Old fashioned portrait backgrounds

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by John Bartley, Jan 30, 2006.

  1. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    I'm looking through the McCord Museum on line exposition of William Notmans life and I'm very taken by the backgrounds that are used in some of the photos. While backgounds today seem to be very bland and featureless, some of these are so rich with character as to "almost" steal the scene. Here is one example : Link to McCord Museum photo where the scenery is drapery, furs, furniture etc. Just personal taste I guess, but this type of scene makes me look more closely at the whole photo, not just the characters.
     
  2. mike the limey

    mike the limey Member

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    Yes you are right. This is wonderful stuff, the picture tells a story and makes you want to know more, who where they? what was the occasion? etc.

    I might try and set up something similar to see what effect I can get.
     
  3. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    Some modern fashion photographers try to recreate the very background versus using an elaborate one. Here's a Montreal fashion photographer that a few images where he uses period props to recreate a real background - http://www.yanickdery.com/

    I remember seeing a wedding photographer that would style her work into a Victorian theme. Her work used period furniture and the natural setting from the Fairmont Hotel chain - these were the Canadian Pacific Hotels that dot across Canada and are filled with these elaborate and real backgrounds.

    The image you show reminds me of the the Empress Hotel in Victoria. Their afternoon tea is held in a grand ballroom like place with gothic windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean. What an awesome place to do a photoshoot.

    I am planning on a very elaborate shoot using a landmark NYC hotel and its interiors as a background. I know I won't get close to what the McCord has on display, but it does inspire me.

    Regards, Art.
     
  4. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Thanks for the link, John. I love the style of old portraiture, where they used elaborate sets and often provided costumes for the clients. As mentioned, working on-location can yield similarly interesting and compelling results.

    Similarly, if one is in close proximity to a good costume warehouse, such as an American Conservatory Theatre supplier, the additional expense can be worthwhile. I did a shoot a while back with a model who lived in San Francisco. We rented an Elizabethan dress from the ACT warehouse in SF for the shoot. They even fitted the dress to her prior to the shoot. Rental on the dress for about a week ran $180, but it was a great dress, and included jewelry. I made the faux castle window in the background myself, using foamcore painted with a sponge.

    [​IMG]
     
  5. battra92

    battra92 Member

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    That sure beats the neutral gray or the fake Christmas or sky backdrops most commerical portrait photographers use.
     
  6. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I think early portrait photographers copied the style of the painters who painted affluent clients.

    If done in their studio, they were the north window light, Victorian furniture, drapery and elaborate props kind of thing. You couldn't afford the painter so you hired a photographer to look rich. Or you were new money, and wanted the "undated" medium called photography.

    Perhaps in it's day this look too, got stale.

    I will say that if this was your home, most people would think the portrait is fine, but if it's just a "prop" house then you look like a poser having your picture taken there.

    As a viewer it is interesting, but since most portraits are bought or commissioned by the people in the picture, then it may be embarrasing to have your picture hanging in your house, that contains a background that gives the impression you live in a mansion.



    Michael
     
  7. battra92

    battra92 Member

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    Much in the same way photographers copied stuff like the rule of thirds. :wink:

    Of course, that's why people changed it.
     
  8. PhotoPete

    PhotoPete Member

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    Check out this crazy painted scene from squareamerica.com. I suppose it must have been at a fairgrounds or some such.
     

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  9. JosBurke

    JosBurke Member

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    I tend to lean toward the elaborate pops myself in preference for vintage photography and it looks spectacular especially with LF!! As for Ralph Barker's posted image it is very beautiful as well--very well done--I'm impressed!! terrific job with the lighting and all that detail !!
     
  10. JosBurke

    JosBurke Member

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    I tend to lean toward the elaborate props myself in preference for vintage photography and it looks spectacular especially with LF!! As for Ralph Barker's posted image it is very beautiful as well--very well done--I'm impressed!! terrific job with the lighting and all that detail !!
     
  11. athanasius80

    athanasius80 Member

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    So does anyone know where I can get a Victorian painted interior backdrop?
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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  13. Charles Webb

    Charles Webb Member

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    I also really enjoy the Victorian backgrounds and clothing, they are a lot of fun. I also enjoy hanging out with the "Buckskinner, Mountain Man Types"
    and the various re enactor groups. French and Indian War, Civil War, and of course the Cowboy Action Shooter's. They love cooperating in helping to get great pictures, and a print or two is generally accepted as payment.
    I have had very good success in painting my own backgrounds, Latex paint,
    big sponges and huge brushes work almost like a Kolinsky with the water base paint.

    Charlie.....................