Vintage Photography Guide

Vintage Photography 101: A Guide to Getting Started

In this guide, we break down the basics of vintage photography, along with tips, examples, and recommended gear to help you get started.

The first photograph was taken in 1826, and photography has completely evolved as an art form since then. With the invention of digital cameras, there is no longer a need to rely on film or dark rooms to produce pictures, but the art of vintage photography is still worth appreciating, even in the modern era.

Dark Room Photography

Image via PetaPixel

In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of vintage photography, and cover tips for creating vintage pictures with modern equipment. Use the links below to skip ahead, or keep reading for a complete guide to capturing vintage photos:

What is Vintage Photography?

Vintage photography has a pretty broad definition, especially in our modern world. It can refer to anything shot on a non-digital camera (like a Polaroid or Film camera), a photo processed to look older through editing and filters, photography that is created by mimicking old processes, or photos shot on modern equipment that are styled for a vintage look.

girl and boy black and white photo

Image via Photonify

While you may have an old Polaroid camera floating around in your attic, it is not necessary to invest in a brand new film camera to capture vintage-style photos. Translating this genre to modern-day equipment is pretty simple, so you can get started even if you don’t have older equipment to work with.

If you want to really get the feel of vintage photography, look into film cameras, but be aware of the work that goes into developing film. Search for film developers near you, or check out your local area to see if someone has a dark room where you can work on your photos.
Man Looking in Film Camera

Image via Esquire

If you choose to go with modern equipment to capture your vintage shoots, understanding what makes a photo “vintage” will help you master this genre. Vintage photos were limited by the use of film and the lack of features on the camera, which means the photographers had to do a lot of work to get quality images.

Vintage photos are also at the whim of the film, meaning imperfections were common, and these photos typically have a natural softness to them, as well as a grainy look in low light situations. By understanding how film reacted to certain situations and affected the image quality, recreating the vintage feel will be easier for you.

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How to get started?

The best way to get started in this genre is by taking time to familiarize yourself with the different eras of vintage photos and decide which style you want to focus on replicating.

Vintage photography is a broad term that covers everything from 1826 to the 1990s, so looking at different types and understanding what style you enjoy will help you narrow down where to start.

Girl with guitar

Image via BeFunky

Once you’ve nailed down the style you want to work with, check out the cameras and equipment that was used during that time. You can do this through a simple Google search and by reading articles about how these photos were made. Familiarize yourself with the effects that were created on images, and think about the ways to recreate them with modern equipment.

Scout locations, and invest in vintage props if you want. For example, if you want to create a shoot that captures the essence of the 1970s, you can have your model wear 70s style clothes, and you can use vintage landmarks as your backdrop. By immersing your subjects into the time you want to recreate, the results will seem much more authentic than just placing a filter over a random picture.

Tips & Tricks For Getting The Best Shots

After understanding the basics of getting started with vintage photography, try these tips to help make the most of your shoots.

Rainbow Black and White

Image via Smashing Magazine

  • Shoot in Black & White or Sepia. This seems like a simple tip, but shooting in black & white or sepia can be tricky when working with different lighting situations. Practice shooting in black & white, rather than simply using a filter in post-processing, so you can get comfortable understanding how the lighting is affected by these colors.
  • Try out classic compositions. Modern photography has encouraged a lot of experimentation with composition and posing, so reverting back to classic styles can help you achieve the ultimate vintage look. Classic compositions typically include clear vertical and horizontal axes. Stick with the Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio composition to get these results.
  • Embrace imperfections. It is super easy to edit out any imperfections with modern technology, but vintage photos didn’t have the luxury of Photoshop. Instead of trying to fix imperfections, like lens flares or blurry movement, lean into these characteristics as they will give your photos more of a vintage feel.

Girl with black shirt

Image via Ceros

  • Focus on achieving a soft look. Many vintage photos have a “soft” quality to them. This is due to the equipment used to capture them, as vintage cameras don’t have the megapixels or ability to capture detail like modern cameras can. To perfect the vintage vibe, embrace the softness of your images, and use filters or other accessories to obtain this quality. Fuzzy details, especially in the background, may seem strange if you’re used to shooting with digital cameras, but allowing your photos to have a hazy quality will really help achieve a vintage look.
  • Choose a theme and stick to it. This tip definitely isn’t a rule you have to follow the entire time, but having a cohesive vintage theme will be helpful if you plan on using this style with clients. Focus each shoot on one type of vintage photo, like a 1940s style shoot, and try to keep your photos as consistent as possible throughout.
  • Adjust your levels. If you are using a modern camera or post-processing software, pay attention to the levels of your contrast and saturation. Most vintage photos aren’t extremely saturated and they typically lack contrast, so be sure to follow those characteristics to create authentic images.

Vintage Photography Ideas

Use these ideas to get your vintage photography jumpstarted, and get creative with this genre.

Group of Girls

Image via Cossetmoi

Have a specific time period you want to recreate? Spend the day at a thrift store and pick out some props or specific clothing items for your shoot. Adding these elements to your image can really take your photos to the next level.

