Vintage 50s Photoshoot

When I headed off to Greenville, SC to participate in this year’s Create Photography Retreat a couple of weeks ago, I had landscapes on the brain. In addition to teaching a couple of landscape composition courses, I was looking forward to fall colors on the Blue Ridge Parkway, waterfalls, and learning some new techniques for nighttime landscape photography. The last thing I expected was getting a chance to participate in a vintage 50s photoshoot, complete with a classic Chevy!

As I have mentioned in the past, the Create Photography Retreat offers a lot of shooting opportunities. And there is something for everyone: weddings, macro, portraits, landscapes and some opportunities that we rarely get to participate in under “usual” circumstances. So I knew that there would be models on hand throughout the event. They even did some stylized wedding shoots! But, as I say, my mind was not on people pictures for this event.

At least not at first. I was making my way to one of those classes I was supposed to teach when I saw Cassandra Porter, fully decked out in a fancy 50s dress and matching hat. Then I found out that she would have a car of similar vintage on site later in the day. I changed my afternoon plans immediately. After all, I’ve made a habit over the last couple of years of taking photos of people dressed in clothing from another time.

Because of my other responsibilities that day, I only had about 30 minutes to take advantage of that vintage 50s photoshoot, but it was more than I needed. Cassandra was sweet, patient, and perfectly looked the part.

A few days later, when I began to review the images, I realized that she actually looked like she could be playing a couple of parts. So as I began to process her photos, I put them in two distinct categories.

Processing a Photograph

Taking a photograph is only the first part of a photographer’s process. Actually, it’s (at least) the second part. Long before we pull the camera to our eyes and push the shutter button, we have probably already imagined the image that we want to create. We think about the composition, and the light, and expression and mood, and even colors and shadows.

Then, after the image is stored in our cameras, we still have to process it. Back in the day, that meant developing the film, and then – in many cases – spending time in the dark room manipulating the negative in order to create the image that we had envisioned when we began. Today, of course, we do that at the computer.

Cameras are blunt objects. The are cold, technical machines designed to record light and hue and saturation levels. One pixel is the same as the next. The camera, in and of itself, cannot determine the “important” part of the image, or what the photographer was actually looking at when he or she clicked the shutter. It’s all just reflected light.

Our eyes, of course, don’t work that way at all. We focus on the important, or the visually captivating, or that light, or some movement. We can focus on that single visual element, and completely disregard everything else around it. (This is why so many pictures are taken that have dumpsters, open toilet seats, and strange photobombers in the background that we never even noticed at the time!)

So when a photographer processes an image, we are trying to recreate what our eyes actually saw. We are trying to help the viewer see the same thing, feel the same emotion, or experience that moment. Still with me?

Then, hopefully, you will see in these pictures a happy, blue-eyed girl enjoying her “new” car on a sunny day in 1956. Click the thumbnails to enlarge them.

That other pile of images wasn’t quite as sunny. Between the poses, or the expressions that I had asked for, or a particular look in Cassandra’s eye, they seemed to have a different feel. So I processed them differently, emphasizing the darker and moodier tone. Again, you will need to click them to get the full view.

For what it’s worth, I should mention that these shots don’t seem to reflect Cassandra at all. In fact, as quickly as the shutter clicked on the last shot, she burst into laughter. Clearly, the roll of femme fatale does not suit her!

But, as I said, she was a great sport and I enjoyed the opportunity of doing this vintage 50s photoshoot with her. And I am already composing some images in my head for our next project.

Are you interested in a vintage photoshoot? Ready to bring out you inner Clark Gable, or 40s noir look? Drop me a note. I’d love to hear what you have in mind. Car not required!

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