The Making of a Vintage Fashion Shoot
My good friends know how much I love canva.com for its user-friendly, intuitive and minimal platform for unskilled designers like me. I have been an avid user for a few years now for my photography business. August last year, I was over the moon as I landed a job with Canva.
I was excited to take up diverse photography projects to help build their photo library for the Indian context and users. After I passed the test shoot and further formalities, I immediately said dibs on a project I had my eyes on from earlier. The project was called Vintage fashion. I love vintage style and was craving to do a core fashion photography project for quite some time. It was alluring to design something in which both the foreground subjects as well as the background architecture would complement each other to tell the full story.
Details of the project
The project required me to create images that had a vintage atmosphere to them; from outfits to styling and background to post-processing. The look must be bound together. We needed three to four different outfits for the models and various backgrounds and poses. It was a mixture of posed and candid shots, close up portraits and wide-angle full-body shots.
What I understood from the brief was that to create a lot of variety, I had to take shots from different angles, zoom and backgrounds. The brief wanted me to use the diffused natural light of mid to late afternoon, to avoid any harsh shadows and get more details on the models’ faces and outfits. I was already planning in my mind how to achieve that as two words kept buzzing in my mind- “open shade”. Looking at the complexity of the shoot, I could also assess that it was going to take the whole day to finish up the whole session. I also needed experienced female and male models who could pose as a couple having leisurely time in an urban backdrop.
I did not have much difficulty in understanding the requirements of this project as the Canva Team did a fabulous job of clearly indicating every detail through multiple mood boards and text. They were also easily approachable and prompt communicators if I needed more clarity on any aspect of the brief. Once my claim for this brief was approved, I had 14 days to finish the project and send the final images to my team.
The first few days of the timeline were spent finalizing the models, getting model releases, arranging outfits and accessories, figuring out the date of the shoot, and the location.
Model casting: The casting was done on the basis of past work experience and how expressive they are in portraits. Luckily both my models, Prianca and Sumit, are also actors so I did not have to worry about the "expressions" part. They also had loads of experience in posing and working their bodies. Since they had worked together in the past, they were also comfortable as fellow models.
Outfit and styling: The next task was to finalize the outfits. I had shared the mood board and brief details with the models ahead of time so we could all be on the same page about the look that we were trying to achieve. We had started sharing outfit options from our wardrobes, on our Whatsapp group, a few days before we met to do the dress rehearsal. This helped in getting more ideas across.
On the day of the dress rehearsal, the models first filled up the model release forms so I could upload them on time. The dress rehearsal was a lot of fun as it reminded me of a fashion designer’s ramp walk. It was also interesting to figure out how to match the outfits for Prianca and Sumit, so they are under the same theme, colour palette and style. I sketched, took copious notes on my phone and a lot of pictures for reference. Finally, we created the below five looks:
1. Classic style/going on a picnic date: For this, we picked a white midi dress in a 60s silhouette, big hoops, huge black sunglasses, a hair updo for Prianca and a printed black and white shirt with flared trousers, sunglasses, and a hat for Sumit.
2. Casual vintage with 80s influences: Red shirt with white polka dots, blue denim, funky cat-eye sunglasses and open hair with a ribbon headband for Prianca. Solid white shirt with vintage side-striped trousers, red suspenders and light red sunglasses for Sumit.
3. Fall vintage look/a nerdy man meets a rebel woman: Black mini-dress with white floral print, oversized denim jacket, white boots and half-hair high ponytail for Prianca. Red pullover, cream trousers, nerdy glasses and set hair for Sumit.
4. Formal 40s dinner cruise: Formal plaid printed grey dress with pleats, pastel pink pumps and a hair updo for Prianca. Plaid trousers with a white solid shirt, plaid beret, nice watch, brown belt and brown formal shoes for Sumit.
5. Beach day, back in the days: Floral rust midi dress with a high side slit, fringed mules, golden leaf headband with hair down for Prianca. Multi-coloured striped shirt, beige trousers, and sunglasses in red tones for Sumit.
(On the day of the shoot, we picked looks 1, 2, and 3. We still plan on finishing up the whole set someday. Praying the universe, it happens soon.)
The hairstyling, makeup and accessories were finalized in accordance with each look. This was done about a week before the shoot date so little tweaks and arrangements could be made. We also got a Stylist, Twinkle Rawal, on board. She helped us in polishing the styling and gave wonderful ideas on the final selection of accessories and hairstyling. She also provided assistance with hair, makeup and outfit on the day of the shoot. All the outfits were washed, ironed and made sure they looked crisp in the images.
Location selection: For the location, we wanted an urban area that had many old building structures and architecture. We were trying to avoid known landmarks that require a photography permit. The backdrops had to be generic but should also have had an old school atmosphere. We finalized the Fort area in Mumbai, around the Asiatic library as it matched the vintage theme and had lots of open shade.
Everything looked good, except the weather. It was late September but the Mumbai rains were unstoppable. It rained incessantly for the next few days, so the shoot had to be delayed. I started getting worried about how much time I would actually get for post-processing. After a few days of weather watching, we “carpe diem-ed” the very next day that looked sunny.
