Vintage shoots, business ideas and lighting styles

Jul 4, 2010 | Business, Continuous Lighting, Location | 9 comments

The workings and my thoughts behind the Vintage Cherish The Dress™ portrait shoot.

I started my vintage quest online, by looking to the past for my picture style inspiration. It seems that today’s trending looks have been here before and it is always easier to get them right second time around. I found plenty of fine examples of period photographs that capture the essence of the times. The hair styles, false eyelashes, dress designs and the all important poses make up a look that is captivating and bang up to date.

The vintage image genre is about the sense of freedom and hope, evoking a feeling of fantasy far removed from the drab existence of normal everyday life back in the day. It takes a bit of time to understand the subtleties of what makes these pictures work. When you are recreating them, It’s just not enough to have your clients hands and arms in the right place. You need to work on the posture, the care free and fly away gay abandon bits too. Do it right, and do it well, was very much the order of the day then and needs to be the same now. Research and learn how to do it well and your photography will be in big demand.

This is what was referred to as a money shot on film sets at the BBC. In one shot you get to see the props, location, and where the budget has gone. It’s an establishing shot that lets the close ups that follow it in the film (or photo album) sit comfortably without questions. Careful placement of Jay in the sunlight gave him the contrast needed to stand out and all I had to do was add a key light for Chloe from the right of shot.

This is what was referred to as a money shot on film sets at the BBC. In one shot you get to see the props, location, and where the budget has gone. It’s an establishing shot that lets the close ups that follow it in the film (or photo album) sit comfortably without questions. Careful placement of Jay in the sunlight gave him the contrast needed to stand out and all I had to do was add a key light for Chloe from the right of shot.

Chloe and Jenny, our models for this shoot had done their homework too. [tip] Make it easier for your clients and creative team by sending some pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Audrey Hepburn to them in advance so they can get to grips with the looks you want to recreate ahead of any vintage shoots you do. The whole process should be fun to research and exciting to shoot. The Dresses for this workshop were custom made for us by Kathryn Hanson, make up was by Samantha Gardner and the hair styles were created by Victoria Cunningham of Salon 7 hair. Having a great team involved makes the shoot process a joy and gives the pictures sparkle.

I placed Jay to the left of Chloe by moving my camera position to the left. This classic feature film technique allows the viewer to see more of the story than either of the characters. We understand that Chloe is playing hard to get and Jay is interested. Yet Jay and Chloe are relying on intuition. Same lighting as above.

I placed Jay to the left of Chloe by moving my camera position to the left. This classic feature film technique allows the viewer to see more of the story than either of the characters. We understand that Chloe is playing hard to get and Jay is interested. Yet Jay and Chloe are relying on intuition. Same lighting as above.

Location, location, location. With over 140 heritage railways in the UK and Ireland it seemed fitting to use one for a Vintage Cherish The Dress workshop. We chose to use the East Lancashire Railway in Bury because Chris Hanley, my fellow tutor uses that facility as the location for his Vintage Cherish The Dress client shoots. As with any good retail business model, the customer experience is at the heart of the product. The ELR station in Bury has it all, Chris sourced this location because there is a cafe’/ bar onsite for refreshments and a handy changing room for a make up artist to work in.

Back lighting is the single distinguishing feature that unites all the classic films of the last century. Shooting into the light is another classic technique. Having the brightest part of the scene the furthest away gives depth and the illusion of three dimensions. In this frame I got lucky with the railway worker. I set Chloe with her back to Jay and the camera and I used an over the shoulder look to add to the drama of the scene. Shot on a Canon 5Dmk2 with a 100mm macro f/2.8L IS lens at f/2.8

Back lighting is the single distinguishing feature that unites all the classic films of the last century. Shooting into the light is another classic technique. Having the brightest part of the scene the furthest away gives depth and the illusion of three dimensions. In this frame I got lucky with the railway worker. I set Chloe with her back to Jay and the camera and I used an over the shoulder look to add to the drama of the scene. Shot on a Canon 5Dmk2 with a 100mm macro f/2.8L IS lens at f/2.8

A variety of covered shooting areas are needed to stay weather independent. The station platforms at Bury have roofs, so if it rains, everyone stays dry. In the event of rain there is also the opportunity to shoot a few frames with an umbrella at the far end of the platform, if you have a vintage umbrella that is. The ticket office is another key location to shoot in at this station and there are various waiting rooms too. We arranged for carriages to be at the platforms to give us plenty to shoot and opportunities to share with our delegates.

