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Taking Fashionable Portraits With Lo-Fi Cameras

Being into fashion, particularly street fashion, most of us are taking photos of ourselves or friends, and not all of us are getting the photos we want. Getting tips from just any photography websites is fine, but what we do in street fashion photography is a little different than how others might photograph flowers, so I thought it would be good to have a reference for us non traditional photographers.There’s really no “one right way” to take street fashion photos, but there is a big gap between, “no way”,”that works” and “awesome!”. Many photography “rules” will make your photography look like everyone else’s, stale, “clean” and commercial. So I’ve compiled a few different ideas for everyone from Lomo-sheik to semi-studio. You don’t have to be pro to take cool photos. You just need the right environment, light and the willingness to waste film (or disk space).

Tips for good* photos:

How to great in the photo:
Just some ideas, also take a look at the gallery and you’ll see what people do there.
For starters, pose so that what you or the person is wearing is visible, other than that, here’s a few tips for flattering your face as well as your wardrobe. The cunningly beautiful Jackie Onassis would often look slightly above the camera when posing for photos. I like to look at old magazine ads and see how models in the 60’s and 70’s posed and just have fun trying stuff out. If the photos are all about the clothing, make sure the piece you want people to see is as visible as possible and not overwhelmed by the rest of the outfit. One trick for flattering your face is to elongate your neck and turn your head slightly, so that 3/4 of your face is exposed to the camera (as opposed to a full frontal shot) and slightly tilt your head down. Putting your shoulders back.. but not too far, helps as well.

If you want to look relaxed, you might actually practice looking relaxed first. Models and actors practice looks and poses in the mirror until they become habitual. You probably don’t want the same exact look in every photo so try a few different styles. It’s not as easy as it looks to “be cool” in photos like magazines like Nylon might lead you to believe (another good magazine to look at for ideas). Many of the photos in Nylon are purposefully amatureish, the models relaxed or seemingly spontaneous, but its really all a ruse. They want them desperately to look like street fashion photographs and they got the idea from people like us, so lets take it as a compliment and keep giving them something to be jealous of!

For close ups, your lens can work against you in the fight to look good. On many fixed lens digital cameras the lens is fairly wide to try to pretend like its diverse. Mine has a really unflattering effect closeup, making everyone’s nose, eyes and jaw look huge, a little like a weak fisheye lens. Be aware that some lenses just aren’t meant to be used up close on people, they are really disproportionate and you will potentiality look, well, bad. For street fashion we’re not exactly taking portraits so don’t worry, just be aware that’s why.

Lighting: A common way to get light is to take a photo outside with the person (or you) facing the sun, but it’s not ideal. It seems like a sure shot but If you can find a place outside that’s not directly in the sun, but is well lit, that’s actually much better. The shadow of a building, a well lit (from outside) room and nearly anywhere outside on a cloudy day are good places start. You can get good direct light around sunrise & sunset as well, colors are warmer and light less intense, but who’s going to plan for that? Taking a photo in a well lit place without direct sun will also cut back on dark, unflattering shadows and over exposure of your skin and clothing. There’s also a better chance you wont be squinting… If you’re using digital, take a test shot of the area (use a light meter if you can). Take several shots and experiment. If you find a cool place with good light, you can keep going back and get a sure shot nearly every time (like bobonia below always does). Don’t use flash close up. The flash on your camera isn’t good for anything but fill flash (to fill in harsh shadows at a distance). There is a time for flash but even more times to go without. Luckily in street fashion photos we are usually several feet from a person already so the flash is farther away. I talk about flash more below.

Hippie Vintage

Light + Location

Nastya Gerak

Natural light, good location. (Tariel K)

Location: One thing that looks really great is when your environment matches your outfit somehow. If you’re wearing bright colors, try a graffiti wall, if you’re wearing natural colors lay in the leaves, nerdy? sprawl on the floor with books scattered around you. A lot of websites will tell you to avoid busy background, but they’re talking about portraits at Sears and dating website photos, not street photography. A busy background doesn’t necessarily distract a person from seeing the subject, just don’t blend in to the background completely. I know how hard it is to find a good place to take a photo, especially when you have almost no light in your house, so being creative and leaving the house might be necessary if you have no “cool” places at home to shoot (or if your house is a dark pit of lightlessness like mine). Your bedroom will get boring to you and the viewers of your photos eventually. Whether you have a film or digital camera, it really helps to experiment. You’ll also learn allot if you just write down what you did in each photo, eventually you’ll just “know” what to do..

Pilu  colors

Graffiti wall + color: (araceli.g)

Using a photo editing program is important in a lot of cases. Not every photo is going to be perfectly exposed and sometimes there’s just some weird thing on your face. There are tons of sites you can check out on how to use programs. In Photoshop you can even even fake lomo effects, cross processing or make a photo look like a polaroid.

Check out these tutorials:

Basics: Brightness and Contrast in Photoshop

Adjusting image exposure

Basic touch up/red eye tips

*good is a matter of opinion so don’t stress it.

