Last week, it came to my attention that there was going to be an old timey steam locomotive ride from Helsinki (my fair city) to Porvoo. Lately I haven’t been that into street photography and more interested in portrait work, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to arrange another vintage oriented photo shoot. You may remember that I was able to arrange couple really nice sessions with vintage model Shanona Dreem couple of weeks ago. Because we had such a great time last time, we got together again this weekend to shoot some more 1940’s themed portraits that would take place in this beautiful old train. It was again a nice little break from street work and a chance to try out something new and different. I’m delighted that we’ve been hitting it off so nicely with Shanona. Shooting together with a fellow vintage lover really comes through as a shared vision and mutual sense of aesthetics.

Shooting film and digital

This time I wanted to shoot both film and digital. Let me start by posting the digital work first. I was of course after a vintage look and feel, so naturally I chose a vintage lens for the task. I used my Fujifilm X-E2 camera body with the same Olympus Zuiko 50mm f1.8 lens that I’ve been using extensively during the last year and a half. It has a somewhat retro rendering and it takes beautiful images.

(I took the film shots with my Leica M6. I’ll be posting them later, at part III, after I have the chance to go through all of them. At the moment they are still being scanned.)

Going for the cinematic look again

I’ve had this idea of making cinematic portraits for a long time. The previous photo shoots have been following the same ideology, but I haven’t quite been able to nail what exactly creates a cinematic look. I think it is an interesting question. I had only couple of quidelines in mind again: no eye contact and no artificial smiles. Even though these are portraits, I wanted to keep away from the stereotypical portrait look. I’m still very interested in portraits that look like still images from a movie, which was yet again the core concept of the entire shoot.

The setting was of course as authentic as it can get. As a backdrop, an old train really helped to create a narrative. Shanona had an amazing 1940’s outfit, makeup and hair, which really helped to reinforce the right kind of mood. Riding an old train was hugely exciting and the entire experience reminded me of Agatha Cristie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I think you can probably see that inspiration in some of these images.

We actually shot on two separate days. We managed to get a backstage pass and go for a private ride after the actual event, during the evening. We didn’t have to worry about other passengers or any other distractions. The light was also excellent during the later hours of the day. It was a bright and sunny evening but the direction of the light was rather flattering, as it came through the old train car windows from a low angle.

This is perhaps one of my favourite shots of the entire shoot. I took this photo while the train was entering a shade. The lighting changed dramatically and created this beautiful dark light for a brief moment.

As usual with digital, I ended up taking about 300 images during the weekend. With a digital camera you just end up shooting more, because you have the opportunity. I tried to keep my film shooter mentality and be picky about the shots.

You may be asking why I took a digital camera. Aren’t I’m supposed to be a hard core film shooter? As you know, I’m fairly new to portraiture and sometimes the timing can be extremely difficult. I wanted to make sure that I got enough versions of each shot, in order to avoid closed eyes and to have variations in micro expressions etc. Some times the facial expression can really be so different in two different shots taken within the same second.

And to to make this a nice little learning session as well, we also wanted to review some of the poses and compositions while we were shooting, which was of course very convenient and made possible by having the camera’s back screen. On film portraits, I’ve often noticed something slightly annoying that I wish I would’ve noticed earlier. Maybe a nice idea that could’ve been even better with some honing. On those occasions instant feedback is really convenient as it sort of substitutes my lack of expertise as a portrait shooter.

Also, on a shoot like this, you have a lot of things in your control, as opposed to street/candid photography, where you are simply an observer. While having all the control, it feels justified to be able to take alternative versions of the same shot, much like a movie director who shoots multiple takes of a scene (as opposed to street photography again, where you usually have just a one chance). Shooting like feels like creating something in a different way, not just documenting and observing.

Even though you don’t necessarily see much of the train, a tiny amount of elements can give you the enough information and context of where the image is taking place. There isn’t much of the train’s interiors visually present, but you get the ideat that this is happening in an old train. Shanona’s style, poses, makeup and hair really feels right at home in this kind of setting too.
This was one of the shots that we worked pretty hard with. We made one similar image prior to this and really worked it by doing variations and experimenting with the framing and poses. I think this shot is an interesting combination of portraiture and cinema, without falling too clearly to any specific category. It also has a strong painting vibe into it. I love the tonal and colour contrasts, the sub-framing, lighting and most of all, of course, Shanona’s performance and looks.
One of the many exterior shots that we did while the train was stopped for maintenance.
The old wooden sleeping car was exactly like from a murder mystery movie. Such a beautiful place!

On the next post, I’ll show the film photos from the same shoot. Let me just say that you won’t be able to believe the difference in the look and the atmosphere between these shots! I still haven’t decided which ones I like more.

A huge thanks again for Shanona for an awesome shoot and a great time! You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook for more vintage modelling.