Photographing A Vintage 1950’s Photo Session

Photographing a vintage 1950’s photoshoot can be a challenge.  From the studio or on location to the makeup to the hairstyling, the challenges abound.

I am lucky to collaborate with the model, hairstylist and makeup artist, Tiera Agar, recently on a 1950’s vintage photoshoot concept.  For this shoot, we did a living room scene and a holiday-themed scene.  Both scenes are timely as both of us we seeking more content and set in the 1950’s.  Tiera loves the 1950’s era, dresses in vintage clothing and it shows!  Her hairstyling and vintage makeup is on point.  I loved the results of this session and I hope that you do too.  Here’s one of the images from the shoot below although I have many, many more images to process.


There were a lot of concepts that I considered for this shoot.  I choose the living room scene as a concept as this was the first time I’ve worked with Tiera as a model.  The results speak for themselves.  Tiera is an outstanding model and MUAH and will be a regular on my blog.  Since I wasn’t able to shoot all the content that I wanted, I will continue to shoot additional content comprising all of the concepts Tiera and I discussed.

Often when I will meet with a model for the first time, I spend additional time to discover his/her ideas and how developed his/her portfolio is at this point in time.  Since I love to work on vintage concepts and so does Tiera, expect to see more of her on this blog in the future.

Packing For Travel Photography

Crystal Bridges Art Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas

Crystal Bridges Art Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas

Packing for travel photography can seem difficult but you don’t need to include everything in your pack. I only carry what I am sure that I will use depending on the trip. For example, some trips I might shoot waterfalls and need an ND filter. Other trips I might be shooting mostly portraits and then need to include a portrait lens. If you’re unsure of what you might need I would include an all-in-one lens such as an 18-300mm and then throw in an ultra-wide lens.  Generally, in my pack I have 2 Nikon DX bodies and three lenses: 18-300mm, 10-24mm (ultra-wide) and a Rokinon 8mm (fisheye).  I also carry a Nikon SB-5000 strobe, a circular polarizer and a couple of ND filters to fit the lenses.  I always carry extra memory cards and 3 camera batteries per body.  Keeping lenses clean is also important, so I carry a cleaning kit as well.  Optionally, I include my Manfrotto befree Advanced tripod and KeyMission camera.  Hopefully, this will inspire thought into your travel gear.  Happy shooting!

How To Find The Right Hairstylist For Your Project

If you’ve been following along, I covered finding the right makeup artist for your project.   I’ve found over time that hair and makeup must be “right.”  For the “right” styling, the vision really depends on you.  Ask yourself what you want to achieve.  What should the styling be?  Contemporary?  Modern?  Vintage? Vintage with modern elements?  These choice drive which hair stylist you would choose.

Since I work with a number of makeup artists, I ask for recommendations from them.  People that they know in the business and that are skilled in hair in the vintages that I work in.  Through that avenue, I’ve found some great hairstylists by way of referral.  It’s just good business and it’s smart.   Of course, you will follow and Like their Instagram posts too.  Right?  I sure do.  I love to see what the hairstylists that I work with are doing and their success is your success.


I also like to work with hair educators that are on the cutting edge of hair and the hair business.  I’ve found them through my makeup artist.  Checkout the hair and makeup schools in your area for potential candidates for a hair stylist.  I like to do test shoots with both new hairstylists and makeup artists that I work with.  I suggest a test shoot for you too when you’re working with someone new.  You might ask how working with someone new might come up.  Suppose that you’re working a big job and you need more than one MUA.  Then you need more than one MUA. 

Of course, I also know some MUAHs, too.  I’ve found a MUAH that does outstanding wigs as well as hair styling and makeup. Above all else find people that you throughly enjoy working with like I have.

Researching Your Vintage Photoshoot

For a successful vintage photoshoot, like other photoshoots, requires preparation in location, styling, lighting and technique.

