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How to take Victorian photos of your own Victorian Costume. Abigails Ateliers interview by Lisa Schnapp on 09-25-2010


Victorian Costumes photography

So now that you have purchased (rented, borrowed, or made your own) lovely and extravagant Victorian Costume, you've by now worn to a Victorian event, such as The Victorian Ball or The Vanderbuilt dinner. But now, while you are at the lavish Victorian dinner house, you suddenly realize that you are surrounded by the most exquisite atmosphere, ever. You admit- this is a golden photo opportunity of a lifetime! (Click on the Thumbnails to open large images within a new window.)

Photography of Victorian Costumes So you want to have some quality, breathtaking photos in your exquisite finery taken of yourself and friends. You want your images to have the appearance of being taken during yesteryear, like a grand movie costume drama. So, how do you get the most from your costume? Choices, choices! What is a well dressed Victorian (Regency, Civil War or other era) lady to do?

To answer this burning question (amongst many others) Bustledress.com has sought out expert advice in the guise of someone who lives and breathes authentic styled costume for the business of serious reenacting and living history. During our quest, we discovered some of the most serenely exquisite and interesting Victorian (and other era) photos found on the web.... from Abigails Ateliers Website.Photography of Victorian Costumes

The lovely (and incredibly talented) Abigails Ateliers owner, Lady Lyn-Marie Cunliffe, has very graciously let us feature her business, and gave express permission to reshow her splendid Victorian style photographs of herself and her models gracefully donning lavish costumes she has fashioned for her business. Her fabulously talented photographer husband, John Cunliffe, captured these breathtaking scenes observed with pensive sensitivity through his lens. Lady Lyn-Marie enacts in presentations at Residential and Day Centres throughout West Yorkshire UK promotional work for Businesses, Traders, Villages and Historical Societies or Museums while wearing full costume of a particular era featured.

Photos of Victorian CostumesLady Lyn-Marie vividly describes one of her own sumptuous Victorian photo shoots in her own words:
Lady Lyn-Marie:
...I have probably worn the dresses in every circumstance that victorian ladies would have. At Whitby (England) we always stay somewhere outside of the town, so I have worn costumes for most of the day, walking, traveling, sitting, shopping, on boat trips, even on the beach, while for several shoots I have made long walks across country to find the spot I wanted for each shoot.

I have worn Victorian costume for old English style country dances, costume parties, as well as regularly for work for presentations and singing. Also, unlike the average victorian lady, I have had to get into a costume in a tent! The first time we went to Whitby, we took our 9 man tent because we couldn't get any other accommodations at short notice. It must have looked like the weirdest camping luggage anywhere! Hangers, dress covers, hanging rail, hat boxes. It did make me wonder how the costume drama people think any lady could have traveled with the one trunk and a hat box that ladies are always shown traveling with in movies or on TV! We had three cases and the roof rack, plus a couple of hat boxes, and a vanity case, and that was only for three dresses with one cage bustle, one bustle cushion, and one large fake tulle bustle!

Photos of Victorian style CostumesBecause I do promotional work (which is usually outside and often in winter as well) as my usual inside costume talks or presentations, I can see why ladies changed so often in a day. Being inside a hot room in a walking dress is no fun! And wearing a trained dresses outside is a recipe for several hours cleaning and mending later..."

No two photographer's photos will come out exactly the same, so here are some advanced photography tips for having your own successful photos taken in your own Victorian clothing from Lisa Schnapp from Bustledress.com:

Clothing, locations, lighting, photos, mood, models, props and special effects
Victorian Gown Photos 1.) It pays to research. What type of Victorian person will you be portraying? (Merchant class, married middle class lady, wealthy, aristocrats, poor street vendors, etc.)? The clothing and accessories should match the type of effect you are wanting to achieve. A lacy silk taffeta gown is not something a street vendor would wear. If you are going for a serious Victorian effect, make sure to have a Victorian gown carefully designed with period correct details. Details such as silk or cotton laces, shirring, pleats and ruffles will assist the effect tremendously. (You can also rent a Victorian style gown, make one yourself using a historically correct pattern, era type fabrics, metal boning if you are able, etc.). Period authenticity is not as important a consideration when dressing for less serious events such as Halloween, or an informal tea with friends, many Victorian weddings and street events, etc. Less focused Victorian genre offshoots (Victorian Goth Steampunk, etc.) are not usually as fussy about pure authenticity in detailing as the need for serious reenactors and museum docents (for instance). Natural fabrics are always a wise fashion choice (silk, cotton, wool, etc.) as they were also used back 'in the day.' Synthetics and blends should be avoided whenever possible as they usually do not "breathe" well. Choose carefully your fabrics, and prewash those that require pre-washing for preshrinking (like wool and cottons, silk does not require cleaning.) so they do not possibly "water spot" later when a bit of water may invariably drip on your costume.Victorian Dress Photo shoot

