written by: Misty Faucheux•edited by: William Springer•updated: 5/12/2011
Classic fashion images evoke glamor and beauty. But, this doesn't have to be a dead art. Learn how to take these types of photographs with your own camera.
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Modern fashion photography often involves setting up a scene, and oftentimes the model him- or herself is not the subject of the photograph. In the old days, however, the model was usually front and center. These shots were meant to be glamorous and sophisticated.
You can also use old fashioned photography techniques in current portrait photographs, especially if you are trying to evoke a classic mood. You don’t even need to revert back to a film camera to capture these photographs, but you may want to switch to your black and white setting. And, you will definitely need some good lighting.
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Lighting and Equipment
Generally, classic photography shoots used a lot of front lighting, illuminating the face. They also used backlighting to create silhouettes. If the face was the subject, the hair and body may be slightly in shadow.
Set up your studio, and experiment with front- and backlighting to see what looks better for your subject. Always have all of your tools on hand for your photo shoot. A tripod is also a must. You will need a macro lens more than a zoom lens, but your photographs will definitely be more vertical than horizontal. Even if the photographer didn’t capture the full body in older fashion images, they caught a lot of it.
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Positioning and Backgrounds
Positioning is extremely important in classic photography. A hand on the face added a sense of drama while a full-length shot of a woman in a black dress evoked classiness. Figure out the mood that you want to produce. For example, if you take a photograph of a sultry woman staring at the camera, you may place a small table behind her with a photograph of a man. Or, have the photograph face down like she’s dumping an old lover.
While props are a must, only use them to add information or interest to the photograph. Old fashion photography images didn’t have a lot of background noise. The background was usually black, white or gray, and there was very little in the image besides the model. Don’t add unnecessary items to the image. Shoot for minimalism.
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Black and White
Now, as mentioned earlier, most of these photographs were in black and white. Black and white fashion photography adds elegance, mystery, etc. to a photo shoot. Modern digital cameras usually come with a black and white setting. If you do take your images in black and white, use the finest setting possible, such as Fine or Extremely Fine.
Or, you can always shoot your images in RAW, and then convert them to black and white in a program like Photoshop or GIMP. This allows you to save the integrity of the image and reduces compression. You can then further manipulate your image, including adding more contrast. Or, you can add just highlights of color. For example, if the focus is on the lips for a lipstick ad, just add color back to the lips.
Just experiment with your photographs, and find a style that you like. Use the older ads to give you ideas, but just use these images as inspiration.