By moving to camera left I closed down the shot to contain the background to just the carriage. Jay was directed to whisper naughty ideas into Chloe’s ears. The back light for both these shots is provided by a barefaced Speedlight on a stand triggered with the camera makers infra red system. When I’m teaching, I’ll rig both a Canon and a Nikon Speedlight on the same stand so that all the delegates can get the same shots no matter what system they are using.

By moving to camera left I closed down the shot to contain the background to just the carriage. Jay was directed to whisper naughty ideas into Chloe’s ears. The back light for both these shots is provided by a barefaced Speedlight on a stand triggered with the camera makers infra red system. When I’m teaching, I’ll rig both a Canon and a Nikon Speedlight on the same stand so that all the delegates can get the same shots no matter what system they are using.

How could this kind of operation work for your business? We are in a product led society so getting this level of vintage detail into a shoot is a sure fire way to fill your order books. Hiring this kind of facility isn’t cheap, so how can it work in the real world. Well there’s nothing stopping you shooting four clients in one day, charging £500 for the shoot to include a vintage make over, a 90 minute shoot at a classic location and the first six pictures on disc. That way, you cover your costs and have £1000 for yourself before any extra picture sales are taken into account. I understand this business model won’t work for all but it is easily achievable with the right clients. Cut the shoots to three in a day and lay on some Champagne and you could charge £1000+ each for an album inclusive package, doubling your initial profit. There are many ways to package this kind of experience shoot. So think wedding business model rather than portrait business model. Add a steam loco footplate experience for the guy while the make up is being done and it might just be the icing on the cake. The business possibilities are only limited by imagination. The Cherish The Dress™ business model is suited to non bridal make overs as well as the more obvious post wedding shoot in the wedding dress. The big difference with a Cherish shoot over a Trash shoot is the dress is the star not a victim.
Other great locations for vintage Cherish The Dress™ shoots include classic yachts and ships. There’s a 1950s super yacht moored in Bristol called Harmony with teak decks and oak paneled cabins. Art Deco hotels and old theaters with classic dressing rooms and foyers are great vintage locations too.

Shooting with my 100mm prime lens, I had to move in to get the close ups. The process of getting closer to the subject creates an intimacy in the picture that is not achieved by zooming in. The rapport and magic between Chloe and I is captured in a way that makes the viewer of the photograph feel completely involved.

Shooting with my 100mm prime lens, I had to move in to get the close ups. The process of getting closer to the subject creates an intimacy in the picture that is not achieved by zooming in. The rapport and magic between Chloe and I is captured in a way that makes the viewer of the photograph feel completely involved.

Lighting with the classic Fresnel spotlight. The vast majority of shots taken on the workshop were lit with continuous light from a Fresnel spot light or two mixed with the ambient daylight. Chris also shot using his panel light reflector to redirect the sun and I rigged Speedlights on stands for a couple of the pictures for the purposes of covering the syllabus in this full on training event.

This ticket hall hasn’t changed for years. That mix of glazed tiles and mahogany sets the scene while a slash of an upstage Fresnel key light completes the timeless look. It’s easy to set continuous light because what you see is what you get.

This ticket hall hasn’t changed for years. That mix of glazed tiles and mahogany sets the scene while a slash of an upstage Fresnel key light completes the timeless look. It’s easy to set continuous light because what you see is what you get.

The Arri 300w and 150w Junior Fresnel spotlights I used are mains operated and provide precise control of the light direction and intensity pattern via use of the flood/spot control and the barn doors. It’s not just the control that makes these lights special, it’s the quality of light created by these ‘soft edged’ spotlights that makes them sought after. I have just put into production a 12Ah battery with an inverter for the Arri 150w to make it mains independent. Details will follow very soon.

Another feature of recreating the vintage look is using the ‘Hollywood cheek triangle’ of light for the close ups. You set a Fresnel light so that your subjects nose shadow crosses their cheek shadow to enclose a triangle of light on the side nearest to the camera. I directed a strong intense look from Jay and asked Chloe to melt into him and to close her eyes. This shot almost has a film poster look about it.

Another feature of recreating the vintage look is using the ‘Hollywood cheek triangle’ of light for the close ups. You set a Fresnel light so that your subjects nose shadow crosses their cheek shadow to enclose a triangle of light on the side nearest to the camera. I directed a strong intense look from Jay and asked Chloe to melt into him and to close her eyes. This shot almost has a film poster look about it.