2.) Make sure your Victorian clothing has the appropriate undergarments to support the outfit in the correct silhouette of your chosen period. Natural form 1876-1880 gowns are a decidedly smaller, lower and different bustle shape than high, mid 1880's aggressive shelf shaped bustles. Two petticoats should be sufficient to use (unless the one being used is very substantial), also, under your chemise, a correctly shaped period style corset for your time period (watch out- any corset may add inches to your waist from the added fabric thickness, corset cover (outside of corset) bustle (including bustle pads, ruffle pads, etc.). Always tryon outfit to be worn with the corset and bustle in a full test run first to help avoid possible size issues, or just getting the hang of getting in and out of your car (or carriage- as the case may be!). Trains are beautiful, but be aware, they can possibly trip you, or others near you as you walk or dance, and drag it around. Make sure to be add sturdy handles to your train for maneuverability, and removable dustruffles to save your train from being dragged and stepped on in close quarters. Most trains will likely be stepped on or stained. I like easy-to-remove removable trains, but that is just me.

Victorian Dress Photo shoot3.) Choose clothing and accessories suitable for your era depicted, and for where you plan to have your photo taken. High Ball Gown shoes are not appropriate for "walking" in the woods, and can become stained and uncomfortable on long hikes. During winter, boots and Pelisse or cape/ hat/ winter umbrella that have been sprayed with scot-guard (water repellent) can help to save your outfit from mildew, wet and ruin. Always test repellent first on scraps to make sure your fabric does not stain, spot or discolor if two fabrics touch when damp. Velvet often will spot from water, so be forewarned if wearing velvet in rain! Evening gowns and Ball gowns are not appropriate for day wear, and Day Outfits and and Walking gowns should not be worn to a ball. (There are always exceptions to the "rules.")
Locations:
Victorian Civil War Photo shoot4.) Locations are as varied as one's imagination can come up with. Besides Victorian houses, (bedrooms, bathrooms, parlors, tearooms, dinner tables, windows, etc.) old schoolhouses, gardens, etc. There's historical sites/ events (weddings, parties, etc.) castles, old ruins, old vineyards, statues and fountains. Quaint, old looking locations such as storefronts/ theme towns/ teahouses, old railways and railway stations, cobbled streets in quaint villages, bridges, nature/ out of doors greenery, the seashore/ lakes bodies of waters like ponds, waterfalls, and waterfronts. Also, graveyards, ships, schooners, old rowboats, and much more. If it looks as though the area existed 'way back then', it likely is a good candidate for a possible shoot. However, always get permission first for shoots on private property (no trespassing) and be safe- high heels on a beach cliff can be dangerous. Dress appropriately with possibly a change of shoes, and bring plenty of water for walking (you will likely get warm from wearing layers.)
Lighting:
5.) Use natural day lighting whenever possible, and avoid on camera flash whenever you can avoid it unless you are experienced and comfortable in using this medium. Morning and sunset are my favorites. That said, bringing a large white piece of cardboard or a white sheet to a shoot to purposefully reflect natural daylight into the face or gown folds of your subject can be very useful. Tripods are great to keep down camera shake especially for darkening conditions. Night shooting with flash is usually best avoided again unless you have the expertise to use a flash (likely diffused with umbrella, diffuser or softbox) to best effect such as Slow Sync Flash. Most undiffused, direct on camera flash used at night can result in overexposed, with over or under compensated contrast, looking unrealistic for Victorian time eras. For soft "fill in" flash, attaching a coffee filter with some clear or uncolored tape can help cut down and soften the harsh effects of a single, on-camera flash or cutting an old yogurt container and sliding it on a popup camera flash can often do the trick. Using these techniques will likely mean you will need to experiment with your camera's exposure compensation. (Increasing exposure by a stop or two will likely be enough) as your camera won't automatically compensate for the photographer removing some of the light power out of it's flash. Again, day shoots are best unless a lovely silhouette is desired, or you are good at time lapse photography/ or using multiple diffused dedicated flashes either on a hotshoe with flash slaves, or a pro flash setup, etc.

6.) Look at how the enveloping ambient natural light affects your model subject, and flatters her features, clothing and surroundings as she moves. Try to avoid direct, overhead sunlight (unless you are say, under a porch and light is being bounced in a lovely way back into her.) Soft lighting from the side or diffused lighting (say, bright clouds in the sky) especially in sunset, sunrise, or an overcast day can look terrific in the right scene. Bright, overcast days often are some of the softest and best natural lighting for a model. However, always be prepared for wonderful but unexpected opportunities arising in almost any situation!
Photos:
Victorian Dress Photo shoot7.) Get comfortable with a quality Photo program such as Photoshop to correct photo contrasts, stray off hues, mistakes, sharpen, or even make altered art images into Victorian collages!

8.) Take many photos during a shoot- set up and posed, natural and spontaneous, distance shoots, 3/4 shots, closeups... you can always throw any extraneous extras away. Watch your model careful for desired shots as she will likely move into a great shot quickly, and you only have a few seconds before a shot can be lost. (Sometimes you can have a model slowly repeat what actions they took, but watching with an eagle eye for spontaneous in the moment shots can often be the most unique, charming and rewarding.

