How to Create Vintage Photography with Modern Equipment
written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/30/2011
Here is a look at how to recreate vintage photography with your own digital photography equipment.
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The New Vintage Photography
Creating your own vintage photography is a fun way to bring in an older and recognizable aesthetic and actually make your photos seem hip and referential. It is not as hard as you would think to produce your own vintage photography, and you can use the same new DSLR cameras that you do for the rest of your digital photography shoots. The only things you have to keep in mind are how old photos are framed up and exactly how the color composition appears, and you can then take your own creative control to bring fusion between vintage photography and modern photography.
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The first principle of vintage photography is that it should not be in standard color, if it is in color at all. Black and white is the standard for vintage photography, but you can try a sepia tone if you like. This can be a little too obvious and so if you do bring in the red and brown on top of the desaturated image then you want to do it relatively slightly and you may want to degrade the image further. You can also go with a certain amount of color in the image, but you will want to create a comparable color pattern to photos you see from the early days of color film. This can often mean actually oversaturation of certain colors, the degrade of others, and a strange mixture of yellows and blues.
You will not want to make the choice for desaturation when you are actually taking the photos, but instead do it during your photo editing. The main reason is that you do not want to make it impossible to move back to color, which will be the case if you initiate it as black and white ahead of time. Instead, wait until you get the raw files into a program like Adobe Photoshop before you actually desaturate the images.
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Vintage portraits are often the main focus of this type of photography, especially pin-up photography. This has been reflected in vintage and retro cultures and fashion for many years now, and this has permeated almost every area of youth art and communication. Some of the best ways to embody these vintage portraits is to replicate the iconic imagery you will find in them, following the lead of famous subjects or even specific photographs. Focus on the positioning of the subject, the lack of excessive make-up that is used, and the conventions of modern fashion. In general, you want to minimize the extravagance of set up and go for relatively minimalist indoor locations or lightly vegetated outdoor locations, which were both popular for vintage portraits.
Much of the portrait photographs that we consider when looking back at vintage photography was actually done very quickly, but you are still going to want to use studio lighting on them. This does not mean a standard three point lighting setup, however, and instead you will want to use less of a backlight for vintage portraits.
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The most important elements to really make your photos appear as vintage photography is in the actual art direction and costuming of the area and subjects. You have less to recreate if you are shooting in nondescript outdoor locations, but you will still need to present the subjects in a way that will appear as though they existed in earlier decades. The most effective way to give the appearance of this vintage photography is with a combination of vintage clothing and vintage hair styles, this will then create a symbolic reference to the audience immediately transporting them to a period of time. Fashion is one of the strongest cultural signifiers, and it will then set the stage for the rest of the elements including the color patterns and the system of vintage portrait imagery. If there are referential objects or locations then they also need to be of a certain age, such as vintage cars or an older storefront.