When I toured the Gamble House, Centinela Adobe, and Heritage Square, I couldn’t help but notice that each of these historic residences contained portraits of its owners, usually unsmiling, and usually in vintage oval frames. I realized I wanted that for our home!
Of course the subjects of the photos weren’t smiling because of the photographic technology of the time, which required people to sit very still while the camera exposed for quite some time. That’s also the reason for the creepy eyes: people often blinked and/or moved their eyes several times during the long exposure. Jon and I set out to create a similar look!
After some research, I realized that the photos of the early 1900s usually had one person standing and one sitting, both very stiff and not affectionate-looking. We shot for the same look! We realized a specific image to work from rather than the general idea of pictures at the time would be helpful, so we chose this one of a 1900 couple.
Wardrobe: I have this beautiful vintage gown in my collection. I don’t know when it’s actually from, but it seemed appropriate. Jon wore his normal suit (men’s suits really haven’t changed much in the last century) with a vest he’d gotten for our Great Gatsby housewarming party and a bowtie I had lying around. The vest was blue, but I figured after desaturating the picture, it would look dark grey or black. I tried to get my hair to look like that of the woman in the picture, and added an ivory headband with a flower detail from my handmade upcycled fashion line.
Background/photo equipment: We used one of the chairs in the library and shot it right there. We barely had to move anything around! Jon blocked the light coming in from the windows, and we didn’t use any additional lights in the room other than the built-in fixture. Jon set the camera for a long exposure and used a remote to trigger the shutter. We made small adjustments as we shot, continually comparing our images to the inspiration one and working hard to make ourselves look less interested in each other! Here’s our original result.
Editing: First I removed all the shadows behind us, plus the light fixture on the wall. We worked together desaturating and adjusting contrast and other on the photo. I found some free vintage overlays online, and added them (the creases, spots, and noise) as overlay layers. We did some more editing together, including somewhat softening the hands and faces, then I finished up by blurring our faces. We used an oval mask layer during editing so that we could see how the picture would look framed in an oval, rather than as a rectangle.
The final product was printed on matte paper at a professional print shop, then hung in an oval wood frame found at Goodwill.
It’s hung next to this great image of my grandparents at their wedding (1948). I’m looking for the digital images to have a larger one of my grandparents printed, but this one will do for now. The look definitely helps complete the fireplace area!