The Shoot day
After over an hour of commute, Prianca and I reached Sumit’s place as it was close to the location. Twinkle, our stylist came right after. It took us a couple of hours for a quick brunch, further outfit clarifications, tweaking, smoothening wrinkles, packing the dresses tactfully, arranging accessories, hair, and makeup. Soon after, my photography assistant, Tom arrived to help out for the day. He gave us a ride to the location and all the items were packed in his car, parked close to the area for easy access.
Technical details: I used my Nikon D750 DSLR camera body with Nikkor 50mm, f/1.8 lens. I chose an aperture range of f/1.8-f/2.5 depending on the lighting conditions. Since I used the Aperture priority mode (A/Av) for the most part of the shoot, I didn’t have to worry about the shutter speed as my models were mostly steady and lighting was not an issue. The camera selected shutter speeds ranging from 1/500-1/60 s as the light changed from location to location and over the course of the day. I kept the ISO constant at 100 until sunset, after which I flipped it to Auto-ISO to override the low lighting conditions. I opted for Autofocus so I didn't have to worry about one more thing and move faster. I avoided using the reflector as I wanted some contrast in the portraits, to compensate for the lack of deep shadows in diffused light.
Look 1, location 1: Sumit and Prianca looked gorgeous. The sun shone extra bright that day, after days of rain and clouds. After moments of strolling, I found this beautiful red wall with red doors. The rusty back wall of an old newspaper company looked perfect against the neutral tones of the outfits. I welcomed the splash of colour with open arms. The light was not harsh. The shadows were not dominating the scene as it was in a shaded part of the lane.
Since a big truck was parked right in front of the wall, I had very little space to get varied compositions out of that frame. But I got carried away by the wonderful expressions of my models, the light and the bright reds. It took me longer than usual to get bored of the location.
Look 1, location 2: Next, we moved to the earthy corridors of the archaic buildings nearby. I was excited to get some depth and perspective in the images due to the repeating columns in the corridor. Prianca and Sumit looked wonderful against the background and I took many wide-angle shots as well as some mid-body shots.
The light was coming from one side and the shadows were filled in from some reflection from the outer wall of the building. Overall, it was fun playing with a majorly unidirectional large source of light.
Look 2, location 3: We were happy with the results from the first look and decided to go for an outfit change to add more colour. I didn’t realize until later that our underlying theme was neutrals with pops of reds and blues. The light was turning warmer as the day progressed. A quick hairstyle change and a new look, and we were ready to shoot again. This time, we picked the Asiatic library steps as the building was pretty much like a blank white canvas with lots of textures and lines. Since the look was casual, we created lots of relaxed situations through fun posing, expressions and various angles and compositions. The sun was about to set, everything turned golden. The models looked ethereal.
Look 3, location 4: The sun had set just now and we all asked the same question- 'Would we get time to do another outfit?' The deal was to get two to three outfits for some variety. Will two be insufficient? Can we use dusk light for some drama? We took a long shot and decided to try the third look as well. The guiding thought was, 'If Canva does not accept the last set, we can still use them for personal purposes.'
Sumit appeared in no time in his nerdy vintage look in a red pullover and Prianca in her rockstar avatar in a pretty printed black and white floral dress with white ankle boots and an oversized denim jacket. Both looked gorgeous. I did not want to miss the visual. We scurried towards the backside of Dalal street, near The Nutcracker café. The natural light was bidding us goodbye, it was dusk by then. I had to rely more on ambient light, aka tungsten street lights and lights of all kinds of hues and qualities seeping in.
The wrap up: I was amazed at Sumit and Prianca’s resilience even at the end of the day. They were exhausted but one could not tell a bit, once the shutter was pressed.
Day turned into night and it was time to call it a day. We made a short reel video for Prianca in the moody bleak lights of the street. She was still cheerful and surely high from the shoot. In our cab ride back home, we felt no hunger or thirst, only exhaustion. It’s a sign of a successful shoot day. You are excited to go back and see the images on your computer screen as soon as you drop your bags, but your hands just won’t work anymore.
My favourite moments from the shoot were when we were all invested in it, trying to figure out the best location, best look, best angles and light. Kudos to Tom for being the scaffold to the whole session and Twinkle for bringing that pizzazz to our vintage fashion story.
I took great care in creating the warm vintage-y look in the final images. I did minimal skin-retouching as directed by the brief. Most of my energies were spent in image selection, maintaining consistency in white balance, colour and exposure, and deciding what the final look would be for each set.
During my marathon editing work, I was not taking Lightroom back-ups seriously. Once the editing was done and I had exported all the images, my Lightroom program crashed and I lost all my editing steps that very day. This was just one of the projects affected by the unfortunate event. There were many more from last year, whose edits I cannot get back. If I have to make minor changes, I will have to start all over again. Everything seems like a dream now, all fuzzy and blurred as to how I arrived at the final look of the images in those 14 days of planning and execution.
Hope you enjoyed the story. Scroll down for most of the images that made it to the final selection by Canva. You can also use these images for designing through canva.com.
P.S: To our amazement, Canva did select the images from the last outfit. Take home message: It doesn't hurt to take the long shot. Sometimes, it can be helpful.