Blogging has been a journey for me. It started out as a place for me to write about and share my hobbies, many of which were craft and/or vintage related. Once I learned how to sew, however, it rapidly became more of a sewing/fashion blog (though I keep the door open for variety when the urge strikes to write about something else). A fashion blog meant I suddenly was in front of the camera, instead of behind it. And as a self-conscious, awkward teen I had no clue how to do that!
A very, very early sewing project (the skirt) and the best of one of my first ever tries at posing while someone else took pictures.
I laugh or cringe at some of my early photos and posts now, and of course, there were many, many pictures that mercifully never made it to the blog. I've also learned so much about how to model fashion (I'm mostly talking about vintage fashion here), so I hope to share out of my experience a few things I've learned that may help someone else newly starting out, or struggling with trying to make their photos and modeling more attractive and professional.
There are so many types of vintage bloggers out there, each with their own style. While I admire the stunning photos of professional models in exotic locations or with amazing photo props and editing, I'm writing more to the folks who have a hobby they want to share, but no experience with what transfers pleasingly to the photo frame, and limited access to tools and backgrounds. Some ladies can do the exaggerated poses of a professional model and look dreamy instead of ridiculous, but many of us are not blessed with that talent - appearing happy and pleasant in everyday surroundings is our strong suit.
This is probably as close as I'll get to looking dreamy and sophisticated! :-D
So here are some tips I've come up with during my own blunders and experiments. Perhaps some of these are pretty obvious, but I include them in case they may be helpful to anyone who may be as clueless as myself when I began. I don't really list them in order of importance, and some may overlap.
(Please keep in mind I am not a professional and still have a lot to learn when it comes to photography, modeling, and photo editing!)
Finding the style and colors that suit you best, and how to accessorize them, is a separate issue and not in the perimeters of our discussion today. So, you have your beautiful outfit on, hair and makeup done, and you're ready to go. What's next?
1) Know Yourself
Do a little self analysis. Which expression do you like best on your face - smiling, or pensive? I, for instance, almost never like myself in candid shots, and think my completely relaxed face looks akin to a sleepy sheep. :-) Hopefully not so much in real life - but there is so much difference between the fluid movements and expressions of real life, and a frame captured and frozen in time. For me to be happy with photos of myself, I need to wear lipstick, and be posed with a smile or pleasant expression. On the other hand, if you don't like your smile - don't smile in pictures.
What are you sensitive about? Profile? Waistline? Height? There are tricks to minimizing each of these. If you don't like your profile, make sure that you don't present the side of your face straight on, but are always looking slightly over your shoulder toward the camera.
(Keep in mind that for tutorials, like how-to hairstyle step by step photos, you will need well lit photos of all angles, flattering or not. And that works fine for readers because they are concentrating on the method being taught, not the art of presentation.)
An always flattering angle to the waist is to take photos slightly from one side or the other instead of straight on with your front flat toward the camera. And if height is an issue, don't take photos beside items that can serve as a scale - a plain wall background or a woodland trail (if it's not too dark), for instance, or even a seated position, will suit better than beside a chair or another person.
Notice how in the top photo my waist looks smaller than in the bottom photo.
Many of the models you see in black and white photos from the 1930s, etc, are actually not that beautiful if you look at them critically. They might have a nice feature which they know how to make the most of, are impeccably dressed in the right sort of clothes for their body type, are poised and confident, and can look absolutely stunning and glamorous as a result. Many ladies who are not so-called pretty can definitely still be glamorous and elegant!
2) Best Foot Forward
One thing you will see a lot of in vintage ads and model photos is that always, always for a full-length shot one foot is angled in some way (usually the foot toward the camera). It just looks more pleasing than with both feet flat on the ground and even with each other. Compare the photos below.
3) Backgrounds and Lighting
This is one I still struggle with, being a backyard photographer with a limited amount of backgrounds (all country themed) - especially in rainy weather! A background should ideally be somewhat suitable with your outfit, if possible, and simple enough to not distract from your outfit. It can add a lot to your photos or simply be a relief to make you stand out clearly.
If you are taking photos in front of trees or bushes, tell your photographer to make sure that you don't have a tree branch growing out of your head! :-)
A simple, weathered, shaded wall in a neutral is often a really good background that suits pretty much anything, if you're lucky enough to have one and it's in the shade when you are ready to take pictures.
For someone like myself, to dress up and drive 20 minutes or more to town, with a toddler, just to take pictures is not likely to happen. But on the other hand, if I know I am going someplace that would make a good backdrop - like a park or hike - it often works to plan an outfit you want photos of, and carry along your accessories and lipstick. You can wear them just long enough for pictures if necessary, without making a special trip.
I knew that we would be touring Glen Eyrie Castle while on vacation this summer, so I wore a new dress and brought along accessories.
It was such a beautiful backdrop!
Light is so, so important. Don't take pictures in full sunlight, or in strongly dappled shade. But for really good photos without a lot of editing, you need natural light. If you need to take work-in-progress or detail photos, always do it in the daylight close to a window rather than under a lightbulb. If you stand in the shade (like under a tree) with strong sunlight behind you, either the background will wash out or you will be too dark. Often either the morning or the late afternoon is the best time for taking pictures, because the light is more mellow and since it's not directly overhead, you are more likely to find stretches of shade.
Here you can see that the background was too bright and as a result, I was too dark.
This improved once I moved to a spot with shade in the background, but I had to be careful of sun spots.
