Glamour in your Lens

The Real Studio Session



Costume and drapes can look exotic.
Photo Harrison Marks.
NOW YOU'RE ALL SET and a girl called Carol is just about due to arrive. You haven't done any outdoor glamour photography and you have never photographed Carol before. She's a pretty girl from the office, quiet, reserved, and you wouldn't have been surprised if she refused when you asked her to model. She didn't, but bringing her bathing costume was too much for her,and you compromised. She's going to wear a party dress and bring her tennis outfit, white shorts and blouse.

Carol arrives and you turn on the charm. Don't over-do it--she's here to have her picture taken, and her nervousness won't disappear until some pictures have been taken and she discovers it's not so bad after all.

I've been talking about nervous models so far simply because if they're not nervous, there isn't any difficulty. You don't have to tell a vivacious, confident girl what to do. She'll probably be telling you.

Trial and Error

At first you concentrate entirely on Carol's face. You have worked out already exactly what you're going to do with the lights. Now you can devote the whole of your attention to taking pictures.

Make sure she's comfortable and make an exposure or two without messing about. Gradually you can spend more time arranging poses, expressions, lights.

Get her to lean towards the camera. Then have her turn the other way and look back at your over her shoulder.

Bring her hands into the picture. Try one or two pictures with one arm up, patting her hair or pulling her ear.

If the studio space allows, take more and more of Carol into the picture. She can take one foot up on the chair and clasp her hands in front of her leg. If you have a couch or a divan, she can sit on it with both her legs up.

Don't worry too much just now about technique--lights, depth of focus, exposure. Everybody has to walk before he can run. Quite a few of these negatives will be considerably less than perfect. That can't be helped. When you see what you've done wrong, you'll be able to put it right.

A stranger once sought me out and made a simple request. He was going to start doing this kind of photography, and all he wanted was advice on "cutting out the variables". It transpired that what he meant by this was that he wanted information so that he never need make any mistakes. He wanted to do everything right from the start.

The only snag about this is that it's impossible. No one can guess exactly what mistakes another person is going to make. There are so many to choose from. Trial and error may not seem very scientific (it certainly didn't to this chap) but it's the only way. Only when you've actually done something can anyone else tell you what's right about it and what's wrong.

Your session with Carol must have lasted a fair time already. Stop now for a cup of tea or a lemonade.

Unexpected Snags

After break, get Carol to change into her tennis outfit.

She can now do poses which wouldn't have been possible in a dress. But don't try anything very odd--it will look it. There are thousands of good kneeling poses. And one great advantage of them, in these circumstances, is that they fit neatly into a small space.

The Number One snag will be Carol's blouse. Every time she stretches it will ride up in front and hang loosely over the waistband of her shorts. From the beginning you'll have to make sure she knows about this and keeps tucking it in again. This always happens unless the outfit is on one piece, and it spoils so many pictures taht some solution to the problem should be found. Pinning the blouse won't do--you want Carol to stretch, and that will bend the pin or tear her blouse.

The best thing is probably to have her wear a white bra instead of the blouse. This may not be possible at the first session, but after she has tucked her blouse in twenty or thirty times she will agree that something ought to be done about that in the future.

The most common fault in such a session is distortion. The temptation to move close to the model is considerable--with the camera, I mean. And all sorts of queer effects result. If, however, you remember always to have her face as close to the lens as any other part of her, the most hideous results will be avoided.

Remember, everything goes by proportion. You get distortion because some things are too near the camera in relation to others. You get double shadows when two lights are fighting for mastery. One must be the master, all the others the servants. You get a bright face and feet in heavy shadow when there is too much light at one end and too little at the other.

You can correct all these faults when you develop the faculty of seeing your model as the camera is going to see her.

Reminder about Lights

The best average lighting set-up, remember, is:

Main light: to one side of the camera, 6 feet away from the model, shining down at an angle of 45 degrees.

Fill-in light: on the other side of the camera and level with it or lower.

Background light: behind the model, directed on the background. Make sure that the lamp itself never shows.

Spot or flood: high or low (seldom level), well to one side behind the model, directed on her hair and shoulder.

A Variety of Poses

As for poses, these will depend on many factors, but with Carol in her tennis outfit and some sort of stage or divan or table for her to recline on, here are some suggestions:

Kneeling: usually sitting back on her heels (if she has high-heeled shoes, get her to take them off); leaning forward on both arms; leaning on one arm with the other up at her head; stretching up with both arms behind her head; hands on hips; hands behind her back.

Sitting: with legs curled up; side-on with both legs up; one up and the stretched out; one leg bent in front and the other stretched out behind; with her back to you, looking over her shoulder.


Natural poses grow straight from the background.
Photo Zoltan Glass.

Lying: face down with legs drawn up behind her, ankles crossed; leaning on one elbow; leaning on both cupped hands.

Every pose should suggest another. Usually Carol will smile in the direction of the camera, but she can also look thoughtful, surprised, lazy, sulky, doubtful--anything at all, with the accent naturally on her own characteristic expressions. She can look right into the camera lens, or anywhere else.

In this first session there's nothing that shouldn't be tried. Even things which aren't likely to come off are worth trying. The first stage is experimentation; the search for perfection begins later.

If you're an inexperienced in studio work, you're liable to find yourself forgetting to adjust your lights. Don't worry. Until you know exactly what effect changes are going to make, there isn't much point in making them.

Keep Her Happy

The main thing is to keep your model happy. The pictures will reflect what she was feeling at the time. Press on if she doesn't seem to like delays; ease up if the pace seems too hot for her. But don't keep asking her how she feels. This is not only irritating--people can't be happy if they're always being asking whether they are or not.

Talk a lot if she likes your patter. Let her talk if she wants to. Establish a mood of sympathy. You won't be able to do this if she says she likes traditional jazz and you sneer and try to impress her with your knowledge of classical music.

