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  1. #1
    John Bartley's Avatar
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    Old fashioned portrait backgrounds

    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. #2

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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. #3
    gr82bart's Avatar
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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.
    Visit my website at www.ArtLiem.com
    or my online portfolios at APUG and ModelMayhem

  4. #4
    rbarker's Avatar
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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.

    [COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]

    Ralph Barker
    Rio Rancho, NM

  5. #5
    battra92's Avatar
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    That sure beats the neutral gray or the fake Christmas or sky backdrops most commerical portrait photographers use.

  6. #6
    blansky's Avatar
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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
    I couldn't think of anything witty to say so I left this blank.

  7. #7
    battra92's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blansky
    I think early portrait photographers copied the style of the painters who painted affluent clients.
    Much in the same way photographers copied stuff like the rule of thirds.

    Perhaps in it's day this look too, got stale.
    Of course, that's why people changed it.

  8. #8
    PhotoPete's Avatar
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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.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails po9.jpg  

  9. #9
    JosBurke's Avatar
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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 !!
    Joseph Burke

  10. #10
    JosBurke's Avatar
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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 !!
    Joseph Burke

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