A few on the skirt were ok- not a bright circle on the forehead or nose! :-)
A blog post will look best if it has photos from a variety of angles and distances. What I often like to do is rotate slowly in front of the camera while my sister takes full-length photo shots (meanwhile I pay attention to the position of my feet), and then rotate again as she takes photos that are more hip length. To finish, we might do some head and shoulder shots from several angles, and then close-ups of any detail on the outfit, or accessories. Meanwhile I also use a variety of expressions, and look both at the camera and away from it. To have this variety (of course you can crop some afterwards if necessary) makes a nice selection of poses so you don't have the exact same expression or angle for all shots.
Taking photos from many angles can help you be able to select the most becoming one later. Admittedly, sometimes it's only the best out of not very good options.
Photo props can be a nice addition, if they don't distract from your outfit, and can really take your photos a step up. Even if it's just a chair or bench, it adds visual interest and gives you more options with poses.
I had my chin tucked in too far - double chin alert! The next one was a much nicer angle.
A few more modeling tips...
Photos from the back often look best with your chin up so your hair nestles against your shoulders. Otherwise, you'll look a little hunchback and your head will be out of proportion because it's too far forward.
Selfies are fine for Instagram "real moment in real life" photos, but preferably to be avoided for blog posts if you want to up your game.
If you are doing a contemplative pose and looking down, don't look down too far or you'll look like you are blinking or asleep. The photographer should always be able to see a slit of your eyeball.
Also be aware of the position of your hands. This is still a tripper for me. Editing photos from a recent shoot, I was bummed to realize that my hands were in the exact same position in almost all of the good photos - and they hid my belt effectually the entire time. Make sure to move them around as you take photos. Holding something like a handbag really can help with occupying your hands - but make sure again that you move it around, so you don't end up with a part of what you are trying to photograph obscured the whole time.
Remember that as a vintage blogger, while you are presenting an image of yourself, you are also focusing on the clothes, which means they need to be displayed to best advantage. Again, vintage images can help a lot with that.
5) But Also Continuity
I usually prefer variety in poses, but continuity overall with the location. If the blog post jumps back and forth from dark indoor photos to sunny outdoor photos, for instance, it can be distracting. But if you are outside and you wander around a bit, it works just fine to have some photos under a tree, and others beside a gate or a horse, for example. It's the same general color scheme and lighting.
6) Analyze & Research
Honestly, one of the best ways to educate yourself is to look at images on Pinterest of a similar style of outfit, and see how it is modeled. Is the model languid and mysterious, or school-girl-on-a-vacation? Notice the angle of the body, the position of feet and hands. Is the pose elaborate or more candid?
Also study pictures of yourself. If you don't like a particular photo, try to analyze why you don't like it. If you really like one, why is that? This will help you learn what you do like in yourself, and each piece of knowledge will help guide you next time.
7) Tools, Tools, Tools
This almost goes without saying, but of course a good camera and some basic editing is always a huge boost in photo quality. Almost all my photos lately have been taken with an iPhone 8 Plus because the camera on it is better than the actual camera I previously used. Plus it has this amazing Portrait Mode feature which slightly blurs out the background and makes it instantly look professional. There are a lot of options out there. Ask a knowledgable friend to recommend a decent camera in your budget.
Speaking of knowledgable friends, it is really important to have someone take your photos who has at least some eye for proportion and framing. If you don't know anyone who can take good photos, you may need to get a tripod and learn how to take your own. Otherwise your photos will never look more than amateur, and the most beautiful outfit won't save the day.
One basic tip for the photographer is that in almost any camera, the proportions look better if you zoom in a bit and step back if necessary to get the full length shots, rather than zooming out from where you stand in order to fit the subject into the frame.
Even a less than satisfactory photo shoot, where the weather or something wasn't behaving, can often be saved or at least minimized by some brightening, cropping, etc. These are very, very basic and easy to use tools. You can always Google or Youtube to find out how to use a particular program if you don't know how.
When cropping or taking photos, try to avoid cutting off frames at body joints. It's better to crop a photo a few inches below or above the elbow or knee, than right at the elbow or knee. It's just an awkward place to end the photo, like your limbs were chopped off. Example below:
It can be so frustrating if you are dressed up and having a good hair day, and the weather is not behaving. Of course, to have a good indoor location is ideal. A section of bare wall, or a simple photo prop like a chair in a room with good lighting can be a nice substitute. If you are outdoors and the wind blowing your skirt is a problem, a good solution is to take seated photos, like the one below. It was windy that day!
If the weather truly is nasty or gloomy, you may have to make a decision: do you want to go ahead and just make the best of it because this is your only opportunity? Or is it better to change plans and do it another day? For my striped 1930s outfit, I slated several different days to take photos, only to be thwarted by the wind, or my hair, or some other obstacle. But I didn't want to force it because I really wanted good photos of this particular outfit, not just "quickly snapped and let's get inside before we freeze" photos. And in the end, it was worth the wait!
9) Keep Calm and Try Again
In all of this, remember that you are your worst critic. Remember that most people will just scroll fairly rapidly through your blog post, not analyze each photo (though consistently dark or blurry photos will annoy them). Some flaw that may stick out to you like a sore thumb, will likely go unnoticed by most readers; or if they notice it, it will be in passing - it doesn't impact them personally.
Even the most beautiful model out there has some unflattering photos, which never make it to the public, of her blinking, or eating, or caught in an ungraceful pose. After all, every person is a real person. Photos are a form of art, and cannot convey accurately the complete picture of a real life.
And as far as the photo quality goes, some shoots will be better than others. If it's worth it, do a reshoot later when hairstyle or weather or background is more fortuitous. Sometimes you can just move on and try to do better next time. In my experience, while readers may compliment a particularly good photo or blog post, they will not be critical of the ones that are not quite perfect.
So be encouraged, and keep on trying! Everyone starts somewhere. :-)
Verity Vintage Studio