9.) Use a quality film or digital camera with decent sharpness, contrast, color saturation ratios, especially those that can let you manually make adjustments. You can look online to see what cameras tend to give the best results for out of doors. Use the largest files if you wish to print results later. (Study your camera instructions to help you do this with your own camera efficently.)

10.) Watch for extraneous details that can pull a viewer "out of the moment." Power lines, flying airplanes, modern cars parked or driving by, modern clothing of passers by, other props being used by a model or near a model (being on a modern boat, etc.). You may be able to crop or Photoshop incorrect details out (if you are good at it), but retouching can be time consuming or the effect may not come out as well as hoped. Starting with a good original is the best idea.
Mood:
Victorian Dress Photo shoot11.) Atmosphere. Trees without leaves on a chilly winter day as the sun goes down in an old graveyard can produce a somber mood. Would look lovely also in a Gothic style shoot. Cherry blossom trees in bloom or a garden of roses on a bright, sunny morning may denote lightness, happiness, or love. A Victorian style wedding would look lovely in softness. Using atmosphere and mood to denote a distinctiveness may help you get the effect you are aiming for in your photography.
Models:
Victorian Dress Photo shoot12.) Nearly any model will be good for this kind of photography. She does not need to be ultra thin or tall, but should have an old fashioned quality to her features. Aim for someone who likes the clothing whenever possible and tends to play it up in her movements ("lifting" her skirts gracefully, plays with her fan, uses her parasol to good advantage, etc). This type of model often is creative and can come up with interesting scenes on her own without being prodded, and have a good time during shooting as well. Sometimes a model may need direction and posing, this also can be good too, because the model can then move the pose into the right momen.

13.) Makeup for the model: I like natural looks or well made up looks depending on the type of mood/ realism desired. A natural face with a bit of softly pale powder for oily skins or shininess, invisible concealer for scars/ age spots/ acne, natural tinted lip balm, and natural, untweezed brows can be terrific if depicting a real person. An exaggerated look (Moulin Rouge dancer, actress of the period, etc.) may have a white skin, distinct pink circles on cheeks, beauty mark, rosebud lips, black kohl rimmed eyes. An early "vamp" effect may have very blackened eyebrows, gray shadow as well and no cheek rouge but thick mascara. Eyelashes and other effects can be good for Gothic, fantasy and futuristic depictions of the Victorian era.

14.) Hair and wigs: Study photographs of the period. Some styles are simple, other are rather elaborate and can require extra hair for best period effect. Some styles can be done by the model herself if she is good with her hair. Other styles may require added falls to the simple style, or use a hairstylist experienced in updos or vintage styles to give the effect desired in the case of "Gibson Girl" pompadours and elaborate styles of the 1870's. An easy way is to use a wig already made in your desired fashion. Beware of cheap wig styles as the acrylic hair may look too shiny and garish, and stand out as being a wig. Human hair wigs are usually the finest available and easiest to style, but can be expensive to purchase, but worth it for someone using the wig often. Always do a trial run with the hairstyle before a shoot so there are no surprises the day of the shoot. Most people will need a wig cap under the wig to smooth their own hair down on their head. Many Victorian hair combs and ornaments can complete an effect.
Props:
Victorian Gothic Photo shoot15.) Anything touched by a hand can be considered a prop. Victorian ladies in paintings and original photos always had busy fingers. Touching/ pinching/ sewing/ reading/ painting, holding a mirror/ child/ book/ sewing/ skirt/ rose, you name it. Being idle was considered a no no. Having additional props on hand (or around you) during a shoot can be useful. Fans, gloves, parasols, reticules, hats/ bonnets, capes, masks, books, flowers, baskets, old cars, carriages, steamships/ boats, seashells, teacups, children, again, you name it... For Gothic scenes, look for interesting props... a Jolly Roger flag, crossbones, skull, bat, headstone, spiderweb, etc. Steampunk: clocks, watches, keys and locks, futuristic brass machines and props, Safari, top hats, etc. just make sure that the props fit within your theme and are dated within your time frame.
Special effects:
Victorian Gothic Photo shoot16.) Effects can be added during the time of the shoot or afterward- in the photo processing process. Colored gels can be added to a camera lens to color a sky, field or water... flash can also be used for ghostly effects, colored photos can be made into antique Sepia tones like a vintage Cabinet Card photograph, or a tintype or an artsy Polaroid transfer. Photoshop and other photo altering programs can combine elements to create fabulous effects such as canvas textures or printing onto a prepared canvas. (Look online for tutorials). Collages and mixed media transfers can be printed from inkjet printers and transparencies to make great prints and cards. The sky is the limit!

Victorian Gothic Photo shoot

Hope you enjoyed this article, and I would like to again thank Abigails Ateliers owner, Lady Lyn-Marie Cunliffe, and her photographer husband, John Cunliffe for graciously contributing their wonderful memories and photos to this article. Visit our friends across the pond at: Abigails Ateliers Website.

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