What I'd like to cover in this post is the styling part of the preparation.  For my shoots, I like to look at several sources.  The first source I look at is clothing.  I use to get a good understanding of the clothing and styling of a given era.  Also, if I have contacts with a person or persons who have a good recollection of the targeted era, I will discuss styling with them as well.  Next, I like to discuss makeup and styling with my makeup artist.

After this research, I like to start choosing the wardrobe and jewelry styling.  Many times, I have to look in multiple places to find the "right" jewelry piece or "just right" wardrobe piece.  Of course, when you're working with models, often one of them will have a piece or two that will work.  Lastly, I will work in the hairstyling.  Sometimes, even this is a trick to find the hairstylist that can suit the styling you seek.  Often times, I will send a copy of the styling I want with the model to give to the hairstylist as a guide to the final look.

Shooting A 1950’s Pin-Up Project

Pin-Up photography was more popular a few years ago but still is a lot of fun to photograph.  Since pin-up can go in many directions, it is best to focus your work in one area then develop the sets accordingly.  I’m focusing on the 1950’s era pin-up.

I recently did a photoshoot where 4 sets were planned but I was only able to shoot 3 sets.  Err on the side of quality in your shoots and don’t rush just to get ‘er done.  Be honest with yourself about timing and potential problems before the shoot happens so that during the shoot you won’t be pressed for time.  Unfortunately, if you’re pressed for time, it will show in the images and potentially add stress to  the model(s).  I tend to plan well and well in advance as a result.

When choosing the sets, choose carefully to complete your vision.  Pay attention to your budget and focus on getting the right props for the right price.  See my post earlier on getting the right props for your photoshoot.  For my pin-up shoot I used an air mattress and beach ball for one scene and in another scene used picnic supplies to carry the mood.  I’ve found that food props are surprisingly expensive as are vintage phones and other period accessories.  I try to use the most authentic props I can find and that requires a budget and some research.  For backgrounds, I chose a Savage Universal seamless paper white background for its utility.  Later, I used a medium grey background for contrast during an ice cream soda fountain scene.  Since the 1950’s was influenced by the Far East, I also used a Shoji screen for effect.

Lighting.  For lighting in this pin-up shoot, I used 2 Paul C. Buff Einstein strobes with extra-large umbrellas for soft even lighting with few shadows.  In contrast, I could’ve shot the same images using ARRI fresnels for tungsten lighting but wanted a different look for this shoot.

Post Processing.  In post, I’ve learned to start with rating images first and making any global image exposure changes first.  Then work on the finer details later after I’ve chosen which images to process further.  Be sure to look for things such as lipstick on the teeth, jewelry placement, odd expressions, hair out of place and wardrobe malfunctions.  The list of things to watch out for seems to be endless.

After navigating a number of era shoots, this is my experience from planning, to shooting and to the post-processing.

Preparing For A Headshot

I get asked often how to prepare for a headshot.  Sometimes, I get asked to remove all the wrinkles from the shots.  Other times, I get asked what is a head shot for?  Let me answer these questions and shed light on the purpose of a headshot first. 

The purpose of a headshot for actors and actresses IS to book work.  If people like your image, then you’re likely to get a callback.  In a way, the headshot is a visual resume of the current YOU.   A headshot from your 20’s won’t book you work in your 40’s.  So, asking to remove all the wrinkles in your images would only do you a disservice as it would misrepresent you to potential clients.  For business clients, your image may be part of your brand.  Potential clients want to know what you look like, to know who they’re doing business with and ultimately to connect with on business.

To prepare for a headshot, you want to look your best.  For the day of the shoot, I recommend that you have your hair done that day.  Be sure to bring with you a brush or comb for minor adjustments to the photo session.  If you’ve scheduled makeup for the session that great.  Otherwise, choose a more natural makeup for the ladies.  For the gentlemen, I recommend No-Shine to reduce the glare of the photographic lighting.  There are also blotting pads which can be used to reduce the shine as well.  For the eyes, I recommend eye drops that reduce redness in the eyes.

On the day before the shoot, get plenty of rest at night and drink plenty of water.  I also recommend that you reduce alcohol intake and prepare for you photo session the night before.  Starting the day of your shoot with stress is likely to show in the photos.

