The advent of Photoshop around here was slow in coming, but once it arrived the pace picked up dramatically. Like all old film photographers I went through my digital adolescence – with all the oversaturated, oversharpened, and overdramatic images I could make. I am amazed that the screen on the old PC did not shatter. By the time I graduated to my iMac the worst was over. Apart from a crop of pimples , it was a mild adolescence.
I did not pass to the second stage of digitality – the hipster coolpro no colour, desaturated, dead fish in the corner of the frame school of art. I figured Irving Penn had done all the dead leaves and cigarette butt platinum prints that the world needed and anything I could add would only be dead weight.
As drugs and rock and roll have never interested me, I turned my attention to sex. Sex ignored me. So I turned my attention to historic re-enactors and recreating the look of old photographs. At least the re-enactors did not ignore me. In the last 15 years I have explored quite a few looks from the past – and I am delighted to say that the manufacturers of the digital software have decided to do the same.
Now lots of little cameras these days will do you a “sepia” setting in the jpeg part of the menu. It is a variable thing, and does nothing more with the image than toss out the colour information and run in some variable shade of brown and yellow. A good start, but I have found that there are better things:
1. Run RAW if you can. If not, run large fine jpeg. Don’t beat yourself up too much as the subsequent things you do will not need scientific resolution. Shoot colour in the jpeg.
2. Look at what you are photographing and think old. If you have a specific person you wish to echo, research out which format they used and what focal length lens they used. Even if it is a real oddity – try to reproduce their proportions – you’d be amazed how a different aspect ratio removes modernity.
3. Give yourself shallow DOF for the portraits and massive DOF for landscapes.
4. Blow out the skies to a white-grey.
5. Pose people as stiffly as they did in the days when they needed to stand there for a long time. If you can incorporate a ND filter in your system so that they have to stand there a long time so much the better. If you can get to needing a head clamp you are doing very well, indeed.
6. Use a tripod always – even in the daytime .
7. Do not ask people to smile. Smiles were seen as a sign of weak intellect.
8. Pose them, shoot them, and treat them as if the four clicks of the shutter – and that is ALL you get to use – are going to cost them a half of their week’s wage. If you are such a business person as to be able to extract half of their wage for your work, you have my admiration.
9. Use a large window to light the indoor sitters. This may be a large soft box, but make it natural-looking.
10. Get a good ornate chair for your studio- Brady had one and you can identify it in many of his works. Use it as your trademark chair – you can drape it with velvet for art or animal fur for naughty postcards.