

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source
CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

You should keep in mind that there are two basic styles of Venetian masks; half face and full face.

I often like to shoot full face but there are many models who rather still show some portions of their face so they prefer the half model.

For professional portraits I have found it better to use a combination of the two and take some pictures with a full face mask and some with a half face mask.

With the half face there is no doubt that there is a person behind it and with a full face one the eyes need to be visible enough to be recognized or the photo can seem to simply be a picture of a pretty mask.

So in many instances I have come to understand that it is usually better to do half face for paying customers and full face for personal projects.

CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

In the studio, pose the model against a dark backdrop and illuminate the face with a soft, diffused light, preferably a snoot or an umbrella bounced light.

Try to include a beauty dish or a catch-light to have the eyes show a "ring or spot" of light in them as this brings them to "life" and avoids the dull, flat, life-less look.

Use a regular 55mm or a bit longer lens manually set to its lowest f-top to allow the maximum amount of light to enter the film or sensor plane. Let the camera set the shutter speed which should be around 1/60 to 1/100.

Take various angles by positioning yourself in a low, high, sideways and direct angles in relation to the model. The best shots are usually those that show the face/mask in close up, so take several of these.

Close ups allow for more detail to be seen and viewers can appreciate this.

Have the model look at you, to the sides, low and high to capture other perspectives.

Do not use flash as it will more than likely create hot spots from the mostly reflective mask's surface.

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

© 2015 Luis E Gonzalez


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