Shoot Monochrome

Shoot Monochrome

Image via The Vintage Films

Shoot your photos in black and white, no matter what your background is. This will easily give you a vintage feel, and it will help you get the hang of your vintage style. You can also achieve this effect by using a filter during post-processing.

Use a Texture Overlay

Texture Overlay

Image via RetroSupply Co

Create that fuzzy, vintage feeling by adding a texture overlay to your photos. This is a great way to make digital photos feel older, like their film predecessors.

Try Out Vintage Poses

Vintage Pose

Image via Expert Photography

Most early photography featured candids or extremely posed figures. Since there wasn’t a fast speed when taking pictures, models had to hold their poses, and this often led to a very stiff effect. Try this out with your models to achieve the vintage look.

Shoot Using a Polaroid Camera

Airoplane window

Image via PicsArt

Using a Polaroid or a film camera can help you achieve the perfect vintage look. Try out a Polaroid for instant results, since you don’t have to develop the film yourself, and have fun with the outcome.

Recommended Gear

It is possible to achieve the vintage style with modern equipment, but there is some gear that can help you step up your game or get started in the genre.

FUJI Camera

Image via 35mmc

While you may want to start out on digital if you already have a good camera, investing in a solid film camera can take your vintage pictures to the next level.The following cameras are great options for a wide variety of vintage scenarios:

  • Fuji GW690III is a rangefinder style camera with hefty build. This camera creates 6 x 9 negatives, and typically produces higher quality images than many of its competitors.
  • Mamiya 7 II uses a leaf shutter, and it can use wide angle lenses. It is one of the quietest shutters on the market, which makes it a great choice for those who want to take their vintage style to weddings or for nature photography.
  • Yashica T4is a point and shoot camera with a great lens, and it has a compact design, which makes it great for active photographers who don’t want to lug around heavy equipment.
  • Nikon F2 is great for any photographer who is already a Nikon user. This camera fits most Nikon lenses, but still gives you the film quality for a vintage vibe.

If you choose to go with a film camera, investing in high quality film will make sure you get the best images out of your shoots. Check out Kodak’s most popular film, Portra, for your everyday shoots.

If you want film that creates a darker atmosphere, consider buying Fujicolor Pro 400, and allow it to make your vintage photos pop. Kodak Tri-X 400 is a great choice if you want to develop your photos in black & white, and this film is known for its balanced contrast and shadow detail.

Vintage Photography Effects

If you don’t want to invest in vintage equipment, or if you just want to try out vintage photos with your modern equipment, plan on using vintage effects and filters to achieve your desired look.

The great thing about photography today is that modern post-processing software and editing apps have made it extremely easy to create the perfect photo. Modern photography has made many advances, like preset filters and leves editing, so you can adjust your digital pictures.

If you want to create your own, you can follow these steps to achieve the look yourself:

  • Fade your colors with a tone curve.Raise the left side of your RGB curve to erase the dark tones to create softer shadows. Reduce the saturation or vibrance along with this to create a faded, vintage look.
  • Try split-toning. Simply add a warm color to your highlights, and a cool color to your shadows. This creates a faded vintage look, and allows you to change the final result by choosing different colors in these areas.

Picture Editing Tool

Image via Digital Photography School

Lightroom presets have made it extremely easy to achieve the vintage look, as well as keep a cohesive aesthetic across all of your photos. You can always download free presets, or buy a set if you find one you really like, and then use these when editing in Lightroom.

If you want to buy presets for your vintage photos, here are 5 great options to try out:

  1. Vintage Lightroom Preset Bundle. This set includes 153 presets, and it ranges from the original Daguerreotype style to vintage 70s and 80s, so you can be sure to have a preset that will work for you.
  2. Autochrome Lumiere Lightroom Presets. Achieve the perfect faded vintage look with these 10 presets. This set is modeled after real vintage Autochrome Lumiere prints, so your images will look authentic after adding these presets.
  3. The Memento Vintage Workflow. This set includes 34 presets that can create just about any of the vintage looks you may want. It also includes 20 adjustment brushes that will help you get in specific areas when you need to touch-up your images.
  4. Retro Color. If you want the perfect color presets that add retro flair to your work, then this is a great set to choose. The retro color doesn’t compromise on color quality when added, but it does create a soft vintage flair to your pictures. This set comes with 10 presets to help you get creative with your colorful, vintage images.
  5. Expired Film. A great set for getting that film-y quality in your digital photos. This pack is nice for photographers who want the film look, but don’t want to go through the hassle of purchasing a film camera and developing their own images. This 10-pack set adds a hazy quality to your pictures for the perfect vintage look.

Final Thoughts

Vintage photography is a broad topic in the world of modern technology, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. This genre is all about appreciating the ways photography has evolved, and focusing on the timeless traditions that have emerged within the art form.

Find the best way to enjoy vintage photography for your style, whether that’s using a film camera, creating a vintage look with presets, or simply styling your models in vintage outfits. Jump right into the genre, and start capturing your own vision of vintage.

For more helpful tips, tricks, and guide on photography, check out Grid50’s Resources section.

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