Getting That 1980’s Fashion-Beauty Photography Blown Out Look

Pierre Cardin fashion © Benjamin Kanarek's archive

There is a new look on the fashion photography scene that is being propagated throughout several of the major magazines and their web counterparts. That is that 1980’s blown out, overexposed skin tone look and effect.

It is not as easy as many might think and it can get out of control more so in the digital format than in negative film that was used more often than slide film to accomplish this look.

No Photoshop Back Then!

I recommend that you use a light meter when possible as well as either a silver reflector or a flash with a highly reflective bright white or silver surface. Meter for an 18 percent gray card using your spot meter in your camera on it in manual control or use your flash meter. The location of the light source is also very important. Remember that in the 80’s there was no photoshop, so photographers had to use lighting to control the outcome. Skin flaw repair in post prod was very expensive to say the least, so the magazine relied on the make-up and lighting to rectify any skin flaws.

When lighting your subject always try to light slightly above and down on the subject. This will light under the eyes, which has always been problematic. As dark circles even with great make-up is difficult to clean. Kicking in a reflector below the subject when possible is also a good idea. You may use a beauty dish, soft box, umbrella, bare bulb or what ever to get this effect. What is most important is the location and proximity of the light source. Always and I said Always light the face as the hottest point and let the drop off occur from there. That way the face will be burned, but not the rest of the image. How you accomplish that is another discussion entirely. There are many ways to scrim light sources and I discuss several lighting and photography techniques in the technical tips section of Benjamin Kanarek Blog .

What is important is that by the time the light hits other parts of the body, those parts come across a bit less burned out than the face i.e. 1/4-1/2 stop. But then again that is a matter of taste.

When metering the subject and this is the most crucial, I suggest opening the diaphragm of the lens 1-2 stops more than the reading suggests i.e. if the meter is reading f 11.0, I suggest setting the aperture to from 5.6-8.0. I also suggest using a 1/4 to 1/2 blue filter, which renders the skin whiter and cleaner than warming filters. This is where the burning of the skin tone gets it’s roots.

Using this photography technique will give you one of the techniques used to acquire that 80’s look.

Have a Ball!

About Benjamin Kanarek
Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…