You know those old Varga girl posters? I want lighting like that!
how would you go about lighting a set to achieve that
1940's pinup girl look?
I want to mimic as closely as
possible that aesthetic in a photograph, and was wondering what
lighting tricks/ratios/accessories might help me pull that off.
I've seen it mimicked before by many photographers, and obviously
they have used digital and done post-production work. But if you
were going to get the Varga girl look with no digital alteration,
how would you do it?
Those were watercolour paintings, so to do a photograph like that, I think you need completely diffused lighting, like a large skylight on an overcast day, so no key light of any kind. If no skylight or wrap-around windows, then a very large softbox placed very close to the sitter. The white seamless paper would be your reflector. In addition to uniform, low contrast lighting, you need rich saturation film, preferrably slide film underexposed just a smidge. A proper selection of creamy colours (pastel) would give you the right 'period' pallette.
That's my guess!
I would commission or make a painting! You will never get that exact look from a photograph.
The most important aspect will be your model, their hair, clothing, props, and how you direct them. After that, look again closely at the pix and analyze the light that Vargas painted. Analyze the quality of light, the supposed location of the source, the contrast, the saturation, the color palette, the skin tones, the backgrounds, etc. If you can break it down technically, you stand a better chance of being able to do this photographically...and you will also see that there was a lot of variation painting to painting, and not just one "Varga Girl Look"!
I worked for an estate sales company that recently had about 100 calendars from local industrial companies that featured similar style oil and watercolor paintings. We also had in a bunch of promo material from The Zieglield Follies, including several Vargas prints, and some Petty prints and an Elvgren calendar from a local industrial plant of some kind. They are incredibly striking in person, even as relatively low quality lithographic prints. They were all different, but some main features of the style were low saturation, pastel color palette was common, soft line work (IMO the single most distinguishing characteristic, and also the hardest to do with w photograph), light skin tones, usually empty and usually light colored backgrounds...not to mention EXTREME photorealism on a majority of the work (though Vargas' and Petty's were some of the least photorealistic of the 100+ prints that I saw, with the most unrealistic - read unnatural and sometimes impossible - lighting, with unbelievable core transitions to the shadows; quite cartoony compared to some other artists who painted similar subject matter). I thought that the non-Vargas/Petty calendars were photos that had been airbrushed and painted over at first. I think it is likely that these extremely smooth and realistic ones were originally oils and not watercolors. The main trick for you, IMO, is getting that incredibly unique and subtle combination halfway between photorealism AND soft linework..........GOOD LUCK! *Learn to paint* is my honest-to-god suggestion.
Then, after all that hassle, ask yourself WHY? Why mimic another artist so directly?
Last edited by 2F/2F; 03-26-2009 at 07:03 AM. Click to view previous post history.
"Truth and love are my law and worship. Form and conscience are my manifestation and guide. Nature and peace are my shelter and companions. Order is my attitude. Beauty and perfection are my attack."
- Rob Tyner (1944 - 1991)
I must concur with the advice given above. About all that I can add is that you might want to look over some of the work by Peter Gowland. He demonstrated and advised "Poster lighting" for this type of shot. He used huge Larson umbrellas, I think 6' and larger soft boxes. His quote to me was, "Lots of light Sam, lots of light". One of the beauties of lots of light is that it fills imperfections thus reduces retouching.
Stick with it, you'll get the shots you want. I'm sure.
Now I'm thinking some +2 overexposed print film might be creamier than slide film. Maybe Portra VC. That might get you close enough for people to make the association with Vargas.
Let us know if you attempt.
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I did my Vargas rip-off shoot last night, and it went better than expected. I ended up using two large softboxes,
with an orange gel lighting up the backdrop to a pale yellow. The option of using my school's extra large
softboxes was tempting (there are two easily 2m rectangular ones, one 2m square, one giant hexagon.)
I was torn between using just one huge softbox, from front on, to try to sort of 'creamify' the skin, or
the standard Hollywood key-light/fill light deal. I ended up doing the latter with a yellow gel lighting up
the backdrop to a golden pale yellow.
I don't think I got anywhere near the classic 40s look on this first attempt, but there is definitely something
happening there that I can work with next time. I am having delays in getting scans of the shoot to
put up here for show and tell, but would be interested to know what people make of them.
Holly, you might also get some helpful
advice on this subject over at
as the participants there are preoccupied
with lighting for the sort of images you
are trying to create.
Can't wait to see...
Originally Posted by Holly
I'm getting closer to posting the best shots up...once my school sorts out its Bridge CS4 issues!