When Victoria Vine approached me to shoot her cosplay as Lydia from Beetlejuice, I couldn’t be more excited! She had an amazing red wedding dress made for the occasion and all the accessories, from a red rose bouquet to pinstripe umbrella to go with the theme. It was still cold, with a layer of snow blanketing the frozen graveyard ground, but Victoria braved the elements for an awesome nighttime photo shoot in Naugatuck, Connecticut! It was so cold, in fact, that the plastic mount for one of my video lights snapped, making it hard to focus in the dark, but we still got some pretty cool images. I tried to mimic the strong, cinematic lighting from the movie. We got a few strange looks from passers-by and one group of high school guys even stopped to take a selfie with our star!
When my beautiful German sister came to visit me in March, she had just cut her hair in solidarity with her friend who had cancer. I took her out for a photo shoot at Topsmead State Park in Litchfield and though she looked gorgeous, she said she didn’t feel like a girl with her hair short. So the next day, I pulled out this amazing vintage dress I had picked up at a tag sale, gave her a flower headband and a bouquet and we went out again, this time to Hubbard Park in Meriden. No one can doubt her femininity now! I love her both ways, in her jeans and boots and all dolled up in a long flowing dress. The thing I love best is her infectious smile and her kind heart that moved her to cut her locks in support of a friend. Happily, her friend is in remission now and Nadi is growing her hair back out.
As soon as I landed a job at the Republican-American newspaper, I knew I had to shoot a vintage engagement in this space.
The third floor of the iconic news building in Waterbury, Connecticut has been abandoned for decades.
Gorgeous light pours in from large, dusty windows, illuminating old typewriters and office desks.
The building itself is a local landmark, once the city’s Union Station. It was built in 1909 to service the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. It is graced with a 240-foot brick clock tower modeled after the Torre de Mangia on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena Italy. The tower can be seen from the highway for miles.
The newspaper was founded in 1844 and the Pape family purchased the building in 1952 to house their newspaper business, which had grown from a four-page weekly to a daily with morning and afternoon editions.
The newsroom where I work on the floor below is still bustling, though like most newspapers, the staff has shrunk over the years.
I’m not sure when the third floor was abandoned, but it must have been soon after computer replaced typewriters and digital images replaced dark rooms. The floor remains a time capsule, stuffed with old Rolodexes, cash registers and filing cabinets. Metal photographic plates lie in piles on the floor and copies of old papers are stacked on tables.
Articles from the 1930s feature columns like “The Social Realm” and a section called “Short Skirts” featuring cartoon images of women in knee-length pencil skirts. My favorite column, published in the late 1920s, is called “From a Flapper’s Notebook.”
Society gossip is at its best in one engagement announcement, which reads, “After a three-day courtship, Constance Almy, dancer at the Silver Slipper Club in Miami, Fla, is engaged to Stanley Comstock, wealthy Detroiter, who has been reported as the latest fiancé of Peggy Hopkins Joyce. Smiles are Miss Almy’s and Comstock’s reply here concerning his former wife’s charges that his divorce was illegally obtained.” The blurb is titled, “Beating Peggy to It.”
It’s so deliciously salacious; You can’t make this stuff up.
Another column, “London Gossip,” brings us the important news that “five royal courts, not four, may be held this year.”
A serial story entitled “Rash Romance!” also ran in the paper.
The ads from the era are filled with “charming modes.” Borrowing the French word for fashion made them feel more sophisticated, I’m sure.
Browsing the old ads is a fashion lover’s paradise.
Men’s suits from Joseph’s on Bank Street are advertised for $34 (add a topcoat for $17.50, regularly $35!) You can get the season’s new handbags for 50 cents! Butlers is offering “fashionable spring silk frocks for $14.95”
Howard-Hughes, “Waterbury’s friendly department store” offers peasant dirndl skirts for $3.88 to $4.98 and sheer blouses for $3.98. “A wisp of a blouse with off the shoulder or square necklines, brief sleeves, velvet drawstrings. Sizes 32 to 38.”
All that style and frivolity is tinged with a hint of danger as everyday people struggled through the Great Depression. “Al Capone is Home Again” is the headline on one article.
In many ways, the era was similar to today as people seek to escape in a fantasy world of glitz and glam while struggling to put food on the table at home.
All this was the tableau Andrea and Christian’s engagement shoot, in this space where news was made. Their own apartment, where they love to entertain friends and ply them with homemade nibbles, was built in 1900 and features creepy wooden gargoyles in the corners.
We borrowed vintage clothing from the Little Black Dress Vintage in Naugatuck. Andrea Zola, who owns MBD Beauty, did her own makeup and Lolly Nicol of Glamour Art by Lolly changed up her hair between outfits.
Thanks to a fantastic team for such a great shoot!
10 tips for shooting composites
- PLAN AHEAD – If you start with the final image in mind, you can plan the poses and shoot the background so that everything fits together properly when you go to merge the images together. Think about where your subject will be standing or sitting in the background and make sure that area is in focus when you shoot the background. When you shoot the subject, make sure they’re sitting at the right height.
- MATCH THE CAMERA SETTINGS – Make sure camera settings are as similar as possible for the background image and subject – shoot from the same angle, with the same aperture, focal length and ISO.
- MATCH THE LIGHTING – If the background image has soft light, your subject should too. If the background has harsh light, the subject should too. If there is strong directional light in the background, make sure the light on the subject is coming from the same direction. If the background has warm light, the light on the subject should be too.
- SHOOT ON A CLEAN BACKDROP – Make your life easier – shoot the subject against as clean a backdrop as possible. One color is easy to extract.
- FEATHER YOUR CUTOUT – When you’re extracting your subject from the background, the softness of your brush should match the softness of the area you plan to paste them into the background. If the background is tact sharp, your brush should be hard. If your background is a bit blurry in that area, the cutout should be too.
- PAY ATTENTION TO SHADOWS – All subjects cast a shadow. The depth, darkness and direction of the shadow depends on the quality of the light. Think about where you subject’s shadow would fall in real life and try to imitate that. If you background has shadows, look at how sharp they are, what direction they lie in, and how strong they are. Be careful not to place your shadow too far away from the subject as that can give them appearance of floating.
- MATCH THE TONES – Once you have your subject placed in the backdrop, tone the whole image to help tie it together. Make sure your color temperature matches on your subject and background.
- ADD FOREGROUND – Elements in the foreground, in front of your subject, help make the image look more realistic. The more your subject appears to be interacting with the background, the more convincing it is.
- TELL A STORY – All the whiz-bang power of Photoshop to create fantastical images is nothing if there’s no meaning behind your image. Use your powers for good. Don’t add more effects just because you can. Always ask yourself, why am I doing this? What purpose does it serve? Does it improve the image?
- HAVE FUN – You can make any fantasy come true with the power of Photoshop. Get creative. Try new things. Explore.