Anatomy of a Victorian Photoshoot

Last week I had the chance to work on with Cat on this modern take on the Victorian photoshoot. Cat is a woman of many and diverse talents, not the least of which is the patience and skill required to construct elaborate period costumes.  She and her husband (and now their two daughters) have dressed as everything from Vikings to droogs to post-apocalyptic berserkers, so she knows her way around a costume, and a sewing machine.

For this low-key portrait I wanted to create a very dramatic and moody piece with lots of shadow, but big, soft light to highlight the gorgeous beaded detail in Cat’s veil, and the luxurious color and texture of her overskirt.

This is the super glamorous behind-the-scenes of our setup in the studio.

Cat arrived with the boxes and boxes of clothing and undergarments she needed to don for the shot, and for the first time in my life I got to help someone put on a bustle! I snapped a photo of the bustle, but it mysteriously disappeared from my phone. Here is what a bustle looks like, although Cat’s was made of metal.

Probably looks more uncomfortable than it is?

I wanted a dramatic side light with just a little rim to brighten up the opposite side and pick out the detail of the dress, chair and the book she’s holding. I had a 60″ Photek softlighter to camera right, and a 12×36″ strip box to the rear left, which you can see in the BTS image above.

For posing, we referenced a lot of old photos of royalty and classic, formal portraits from the Victorian era. In this photo Cat is holding a prop book I had in the studio, but for another image below she’s holding an antique book on botany, which is her field. (See what I did there?)

Here’s the original photo from the shoot, and the post-Photoshop version. I added a textured background and wood floor, to place our character in a scene, and brought the shadows down considerably to make the lighting even more dramatic. I also bumped the saturation in the skirt and made the second overskirt deep green rather than blue, just to keep all the tones consistent.

Pre and post photoshop versions of the image. ©2017 Ooh St. Lou Studios, all rights reserved.

I really loved working on this with Cat, she can hold that stiff Victorian pose and facial expression like nobody’s business!

Here are a few additional shots from that day. Hope you enjoyed seeing how a modern Victorian photoshoot image like this is put together – let me know in the comments if you have any questions on my process. If you want portrait of yourself in costumes you’ve made, I love doing that type of work, so shoot me an email at to schedule a session!



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