I wish you success in your next headshots shoot. 

Shooting A 1940’s Hollywood Lighting Project

Shooting a 1940’s Hollywood project is actually a lot of fun.  From the lighting to the props, it’s a fun trip back in time.

I enjoy studying up on the period from multiple sources.  The hardest subject I’ve found is the makeup and hair.  The styling and background are a different challenge, too.  The 1940’s was split between two periods: WWII and post-WWII.  After the war, the styling changed to include a number of new materials and colors.  During the war, styling was of fewer colors and less material.

To shoot a 1940’s scene, I find that it is best to use lighting of the day to give the same glow of the period.  I suppose strobes could be used, but I use ARRI tungsten fresnels.  I love working with these lights but they are HOT lights.  Makeup has to be done right to use these lights.  Otherwise the makeup will run and the photos ruined. 

For props, I use a cigarette tray, artificial cigarettes or cigars and an old telephone.  I’ve also acquired things such as book ends, doilies, books and other items.  I’ve found that using too many props is distracting for images of this time period.  Just don’t over-do it or under-do it.  I strive in all my period photos to make them realistic, believable and authentic 1940’s. 

For backgrounds, you can use a black photographic background with some folds in it to add depth and  visual interest.  Here again, though, don’t overdo it either.  There are also a number of 1940’s wallpapers that can also be used.  I’ve not hung the wallpapers or paper background before but check with Savage Universal as a source of great background papers and ideas.

I’ve also taken the advice of other pros and used a black mist filter on my black and white images.  There are, of course, lens choices.  I prefer to use a 24-70mm for full-length shots and a 85mm portrait lens for the half-body shots. 

Though a 1940’s project can seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be.  As I have outlined above, the process can be broken down into manageable steps that will lead to success in your shoots.


How To Find The Right Makeup Artist For Your Project

For me it seems that I struggle with casting makeup artists.  I’m not sure what it is but maybe it’s because I’m in unfamiliar territory there.  However, I’ve learned a bit about makeup over the years and have worked with some outstanding makeup artists.  But casting the “right” makeup artist for your project is crucial to success.


Consider what your project is first.  Is it a vintage shoot?  Is it a lifestyle shoot?  Is it a gothic or dark shoot?;  Next, consider what makeup you want.  What is your vision for the end product?  Do you have an example to work from?   Generally, I attempt to do as much research on the style for the project I’m working on.  Along with that research, I do research on hair, makeup, clothing, shoes and props.  I find that research activities uncover a lot of important questions that I pose to the various members of my project team.  I also find that other members of the team bring up ideas and thoughts that help me to refine my vision for the project as well.

Once you have settled on the vision for the project, begin reviewing makeup artists for your area that have at least some of the experience and look you’re seeking for the project.  I’ve found makeup artists  from anywhere from Instagram, to Model Mayhem to LensMasters meetings.  Sometimes you can get a great makeup artist for trade-for-print if there’s a strong interest in your project.  You can do castings in some groups on Facebook, Craigslist, Model Mayhem and others.  You can also find makeup artists by asking models or a studio for a referral.  Before you ask though know what genre you need and specifics of the project such as when and where you intend to shoot and your budget.

Once you have selected the makeup artist, I like to do a wardrobe fitting and have the model meet myself and the team before the shoot.  While I’m at it, I get a couple of quick snapshots of the model’s face and hair both front and back.  Often, these snapshots later prove to be invaluable to answer any questions your makeup artist may have.

Happy shooting! 

Finding Photographic Props For Your Studio

Finding great photographic props for you studio is easier than you think.  The main purpose of a prop is to give the model something to interact with.   The second purpose of a prop is to sell your story to your audience.  So where do you find great props?

Props can be sourced from many places just use your imagination.  I generally perform my research on the period of my photoshoot first.  This helps me to open my imagination to possibilities that I wouldn’t have considered on my own.


