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Although the height of pin up photography peaked in the 1930’s and 40’s, there is a new resurgence in this highly stylized type of photography. Based on the classic paintings of Alberto Vargas, photography’s most famous pin ups back in the day included people like Betti Page, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe.

In fact, this could be a lucrative addition to your studio service offerings. Many women are either booking shoots for themselves or planning group parties with friends. They’ve also become a popular gift idea. You can achieve the iconic photo styling of these famous images with a variety of fun backgrounds and lighting techniques.

Choosing A Seamless Background

Seamless backgrounds complement the whimsical and energetic tone of pin up photography much more than any other type of photo background. Because seamless paper backdrops offer such a wide range of fun colors, it’s the go-to studio backdrop for most pin up photography. Savage offers 68 colors to choose from. All Savage Widetone seamless paper comes in four sizes: 26” x 36’, 53” x 36’, 107” x 36’, and 107” x 150’. 

Using Seamless Paper for Pin Up Photography

You can easily replicate the mood and feel of the 1930’s and 1940’s utilizing color. Bold and bright hues took center stage both in home décor and fashion during these decades. Popular colors included blue, sunshine yellow, red and light green. Perfectly capture a cool retro-raunch 1940’s vibe with seamless paper such as Savage’s bright pink Tulip, a bold yellow like Canary or the beautiful True Blue seamless to give your glamour style photography a pop of color. Swimsuits were the typical wardrobe of choice and each of these three colors would be the perfect solution for a bathing beauty portrait.

And, if you want to maximize your shoot time and storage space, you can hang multiple rolls at once so you can easily switch out your backgrounds to suit your subjects. If you can’t install a wall mount system try the Multiple Polevault Stand that holds up to three seamless paper rolls and can be broken down to store away when needed.

Using Seamless Paper for Pin Up Photography

If you need some inspiration on how to use your backdrop paper colors to create a successful pin up shoot, check out the photo galleries at Vixen Pinup Photography.

Lighting Your Pin Up Girl

Back in the day, waist level finders were more popular than now, meaning many snapshots were taken from a lower perspective than we see today. Larger format cameras were common along with smaller prints. This resulted in images with very little grain, high sharpness and good tonality. Uncoated or single-coated lenses were more common, leading to a fair bit of flare.

Diffused Light vs. Hard Light

A lot of the pin ups in the 40’s and early 50’s had quite hard light. Flash was mostly done with bulbs in a big reflector. Although these types of flash had a lot of power, there was no way to control the output. Thus the photographers relied on using small apertures as close to f22 as possible. This would help cut down on the harshness of the flash and give clarity.

Using Seamless Paper for Pin Up Photography

There were also photographers who rarely or never bothered to use flash. Today, pin up photography lighting has moved towards lots and lots of diffused light. Lighten up the models until they’re just bursting with light, and expose your histogram toward the right. Try using a ring flash to reduce critical details along with the large soft boxes lighting your subject from every angle so you flatten all the wrinkles.

It’s All in the Eyes

Pin up girl expressions certainly had a lot to due with the success of the images. Many used exaggerated face and eye poses. To draw attention to the subject’s face, make sure you light the eyes so they sparkle.

Have your subjects’ eyes face the light furthest to your right or left. This lights up the whites of the eyes and gives off a dramatic effect to the eyes since it’s bouncing that light back at the camera.

There is so much fun and creativity to pin up photography to explore, not just with seamless backgrounds and lighting but with hair, makeup, propping and wardrobe as well!

Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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