Age doesn't matter, provided you're young in heart. Your model won't be older than you, and she may be a lot younger. But even if you're thirty years older than she is, she'll work well with you if you're interested in her, considerate of her feelings, and respect her enthusiasms.

You probably won't find photographing in a studio as satisfactory or the results as gratifying as photographing in sunlight. But they should still be fascinating, and after your first session you are bound to have lots of ideas for your second.

Second Session

This time I'll take it your model is Sylvia Wyndham, the amateur or semi-professional actress. You have photographed her once or twice outside during the summer, and now you're taking your first indoor pictures of her.

Sylvia will bring cartloads of costumes and props. She'll arrive in a taxi, and you'll wonder whether you ought to pay for it. Undoubtedly, you ought.

Probably she'll talk once again about being nervous. Most actresses do. All their conversation concerns how they feel, apart from occasional polite inquiries about how you feel.

Anyway, she'll have plenty of costumes, and will be prepared to transform herself on the spot into a gipsy dancer, a South Sea Islander, an Arabian charmer, or a French midinette.

Restrain yourself--and her. At least in the beginning, get her to wear something brief and simple, very like what she's been wearing on the beach.

Black trunks and a white sweater are as good as anything. Or a short skirt and a polka-dot blouse.

Sylvia disappears behind the screen you have thoughtfully provided and talks all the time she's changing. Remember to flatter her without overdoing it--but with an actress it's almost impossible to overdo it. Discuss her last play with her, with particular reference to her part. If she says, "Tell me what you really think," don't be such a fool as to do it.

Now and always the pictures you get depend to a large extent on your relations with your model. If you ever find that you don't like a girl, don't go on photographing her.

So keep Sylvia happy, and if you ever say another woman is a better actress than she is, make sure the other actress is at least forty years older.

Sylvia emerges, trim in shiny black trunks and a white sweater two sizes too small for her--that is, just right. She pauses for applause. You'd better give it. Then you can get down to business.


Variety is introduced with kneeling poses.
Photo James Macgregor.
Kneeling Poses

The easiest and most rewarding pose in a studio with restricted space is kneeling. There are hundreds of variations, but all of them fit into a comparatively small space.

Get Sylvia to kneel, bring your lights down, check them, balance them, and make sure the pose is as you want it.

Though I've been making fun of Sylvia, it wasn't meant unkindly. She'll work harder than any other model, give more of herself, do more without complaining. She wants these pictures to be good. And you can tell her a dozen times to change a pose until you get it exactly as you want it. She won't sulk at being corrected.

When you have finished with the black and white costume, you can let Sylvia turn herself into a South Sea Islander if you like.

The effect, of course, will be highly artificial. That being so, you may as well go the whole hog and make the poses artificial too. You can have her crouched on one knee with the other leg stretched out behind her, and bring a light low to suggest firelight. You can have her kneeling, bending over backwards, holding up her lei.


Low angle lighting gives bold low key effects. Photo James Macgregor.

Low Key

And you should certainly try some low-key lighting for a change. Put out the light on the background and make sure no light falls on it. Put your main light to one side or even behind Sylvia. Have her entirely backlit with the exception of one patch of light on cheek, shoulders and midriff, and use the fill-in light just to lighten the shadows.

If you did insist on buying a spotlight, you have a chance to use it now. Focus from behind on Sylvia's hair, especially if she's a blonde, or on her shoulder, or on one hip. You are painting with light.

The South Sea Island costume will give you a lot of fun, but whether it provides any first-class pictures is another matter.

Bizzare Effects

If Sylvia now dresses herself as a harem girl you can experiment even more wildly, but remember two things. One is that bizarre lighting will often make Sylvia's figure look wonderful but it will nearly always make her face look hideous. The other is that if you're using a lot of back-lighting, the clothes must be diaphanous. If not you'll get some strange, unfeminine shapes that are quite unattractive.

Only experience can tell you how your lights are going to balance. The important thing is what light is direct and what is reflected.

Softer Lighting

After this second excursion into the exotic, it is high time to return to earth. Get Sylvia to wear something very feminine, like a bra and a waist slip with buttons and bows, or a nightdress. And this time make your lighting as soft as you can.

You could hang cloth over your lights. Or you could bounce them off the walls and ceiling--point them away from Sylvia and use nothing but reflected light. Or turn them all on your white background, fix up another temporary one where the camera used to be, and photograph in the opposite direction.

When you do this, your exposure will have to go up a great deal. If you were using 1/50 second at f5.6 before, you'll need something like 1/5 second at f3.5 now. Reflected light is not only very soft, it's also very weak.


Diffused lighting provides softness of tone.
Photo Zoltan Glass.

Having done all this, call it a day. The first few pictures at least will be good. The others might be. And anyway, you'll know better next time.

Assessing Results

Post-mortems on studio pictures should be much more thorough than on outdoor shots. You should explain to your own satisfaction exactly how and why you achieved the results you did, both good and bad. You want to be able to repeat some things and be completely certain of never repeating others.

If you find you don't remember things like exposure, aperature, speeds and depth of field easily, write the details down. It's never a waste of film to try anything, no matter how crazy, to see what happens. But it's a criminal waste to do a thing wrongly once and later do the same thing wrong again.

There is one important difference in the corrections you make after beach and studio sessions. If the contrast is wrong in beach pictures you correct it by modifying exposure, development and printing technique. If it's wrong in studio pictures the fault is usually to be found in the lighting.

Lighting is the most important thing in studio work, and the first thing you should acquire is a thorough knowledge of what produces each effect, good or bad. Once you have this, nothing can ever come as a shock to you. You can be delighted or you an be horrified when you see what you've been doing, but you should never be surprised.

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