Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Who and How of taking my vintage fashion photos

There are a few questions that I answer often. I am asked who is your model? and when I say that I am, the question follows, who takes your photos? When I say that I do, I am almost always asked how?

I am here to answer these questions.

With a few exceptions I look pretty average in other people’s pictures of me and always have. I am not photogenic—mainly because I have a self-conscious reflex that makes me go all awkward when I see a camera. If you could take a photo of me without me knowing you might do better.

Believe me, no one has ever walked up to me and declared that I should be a model, even when I was 17 or 18. I am not model-thin, model-tall, model-young or model-beautiful. The reason I started photographing vintage clothing on myself back in 1999 was because I wanted to animate the clothes. I wear vintage clothing all the time, and I wanted to show a real person doing this—and I was the only model I could afford who was available at the drop of a hat. Also, I thought it would help distinguish me from all the other online vintage clothing sellers at that time, having a person in my shots. I don’t think anyone else used a real person in photos to sell their vintage fashion then.

My purpose isn’t to convince people that I look fabulous in my vintage finds, it’s to convince you that you could look fabulous in my vintage finds. I smile a lot, trying to capture the happy look of old magazine spreads and advertisements. I want others to think oh that looks fun! It is fun...and the world can use a smile or two.

I had to get over my self-consciousness even taking my own photos. (I am a professional musician, and I have had to apply the same sort of effort to getting out in front of people and playing my horn. I just have to get over myself and perform.) I kept trying things until I hit upon ideas—looks, poses, angles, lighting—that I really liked. I used to take 40+ photos per item to get the handful of shots I would use; now I take 10-15. And no, you can’t see what I throw out! Everyone takes terrible photos, I just trash them and move on.

Lots of people ask how everything I show on myself seems to fit me. I have learned to use every trick in the book! Obviously, if something is too large I can pin it, trying to make sure the item looks as it was designed to look. If it is too small, I can usually show certain types of clothes by using a vintage (read ‘high power’) girdle, sucking it in, etc. If I can’t zip something, I can use fabric tape to hold it in place at least, and just not show the telltale part of the fit. Lots of things I show I could never wear walking down the street, but the human body, much more than a dress form, is malleable. My mission is not to surprise you with the range of sizes that fit me, but to give you an idea of what the item would look like on the person it would fit best.

Then there is the technical side of the equation.

I’ve evolved somewhat in the way I take photos, but it has been essentially the same setup forever. My husband and I have devoted a corner of our living room to a sort of photo studio. I have a roll of white paper on a stand, and banks of lights on both sides. I set the camera on a tripod several yards away and use a timer to get my photos.

The lights are fluorescent bulbs—ones that simulate natural light—in inexpensive shop fixtures. The compact fluorescent bulbs on top are just to add a little more light near my face. The light fixtures are rather weighty and are on frames attached to old (heavy) microphone stands. In addition, I’ve got sandbags on the bases of these stands. Once, the whole set up fell down, and I don’t want a repeat performance!

I set up a mirror behind the camera on its tripod, mainly just to get a sense of what the shot looks like.

One of the great more recent changes has been getting a nice used camera of far greater quality than my c. 2001 workhorse. My old camera took pretty good point-and-shoot shots but my new camera (an Olympus Pen E-PL1) is noticeably better. Then there’s the timer issue. I need to be in the frame for the camera to make adjustments. I activate the shutter using an old-fashioned squeeze ball which pushes air down a tube to trigger a plunger which pushes the shutter release. Did you get that? Because there will be a quiz. 😄

I have a frame on the camera that keeps the air tube where it needs to be.

 Then, using a 2-second timer setting, I squeeze the ball, quickly drop it...

...and pose!

Photoshop allows me to extend the width of the background. I don’t have nearly enough space in my living room to have this background in real life!

So there you have it, the who and how of my photos. I hope it wasn’t way more than you wanted to know! 

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