Creating a 1940s Female Portrait: Behind the Scenes

How to Photograph and Light the classical 1940's Female Portrait - Glyn Dewis

Last weekend I was in Wales with friends continuing work on my 1940’s Project.

This time, moving away from the Military side of the 40’s I was photographing “Civilians” and one in particular was to emulate the classical look of female portraits so popular during the time.

Sarah 1940

Inspiration for this particular look came from a multitude of sources (Books, DVD) with the main coming from Pinterest. Also a huge inspiration was drawn from the work of Yousuf Karsh; unquestionably one of my all time favourite photographers.

Yousuf KARSH

For this particular photo shoot I was in Wales at my friend and fellow Photographer Ian Munro’s studio, Skint Creative along also with friends Anthony Crothers and Brian Dukes and Gerwyn Williams.

Here’s a look Behind the Scenes at the lighting and studio set up:

Glyn Dewis 1940

Before I explain the set up, here’s a list of kit that I used for this portrait photo shoot:

Ok so for the background I used a canvas from Gravity Backdrops. This particular one was Ian’s for the studio but I do have my own too; a bespoke one made for a great price so I highly recommend checking out Gravity Backdrops for one of these.

For the lighting I opted for the Elinchrom Rotalux 100cm (39″) Deep Octa as opposed to what you may have seen me regularly using before, the 135cm (53″) Octa. I’ve had the deep octa for a couple of months or so now and am really liking the look and feel of the lighting it gives. It’s actually hard to explain to explain the difference so I’ll have to do a side by side comparison in the future but the lighting is softer and actually has what I would describe as a ‘creamy’ feel to it. Sounds weird I know but just perfect for the look I was after for this portrait.

You can see from the pictures above that the bottom of the Octa is pretty much level with Sarah’s shoulder. This meant that I achieved exactly the lighting I wanted on her face (Rembrandt) and enough light was landing on her top half and then gradually fading off as it got to around waist height. The position of the light with regards to how it was positioned to the side and front of Sarah I cover in the video below:

•For those interested in camera settings I was shooting at f/4.0, 1/125 sec at 100iso

I was using my Sony A7RII for this photo shoot with the 85mm f/1.4 G Master Lens and as I was tethering I chose to use Capture One. Obviously I do use Lightroom as part of my retouching and cataloguing workflow but for tethering I find it a little unstable and unreliable, so this is when I turn to Capture One. It makes for another step in my workflow but to be honest that doesn’t concern me in the least as my main concern is that I can see EVERY image coming through without any hiccups…and this is what Capture One does for me. It just works and works faultlessly!

Using a tripod for me is a must! It not only slows me down and helps me to ‘bed in’ to the shoot but is also another certainty that images will be pin sharp. I’ve only just started using the L Bracket that 3 Legged Thing now make and for those of you who don’t know, it allows you to set your tripod to the exact height you want and then no matter if you rotate your camera to the portrait or landscape orientation, the lens remains on the exact same axis. Ordinarily switching between portrait and landscape orientation would mean adjust the tripod height each time.

Glyn Dewis 1940

Because of the position of the Octa being so high I still wanted to add a little bit of light onto the opposing side of Sarah so that her dark gloves and handbag were still visible. To do this my buddy Brian held a silver reflector (as above) to bounce some light into the shot. I tend to favour the California Sunbounce range of reflectors because they’re incredibly well made and form a solid structure which is very useful when you ask someone to hold it but who isn’t used to doing so. Ordinarily this would mean a ‘normal’ flexible reflector dropping down and away from where you need it to be held but the California Sunbounce being solid and extremely light is easy for anyone to hold in place regardless of experience…does that make sense?

Now there’s lots more results from this photo shoot that I’ll share in the near future but I think for now there’s not much else to tell you about so if you do have any questions / comments, feel free to make use of the comments section below and I’ll be sure to reply.

Finally though, HUGE thanks to everyone that helped out with this photo shoot: Anthony, Ian, Brian, Gerwyn, Sarah for modelling and Sarah Meyrick for doing an incredible job on hair and makeup!

Hope you found this useful
Catch you next time
Glyn

• CLICK HERE to see a LARGE version of this 1940s style portrait of Sarah

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  • Keith Payne

    How far in front of the Model did you feather the light? Did you use the reflector dish in the octa?

  • Jason

    Hi Glyn. Can you give me an idea of the power required for this type of shot – indoors with a deep umbrella.
    I’m wondering about getting my first studio light, maybe 500ws, or can I get there with a couple of speedlights?
    I’m guessing that the lovely diffused light really sucks the power…?