If you’re purchasing props, and I usually purchase at least some props for the period I’m working, then consider online resources.  One great place to purchase props is eBay.  There are literally 1000’s of items generally to work with and is one of favorite places to prop shop.  For other things consider or if you’re adventurous Craigslist.  For the not so adventurous, try antique or consignment shops. 

Don’t forget to ask people you know.  Fellow photographers often have items they can loan.  Consider other members of your team such as your modeling friends, MUA’s and hairstylists, too.  Often when a MUA or model is part of your team, they will offer to help you with props of their own.  Bonus!

Sometimes, you can work a deal with a local playhouse or even actors and actresses you know can be an excellent resource.  If all else fails, consider approaching a prop house.  Many prop houses will place their inventory online for your research and review including the prices.  I’ve never had the need to go to a prop house but know in advance that there’s a deposit required.

Hopefully, this post gives you some insight into sourcing props for your next shoot or at least some insight on sources you’ve not yet considered.

Using Your Garage As A Studio

For those that have been reading along, my last post was about using your living room as a studio.  Now, let’s discuss the use of your garage as a temporary studio space. 

If you’re like me, then you use your garage as a place to park your car(s) AND as a temporary studio space.  In this post, I’d like to contrast the differences between the two types of spaces. 

In your living room, you’re likely to have large or larger windows than anywhere else in your home.  As such, you, as a photographer, can make good use of them.  Garages, however,  generally have one very large opening - the garage door.  It’s a plus if you have other windows but unfortunately I don’t have garage windows at all in my garage, so I make do with strobes and continuous lights.  If you don’t have own either then consider renting equipment from a photographic equipment rental company.  Here in Southern California, I have many choices for lighting vendors and hopefully, you can find a vendor too.

Use of a garage also poses another challenge, useful ambient lighting for setup and teardown of your studio.  In my garage, i have an incandescent and one fluorescent light for the entire garage.  Generally, I open the garage door and illuminate the internal lights for setup and teardown for this reason.  If this isn’t an option consider a standing lamp as an alternative.

A second reason that I like to setup with the garage door open is because of ventilation.  With people, equipment and lights, the studio space can get quite warm even on cool days.  While I’m shooting, I also like to turn on a fan and crack the garage door a few inches just to help the air circulate.  Normally, I don’t open the garage door completely while shooting to avoid the competing light temperatures.  While shooting during the summer months, I’m considering the purchase of a portable, free-standing air conditioner to better manage the climate conditions of the studio.  A number of years ago, I remember shooting a series of portraits during the month of August.  It was hot, the makeup ran and the work wasn’t as good as it could have been otherwise.  Of course, in winter there is the opposite effect requiring the use of a space heater. 

The one thing I love about the use of a garage as a studio space is the cleanup.  Not only can you use an area broom to sweep the entire area within 10 minutes but also you can mop the area too before the shoot.  I nearly always sweep the entire garage before a shoot anyway because I don’t like getting dirt and leaves on my backgrounds and other equipment.  I like to remember that keeping your worksite clean is an expression of both yourself and your work. 

Lastly, when the studio equipment is stored and the cars returned to their places, I like to close the garage door and call it a job well done!

Using Your Living Room As A Temporary Studio

So, you’ve chosen your living room as a studio location?

First, before attempting this, get spousal or roommate approval!

The next thing to consider is what time of day will you be shooting indoors.  This can be a problem because stray light from windows can either be a help or hindrance to lighting your subject.  If you’re using the windows that’s great, but if you’re not, then you’ll need to control the stray light.


Almost one year ago, I was using my living room as the set for a 1940’s Hollywood lighting project.  One of the problems I confronted was managing the stray light entering the set.  I controlled the light by using background stands, black backgrounds and a heavy blanket.   Controlling light from skylights and tall windows can be much more difficult to manage.  I didn’t have this particular problem on my set but if I had, I would’ve used either a scrim or flags.  As things were, the set was dark enough so that the lighting I desired was effective and no other modifications were necessary.