I also had my Kobold 400w HMI daylight balanced Fresnel Spotlight with me at the shoot. It’s not easy to get this kind of kit anymore but there is an exciting new range of HMIs Just arriving with us in the UK at the time of writing. They are Fresnel lights with built in ballasts from Lupo of Italy. These new compact, tough, lights will give the quantity and quality of light we need. They are low power, high output units with cool running. The great news is HMIs are daylight balanced too.

Another ‘cheek triangle’ close up, this time it’s of Chloe. Two Fresnel spotlights were used in a two point lighting configuration to complete the look.

Another ‘cheek triangle’ close up, this time it’s of Chloe. Two Fresnel spotlights were used in a two point lighting configuration to complete the look.

Back in the day, fresnel spotlight sizes were vast, 10,000w, 5,000w, 2,000w and 1000w were all common place on film sets and the 1k pup was considered a small lamp. Now with 800 ISO regarded as completely useable on most DSLRs a 650w lamp is considered fierce. The 300w Junior Fresnel light by Arri is the most popular size now among our customers with the 150w as a favourite second light.

Chris Hanley and I swap models and delegates throughout our joint workshops to enable all the delegates to shoot all the set ups with both of us. I moved into one of the carriages for one session to get this shot of Jenni. I lit her using a 400w Kobold fresnel spotlight rigged on the platform and I took the shot with my 21mm Zeiss manual focus f/2.8 lens at f/2.8. This lens has a sharpness and clarity wide open that I’ve never seen equaled in a wide angle optic.

Chris Hanley and I swap models and delegates throughout our joint workshops to enable all the delegates to shoot all the set ups with both of us. I moved into one of the carriages for one session to get this shot of Jenni. I lit her using a 400w Kobold fresnel spotlight rigged on the platform and I took the shot with my 21mm Zeiss manual focus f/2.8 lens at f/2.8. This lens has a sharpness and clarity wide open that I’ve never seen equaled in a wide angle optic.

Lighting talk: Is continuous light is the way forward? More and more LED light units are entering our marketplace from China. They have multiple LED arrays and often have the ability to change colour temperature, or change focus by using LEDs of different properties in the same unit. These lights are low voltage, about 50w in power consumption delivering a light output equivalent to a 300w tungsten lamp. Because these lights are cool running they are perfect for TV news rooms and video installations. The light output is not pretty but it does illuminate very well.

Text has such power in an image it often detracts the viewers attention from the subject. In this case, the Gill Sans regular font adds to the period look.

Text has such power in an image it often detracts the viewers attention from the subject. In this case, the Gill Sans regular font adds to the period look.

Other lights coming into regular use are based on arrays of fluorescent tubes. These too are a bit too fragile for general location photography and are more suited to studio use.

It is likely that most of us will be using continuous light compatible with the video functionality of our DSLRs at some point soon. The new HMI Fresnel units we are about to import from Lupo, like our Arri 150w units will run off a battery with inverter or a mains supply. It is likely we will use the HMIs to supplement daylight both inside and out while the classic Arri 300w and 150w lamps will continue to be used to light tungsten lit interiors.

I started shooting a sequence of pictures through the glass of the carriage windows to evoke a sense of romance. The glass provides a barrier too, making our subject appear beyond reach.

I started shooting a sequence of pictures through the glass of the carriage windows to evoke a sense of romance. The glass provides a barrier too, making our subject appear beyond reach.

The other very popular continuous light I’ve not mentioned is the Lowel 100w battery light. It is the most compact of all my lights and will run from a 7Ah or a 12Ah battery. The Lowel is perfect for wedding shooters who need a fast,simple to use, compact hand holdable light.

By the time I was shooting this frame the potential of this technique was coming to me. Directing Jenni was not easy through the glass but we managed.

By the time I was shooting this frame the potential of this technique was coming to me. Directing Jenni was not easy through the glass but we managed.

I asked Jenni to swap sides in the carriage to help me control the reflections of the platform in the glass. I then directed her pose precisely, when I looked through my viewfinder it made my heart miss a beat. I always have a few artists work in mind when I’m shooting, Edward Hopper, and Jack Vetriano were the subconscious inspirations for this picture.

I asked Jenni to swap sides in the carriage to help me control the reflections of the platform in the glass. I then directed her pose precisely, when I looked through my viewfinder it made my heart miss a beat. I always have a few artists work in mind when I’m shooting, Edward Hopper, and Jack Vetriano were the subconscious inspirations for this picture.

Chris Hanley and I would love you to join us on a Vintage Cherish Shoot masterclass. You will shoot a fabulous set of pictures you can use for self promotion on your website, or in a portfolio. Plus you will get the knowledge needed to recreate the lighting and looks you see here. On the back of the success of this masterclass workshop we have added another date at the same location with the same models and team. Be part of this wonderful Vintage Cherish The Dress event on Tuesday 17th August.

