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How to Do Vintage Style Portraits

Updated on March 27, 2015

How to Do Vintage Style Portraits

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CC BY 2.0) | Source

"Retro is a term used to describe aspects of modern culture which are consciously derivative or imitative of those trends, modes, fashions, or attitudes of the recent past which have or had come to be seen as unfashionable. It generally implies a vintage of at least fifteen or twenty years. For example, clothing from the 1980s or 1990s could be retro." The word "retro" derives from the Latin prefix retro, meaning "backwards, or in past times" – particularly as seen in the words retrograde, implying a movement toward the past instead of a progress toward the future, and retrospective, referring to a nostalgic (or critical) eye toward the past."Wikipedia

Remember the photographs of famous Hollywood actors and actresses that became well known during the heyday of Hollywood?

Although they were mostly black and whites they possessed a style and elegance that was unique to the style in their own way.

These retro or vintage as they would be called today, were very useful in awakening a sense of excitement and desire for the person who was portrayed in them during a time when there was no internet or immediate gratification and mass media was not accessible to the general pubic in the same scale as it is today.

They can still be used today to do the same but careful attention has to be paid to the format and the style in order to re-create their artistically inspired looks.

You can do vintage style portraits much easier than what you may think with some creativity, some props and a digital editing program.

This style is applicable for weddings and other events as well as for general portrait photography in our modern digital world and even though they can be made in full color and digitally "touched up", they should be done in the same medium as the originals were; black and white.

Using an actual roll of black and white film would be preferable as you would be re-recreating the medium exactly as the photographers of the time did but most digital cameras and any digital editing program can turn any color image into a monochrome with very little effort and either method would be fine.

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Another factor which will work for you is to use props such as some of the ones which were commonly used back then.

String of pearls, plumes, ostrich feathers, elegant head bands, animal skins and coats, very long cigarette filters, fedoras, long black or white fashion gloves and heavy make up were common items and techniques.

They were mostly used to enhance the appearance of the subjects and make them seem almost "surreal" like dolls which were meant to be seen but not touched.

Artist and their studios relied on these types of shots to keep the image of the actor/actress in the public's mind and make them yearn to see their latest movie production.

Make sure to pay attention to the hairstyle since a good technique involves trying to re-create the hairstyles from the period.

This leads to another modern application in that the style lends itself quite well to be used in boudoir photography sessions and even in nude photography.

Modern Retro-Style Portraits

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The shoot is better suited for a studio setting where you can control the lighting. use at least one main photo lamp placed at a 45 degree angle and a reflector on the opposite side also placed at a 45 degree angle to the subject.

Most portraits show better when shot against a black backdrop since this eliminates any distractions and focuses all the attention of the subject but you can always experiment with different ones so long as they do not appear to distract the eye away from the model.

Even with a black backdrop a good technique is to use a small light placed behind the subject and low to the floor and aiming it towards the backdrop. This adds some highlights to it and enhances the overall effect of the portrait even if using black and white film or turning your digital creations into monochromes.

If using a color format consider using the same backdrop light but with a colored gel insert to create a soft colored highlight on the backdrop. Make sure that this light is not too powerful as it can be very distracting.

Colored inserts can be easily made at home and colored plastic pocket folders sold at most office product stores will work fine. Just make sure to keep it from touching the light/bulb surface.

If using only a flash unit, try to use one that can swivel upwards and bounce the light from a white ceiling. This diffuses the light beam and avoids the creation of harsh shadows falling on the model.

Besides the flash having a reflector at the opposite side from the main light source helps greatly. Gold reflector to add warmth, a silver one to bounce more light or a white one to bounce a more balanced natural looking light.

To make the eyes come to life add a "Catch light or catchlight which is a light source that causes a specular highlight in a subject's eye in an image."Wikipedia.

Here is a link to make your own catch light from simple store bought materials.

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CC BY 2.0 | Source

Try to submit your finished photographs top magazines or other publications that engage in photography as well as fashion genres.

There are also publications that feature antique or vintage styles, especially those featuring vintage accessories as they seem to be making a comeback into the world of modern fashion. and some of your shots may be used in a spread featuring vintage styles.

Coiffure (from the French word meaning a style or manner of arranging the hair) publications may also be interested in some of your shots.

Do not forget that this style is also very adaptable to be used in weddings and for other events as well. What is particularly good about this theme is that it can also be used towards the production of a photography book or vintage publication and the better shots may be featured in an art gallery or even used by photographic stock houses.

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CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

© 2013 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Genna East: Thank you

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I agree about the style and elegance that were the trademarks of old Hollywood photos. It is fascinating to see a modern retro equivalent. Very interesting. :-)

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      alancaster149: Interesting. Thank you

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      There've been several TV series and films based on the 40's, and some preserved railways up and down the country (England mostly) that have staged 'war weekends' where members of the public hire military attire or period costume, or dig out Grandma's/Grandad's old outfits from chests in the attic.

      It's an on-going craze to look like Hollywood film stars - even some of the males of the species here have gone into it, wholesale, plus the odd CD sleeve design. I've got to admit there were some pretty sharp dressers around at the time. There's a sort of 'industry' sprung up around it.