Another consideration while using your living room as a home studio are the electrical sources.  With lighting all around, it’s easy to overlook the importance of a safe set.  I select my plug-ins carefully so as to not overload a circuit.  I also use a number of safety cones to mark tripping hazards and direct traffic away from specific areas on the set where I don’t want people to roam.   Hot lights require a little extra management.  Be sure that you don’t get anything flammable too close to a hot light for any length of time.  If you’re using strobes, then check the wattage rating on the light modifier.  Do not exceed the wattage rating on the light modifier as a fire could result!  Not only would a small fire be bad for your photoshoot it will be difficult to explain to a roommate or spouse not to mention you won’t be using your living room as a set again.

While shooting, it’s also important to keep in mind the various immovable obstacles present in your home.  A sense of awareness of your surroundings is a big plus to avoid a mishap.

After your shoot, be sure to reverse the process of lighting the set by turning off the lights and allowing them to start cooling while removing the power from the power source.  Once this is done, the remaining work of dismantling the lighting becomes straightforward.  Lastly, the one thing you won’t want to forget is to sweep and/or vacuum the set area.  Dusting is also recommended as well.

Happy shooting! 


How To Choose A Travel Backpack

Having traveled a bit through the US, Canada, Europe and now Australia, I’ve had the occasion to use various backpacks for travel.  I’ve tried several over the last 10 years but my favorite backpack is the one I now carry - the Manfrotto MA-BP-R Advanced Rear Backpack.

The Manfrotto advanced rear backpack has a lot of features that I have found very appealing.  I think you’ll agree too.  The most important feature that this backpack has is the anti-theft features.  Initially, I bought this pack for its anti-theft features.  Not only is the equipment access on the side against your back but there are also locks for two of the other three compartments.  The equipment access compartment doesn’t lock because the majority of the time the access is against your body and also a lock in this area would be quite uncomfortable.  Other backpacks I’ve tried for travel did not have locking compartments and while traveling I was often self-conscious that my equipment might get stolen.  While using this backpack, I don’t have that fear.


Another great feature is the compartment for a travel tripod.  It’s the perfect size for my Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod.  I’ve owned the travel tripod longer than this backpack and was pleased that the tripod stowage was integrated into the pack.  Other backpacks strap the tripod onto the back of the pack along with a kickstand to support the tripod.  With this pack, the tripod is 95% contained as part of the pack.

Another fear while traveling is inclement weather.  No worries here.  There’s a rain cover included with the pack that keeps the rain off of your gear.  While traveling in Australia, I used the rain cover to great effect. 

While carrying a lot of gear like I do, the pack can get heavy at times.  This backpack, unlike others, does not cut into your shoulders even while I had 22 pounds (10 kilos) of gear stuffed into it.  I remember trekking across Italy with a different pack that cut into my shoulders.  It was really uncomfortable but this pack makes the carry a breeze.

This pack is also just right as an airline carry-on.  It’s not too big and not too small.  It’s just right to carry all my travel gear: 2 DSLR chopped sensor bodies, a Black Rapid camera strap and 3 lenses in the equipment compartment.  In the top compartment, I placed a full size flash, batteries, an action camera, a battery charger, charging cables, an ExpoDisk  and four filters).  In the laptop pack, I included a laptop, an iPad, and a couple of Moto mods.  In the side compartment, I placed my Manfrotto Pixie tripod, a notepad, a pen, and a memory card holder.  On the opposite side compartment, I put my travel tripod.  Yes, it all fit!

With this setup, I’m ready for my next adventure! 

Making The Most Of Your Tour Guides

As both a photographer and traveler, I must make the most of my travel time.  When I book a walking tour, day cruise or day trip, I find that the best tour guides make the photography easy and I learn a lot about the country, city or locale I'm visiting.


Recently, I vacationed in southeast Australia and had several opportunities to take multiple city walking tours, a day trip to Phillip Island and a day cruise to Wine Glass Bay.  I was careful to book well-regarded tour guides along the way.  Not necessarily the cheapest day trip but definitely ones with excellent reviews in interesting places.  I have found over my travels through the United States, Europe and now Australia that the tour guide IS the difference between getting great travel shots and having a great time as well.  As a tourist, you need someone on YOUR team that has local savvy and can get you from place to place in a timely manner.  The best tour guides know all the local spots, have the best stories and a lot of answers to your particular questions.

