Vintage Portraits on a Budget – Photography Tutorial

For a couple years now, I have been shooting a portrait series I call Time Period; it is an art series that allows me to look back a how people lived their lives in past times. My goal is to create portraits that look like they were taken by me as if I were there in that time. It is a fun process, but can be an expensive one. Shooting for different time periods means that you need props, wardrobe and locations that fit and if you aren’t careful, these can all drive the cost way up. Today, I want to give you four tips that will help you set up a vintage portrait shoot like without breaking the bank.

1. Look for museums
Both large and small museums often have a wide selection of donated items that will help in your endeavor. This air museum specializes in World War II artifacts and had two fully-restored planes in the collection. The museum also allowed us to use some clothing pieces and hand props that would have been expensive to rent somewhere else.

2. Reenactors and LARPers
I look for reenactor groups and live action role players, or LARPers, to bring in to the process. There are groups all over the nation that have their own clothing, vehicles and props and have done the research to look authentic. This also gives me access to items that look new but fit the time period.

3. Wardrobe houses
Sometimes you just have to rent wardrobe pieces. I don’t do this very often because it is cost prohibitive but there are locations in LA that get get costumes from movies that can be rented, and even shipped out. When I shot on the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor, Julene pulled costume pieces from Master and Commander to bring with us.

4. Location of set pieces or props
I use the place where the set pieces or props are located for the shoot. I have no choice with a plane or a ship. For the planes, which are often at modern-looking hangars, I use a lot of smoke to cover the things I don’t want to see in the image. I fill the frame with the plane or wagon and get down low so I am looking into the sky.

For today’s vintage portrait, we pulled the plane out onto the tarmac and placed it so I could see the mountains in the background and the sun would come in from camera left. I am shooting at f4.0 with a shutter speed of 1/125th and the ISO set to 100.

For the key light, I will use a Dynalite Baja B4 and add an octodome with a grid on camera left. I then add a second Baja B4 from camera right as a rim light.

During the shoot we used a reflector to take some of the sun off his face. We also used a Rosco fog machine to add depth to the image and hide some of the tarmac. Here is the diagram of where everything was set for most of the day.

To finish the portrait, Julene cleaned up the image a bit and took out the building in the background. She added a curves adjustment to increase the contrast. Then she added a gradient map layer with the opacity at 50% to desaturate the color and give it a more vintage feel. Next, she added a sepia photo filter and finally a high pass layer to increase sharpness.

There is a look at the Time Period series I have been working on. I hope you enjoyed stepping back in time with us. Keep those cameras rollin’ and keep on clickin’.

Hey! Thanks for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post make sure to leave a comment below and check out the other great content I post all the time. – Matt
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