As part of my ongoing series of articles on first time shoots, I decided to follow up my first ever Beach Shoot with a pin-up model photoshoot.

I’ve always been a big fan of the pin-up genre, particularly the 1940-50s work of artists like Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas .
Their images are full of class, often with a touch of playfulness and humour.

Inspiration Screenshots - Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography.tif

Because this has been on my to-do list for a long time, I’d already created a Pinterest board with a ton of images for inspiration, some of which I used to create a montage for my casting call.

As I mentioned in my first article, I place my casting calls in Starnow and on Facebook model groups. After a couple of days I had my model, stylist and makeup artist and we set about planning the shoot.

Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography

Look Concept: Why A Stylist?

A stylist is invaluable for a shoot like this. Because:

  • They bring ideas on what clothes and accessories will suit the concept and provide advice on how they should be matched to form outfits.
  • They also offer another source of creative ideas that I can feed of during the shoot.
  • And an added benefit of stylists is that they often can source clothing from designers that you can use for the shoot.

Working As A Team: Group Talk Via Facebook

For a pin-up photo shoot such as this, it is vital that all parties are coordinated and in sync with what the intended look is and the shoot particulars such as location and time.

I’ve found the best tool for this is the Facebook Messenger app: everyone uses it and it allows you to make groups of users so everyone in the team can see the conversations between members. This means I only have to say things once and I can be across the conversations between the stylist, makeup artist and the model when they are discussing ideas for styling. Best of all, it’s free!

Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography

Lighting: First Time With Strobes On My Own!

The shoot was going to be in a studio and I would be shooting for the first time with strobes. Sure, I have attended courses with strobes, but there was always someone else setting them up: this time I was on my own.

I was a little nervous about shooting with strobes so I set about reading up about basic setups and key considerations when using strobes. As always, the old adage of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) applies so I decided I’d stick to a one light setup as this matched the look of a lot of the pin-up images of the 1940s. This would minimise the complexity and allow me to focus more on the model and capturing good poses and looks.

I ended up shooting all the images with the strobe at camera left at an angle of 45° off camera and 45° elevated with respect to the model. I used a large octa soft box light modifier.

Lighting Setup - Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography

Shoot Day: Here’s How I Did It

Shoot day was an early start on a Sunday, with us all turning up bleary-eyed and eyeing enviously the espresso coffee that the stylist had bought herself on the way to the studio.

I left the model in the hands of the makeup artist to get her hair and makeup done and I busied myself getting familiar with the studio strobes and setting up my camera and taking some test shots.

My camera has a maximum flash sync speed of 1/250 sec so I set that as my starting point and took some exposures to test out the flash and camera setup. I found that at this speed, the shutter was closing too early so I dropped the speed down until I got a clean exposure at 1/125 sec. I think the radio triggers were the culprits for the slow sync speed as they are cheap brand units.

For the shoot, I had my camera mounted on a tripod as this allowed me to easily gesture for poses and to get up and adjust the lights without changing my camera position.

Behind The Scenes 1 - Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter AIkins
Behind The Scenes 1 - Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter AIkins

Now that my setup was all sorted, the stylist and I looked over the clothing and accessories the she had brought. We discussed possible combinations and the order we’d shoot the outfits.

There was still some time until the makeup and hair was finished so I sat down and chatted to the crew and we got to know each other. I think it is important that everyone feels relaxed and part of a team as it brings out the best in everyone.

Once all the hair and makeup was complete we got started on the shoot. We worked through various poses and styles of outfits, referring to our Pinterest board to help the model visualize the pose and look. This can really help a model to get into a pose.

Because I was not shooting with a PC tethered, I had to use the overexposure warnings on my camera to check that my images were not blown out. After a couple of adjustments to the strobe power, the whites were spot on and we proceeded with the shoot.
If you can, use a PC/Mac to tether to the camera as you can then easily check focus and exposure as you go along.

40s - 1 - Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography.tif copyTop Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography

As I mentioned before, the stylist was a big help because she would pick up things such as issues with the clothes or items that could be added to the set to make a better image. We bounced ideas off each other as we went along and it made for a fast, but productive shoot.

During the shoot, I regularly invited the model and stylist to review the images that I was taking so they would have confidence in the shoot and also to discuss what adjustments needed to be made.

We worked our way through a number of outfits, with different props and poses to create some different looks. We ended up with some great images after what was an enjoyable shoot.

Posing & Expressions: It’s All In The Hands

Whilst shooting, I tried to keep an eye on the hands of the model and how they were positioned. If they are awkwardly positioned or they are clutched into a fist, they can ruin an otherwise good image. I would use keywords to remind the model such as “soft hands” or “ballet hands”. The two crops below illustrate what I mean.

Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins

Lessons Learned

The key lessons I learned from this challenge are:

  1. I should have experimented with more of the props that the stylist brought. There were several items that could have created some very different looks that might have turned out pretty cool.
  2. It would have been a lot easier to review photos and provide feedback to the team if I had a tethered a PC to the camera. It would have made it so much easier to check for over/under exposure and focus. It would have also avoided the model and stylist having to huddle around my camera to review photos.
  3. I sometimes missed good shots because I pressed the shutter before the strobes had recycled. In future I need to remember to wait until I hear the beep and I also need to explain to the model that she needs to listen to the beeps too and hold her pose until she sees the flash fire.
  4. I misjudged how long the hair and makeup would take and the stylist had to wait around for a long time, when she could have arrived a little later.

All in all, I am very happy with the results from my first ever solo studio strobe shoot. I believe I succeeded in recreating the look of the 1940s pin-up model. I had a lot of fun doing this shoot and collaborating with a team to create these images!

Top Tips For Pin-Up Photo Shoot - Peter Aikins Photography

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