For more information on tours in any of these destinations, follow my reviews on TripAdvisor.

Recommendations For Photo Sessions

You’ve scheduled your photography session. Now, how to prepare and what to expect?

First, whether scheduled at a location or at a commercial studio, remember not to wear wild colors or patterns except sparingly.  Results are best obtained with basic colors and simpler styles.  Your pre-session meeting covered the location, styling and color themes.

  • Professional Portraiture - I recommend no wild colors or patterns.  For the ladies, modest makeup and hair with a neutral solid blouse or dress.  For the gentlemen, a white shirt only if wearing a jacket.  Otherwise, a neutral solid complementing your complexion.
  • Family Portraiture - I recommend no wild colors or patterns.  For the ladies, modest makeup and hair with a neutral solid blouse or dress.  For the gentlemen, no all white shirts, please. Otherwise, a neutral solid.  Best results are by color coordinating the family wardrobe for the shoot.

If you’ve scheduled a makeup artist or hair stylist there may be additional pre-session instructions; be sure to ask questions prior to the session.  Be sure to include your personal preferences as well.

On the day of the session, arrive at the session early so that you are relaxed.  Be sure to remember to bring your wardrobe, shoes, jewelry and accessories as decided during the pre-session planning.  Lastly, once you’re at your session, relax, and enjoy your session.

Preparation For A Photo Session

I’m a firm believer in planning and preparation.  When it comes to photo shoots, I’m exactly the same.   Planning.  Preparation.  Focus.  Details.

Quite a lot goes into a shoot that may not be obvious to the uninitiated.  From the location and background to the makeup and hair.  What I’d like to concentrate on though for this post, though, is clothing.  Again, to the uninitiated this seems trivial.  Isn’t it all about the equipment?  No, it’s not about the equipment.  Think presentation.  Are you selling the clothes, jewelry, glasses or are you selling you?  That question determines the clothing and what you shoot and how you shoot.


Many people focus on the concepts but not the content.  I like to focus on the content that meets its purpose and intended audience.  Recently, I was on a TFP shoot where the individual not only changed his hairstyle but also poorly packed his clothing in a wad.  Then, didn’t tell me until the shoot. The wrinkles in the clothing were impossible to get out so the shoot was very limited to specific no-press items.  I can’t stress enough how unprofessional and poorly this reflects on a model’s preparation.  From the photographer’s perspective, it appears like you’re not taking the material seriously.  Secondly, it doesn’t reflect well on getting a call back.  Don’t be this guy!

Instead, press and pack clothing for a shoot carefully.  Show up with no-shine if a make-up artist  is not scheduled.  Guys, shave if that’s the look of the concept.  Above all, don’t ask a photographer if you should wear saggy, dingy or out-of-fashion clothing.  Who would want to appear poorly in photos?  


That’s what I thought.


Elegance In November

Recently, I had the pleasure of photographing one of my models Skye for an elegant glamour setting.  The results I think are stunning.

On all of my shoots, I do a lot of pre-planning of my work.  From the sketches, to the makeup, I work diligently to define and refine the image I seek.  Then, with the planning in place, I capture that image.  In this case, I captured a strong confident woman comfortable in her femininity.  Personal strength is always a quality that photographs well.

For this shoot, I used the services of Lisa Joy Makeup for the look I wanted along with Tony and Guy educator Michelle for the hair.  For lighting, I chose clamshell lighting while using a Westcott Lighting Rapidbox beauty dish above and strip light below. Choosing the makeup and hair artists carefully make my shoots successful and takes my images to the next level.  The makeup and hair are key to glamour and pinup photography as a flaw in either results in difficult to fix post-processing edits.  It is also good to have your makeup artist on set for any corrections or changes necessary for the shoot to progress.