Lomo, Holga, Polaroids and cheapo cameras:

“Crappy” isn’t always a bad thing. I own more “crappy” cameras than “nice” ones. Several little 80’s 110 cameras, Polaroids, Holga, Duaflex, Regula and a Lomo*. I don’t expect everyone to know what they all are but I love them all the same. Lo-fi cameras actually offer amazing aesthetic for a photo. Lomos are notorious for high contrast and high color images and Polaroids are well known for a retro spontaneity no other camera can mimic. If your goal is a perfect photo with exact color and proportion, then don’t use these cameras but if you’re all about fun then by all means GO LO-FI!

Digital lomo? Yes!

Check out these tutorials:

Fake Lomo for digital photography

Fake Cross processed photo

agyness, behati & coco

holga with flash and also the night flash look – (Psychic Heart)

Hualampong Fisheye

lomo fisheye – (boboniaa)

*I bought my lomo and holga at www.ilovelomo.com

Fun holga option:
If you use a holga get some foam and tape, and lets load the camera with 35mm film! To start, completely tape up the red window on the back panel with electrical tape or duct tape (gaffers tape). Put the foam (or paper, or whatever) on either side of the roll of film (left side of camera) and tape the beginning of the film to the spool on the other side. Make sure its more or less in the center, so the film goes across the middle of the camera. Close the camera, forward three full turns and start shooting! Every time you take a photo, forward the film 3 turns of the knob or for double exposures or panorama, less. Now here’s the tricky part. To unload the film, either take the CLOSED camera to a film lab who will definitely have a changing bag, and have them unload and rewind it for you. Or do what I do, and go into a closet, put a towel at the bottom of the door, and do it yourself (and quickly). I’ve done this with lots of cameras, tons of times and never ruined a roll, but there IS light in your closet that you cant see, so be fast.

The results!


Using a flash with any camera:

Flash is hard. I have most my luck with an external flash, at night, on my lo-fi cameras. Most built in flashes are a disaster and make everyone look horrible. Whenever you can get natural light do, if you have studio light.. you don’t need to listen to me. Most good flashes attach to the camera with a hot shoe (or whatever you may have) and have adjustments for film speed, distance and aperture. Sometimes they’re cheap if you’re not looking for anything fancy. With lo-fi cameras at night, go all out. You can use flash with color gels on some cameras or just get the Colorsplash lomo if you want to go all out. Flash isn’t always bad but ‘off camera’ (like on a cord or bounced off the wall) or ‘diffused’ (blocking flash intensity) works better than direct on the camera flash. Even if you just stick a piece of wax paper to your flash you can significantly improve a flashes harshness. Sometimes too much, sometimes not enough, just try it!

If you are doing on the street photography or just want your photos to look pro, there’s too many lighting situations to hope for natural light. You might want to consider an external flash of some kind, one with adjustments for distance, aperture and film speed. The more powerful the better if you want to be able to step several feet away from the subject and get a great shot.

sea urchin

unnatural light can be good – (Caesar Sebastian)

“Studio” lights:
I have a really nice strobe with a 5′ octagon light box, but I never use it (mostly due to space). One of my lights is a super basic fixture with a ceramic base that I bought at Home Depot for $16, the 250 watt sunlight bulbs are $4 at a camera store. It’s not amazing, but it’s cheap and effective. I usually only use it as fill light to go with a flash or for harsh shadows on purpose. I also use white foam core to reflect light onto peoples faces, this is not hard to find either. This is all super “amateur” low budget stuff, but I have a hard time believing that I “need” a $40 reflector when I can make one.

Just experiment with any external lights you can use, you wont know what works till you try. But…don’t try household lights unless your camera has a white balance to adjust for it or filters. Otherwise the photos will come out yellowish, and probably grainy or blurry. Even with lots of indoor lights, lamps etc, it’s really hard to get enough light.

Shooting outside with studio lights is great too, but once you start getting hooked on that you’ll need more expensive stuff. This photo was taken using 2 strobes shot through umbrellas. This makes you fairly immobile, but admittedly looks good.

Justin Klein

2 strobes shot through umbrellas – (some nordic based guy)

Problems with photos:

Yellow? – Regular light bulbs are yellowish light. Most digital cameras have settings and you can buy filters for film.

Blurry? – If you have a nice camera (like a lecia), the location is probably too dark. The flash on your camera will almost never help you unless you’re looking for that spotlight style, which works best at night really.Even if you have your camera on a tripod, and stand super still, its probably not still enough. If you have a not-so-nice camera, the problems can be all the above or just that the shutter is too slow naturally. Some cameras without manual settings have one shutter speed and one aperture so it’s good to know what those are if you care to do the math. Cheap or older digital cameras can have the same basic problem.

Graininess in the dark areas, but perfect in the light areas? – That’s just your camera trying to get the light areas right, by sacrificing the dark. This might mean the area you’re in doesn’t have an even enough light. If the entire photo is digital and grainy, you have a camera that doesn’t like the dark.. at all. I have a camera like this, and its not a bad one. I just have to avoid dark places and not bother taking it out to concerts.

For either of these last two problems, turning on more lamps wont always work. Indoor light is deceivingly dark, to film (or digital/ccd), we just cant see how dark it is, if that makes any sense.

I look terrible! – honestly, it might not be you at all but your lens. Some lenses just bring out the worst in people. My digital is almost a fisheye up close, I don’t use it on people any closer than 5 feet.

Leave comments and I’ll answer what I can. I’ve been studying photography for 10 years and im fairly anti commercial (and pro film) so experimental questions encouraged!

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