9 Comments

  1. Fiona Campbell

    Hi Damien

    Great advice, thanks so much! I have some work to do…

    best regards

    Fiona

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Fiona, You can call it work but make it fun.

      The more fun you have taking pictures the more pictures you’ll take and the more pictures you take the better you will get and the better you get the more fun you will have. – Damien

      Reply
  2. Fiona Campbell

    Hi Damien

    Great to read this and be reminded of the fabulous vintage cherish the dress shoot. What a great day that was!

    I’m doing a practice shoot and the client wants to set the shoot in the sixties, and I’m finding it really tricky to think of venues. Any thoughts? Also, can you tell me a bit more about hiring makeup artists? What is the going rate for a makeup artist?

    Finally, do you think I can use Bowens portable lighting system until I can afford an Arri etc? Or is it possible to achieve these effects just using off camera flash? I know on the shoot the flash was misbehaving a bit, but I’d love to hear your thoughts generally on why you prefer the Arri lights to flash?

    thanks so much

    Fiona

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Fiona,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. The venue for your 60s shoot can be anywhere that hasn’t changed much. A vintage railway would be fine too. It’s the hair, clothes, make up and accessories that set the date of a picture, not really the venue. Parts of the station we shot at would have looked quite modern in the 60s.

      Make Up artist fees vary. It’s like asking ‘What is the going rate for a photographer?’ I suggest you get a make up artist onboard right from the off. Choose one with midweek availability and set out a strategy with them to grow your businesses in parallel. If you give them lots of work you can negotiate the price. Do some research and choose the MUA you are going to work with based on quality, convenience and personality. Definitely not price.

      The Arri lights are robust, cheap and easy to rig. What you see is what you get. They are perfect for ISO 800, 1/60th at f/4, (tungsten lit interiors) lighting situations. The Arris have a particular look that is not easy to recreate without a lens and a filament. The next generation of HMI lights will soon be replacing the Arris I’m sure because they too are Fresnel, low energy and strong. A 150w HMI gives out the same power as a 650w Arri etc and can run for a long time off one of our new battery inverter power supplies. HMIs are daylight balanced colour and the Arris are Tungsten balanced.

      The portable Bowens lights you mention might do the job you need depending upon the modifiers you have. Small Speedlights will do the job too to some extent if you have the necessary skills to rig them with control. Practice is what you need. Only you can answer your question. Rig your Bowens system and see what sort of pictures you can achieve, Do it at home, photograph a neighbour, etc. I shoot with lights 3 days a week and this gives me the experience needed to have control.

      Practice, practice, practice, with your lighting then start charging for your pictures to recover your research investment. As your lighting skills improve your fees will do too. Remember, the general public can’t use lighting and don’t have the kit either so once you can, and do, you will have a sound foundation for a business.

      Learn to use the lighting kit you already have to its limits. Then get the lights you need for the type of work you want to shoot.

      I hope this helps,

      Damien.

      Reply
  3. Heinz Schmidt

    Hi Damien, my question is more about finding locations than lighting. How do you scout for great locations without falling into the £100/hour trap?

    Cheers
    Heinz

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Heinz,

      It all comes down to negotiation and life skills. Perhaps you could take some pictures for their website in exchange for letting you use the location. Longer term relationships have to be built on win/win financial strategies. Hire by the morning or day and not by the hour perhaps. Charge your client accordingly. A £250 shoot fee is quite normal for a location shoot and should cover the location fee as well as the make up artist and put a bit of money in your pocket before you start to sell product. Make it happen and start negotiating. If the venue wants £100/ hour asK yourself how much would you charge an hour to do a commercial shoot for them. You might come to the conclusion that the shoot fee is quite reasonable seeing as they need to provide staff to oversee and be on hand etc.

      Kindest regards,

      Damien.

      Reply
  4. damien

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    Each image was edited to be correct and well balanced in Lightroom then exported to Photoshop and further tweaked in the usual Lovegrove way. The resulting 16 bit tiffs were then batch actioned into another folder using my Vintage 2 action. I’ve been asked to sell my actions but I’ve always resisted. You can get them all for free by attending Marko’s Photoshop or advanced PP workshops.

    I hope this helps.

    Damien.

    Reply
  5. Chris

    Nice entry this one. I like the addition of the business aspect in this one as well as the great photography we’re used to.

    You didn’t mention the post processing, is this a lightroom preset you’ve created or is each image adjusted on its own merits ?

    Reply

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