Secrets of London’s favourite Pin-Up

Lola Vavoom pin-up image with red sheets and white lingerie by Peter Pan photography

London’s favourite pin-up model shares her secrets to glamour – the secrets to great, sulty photography and enduring images that never lose their cool:

I have been complimented many times on my photos and what is called “a way with the camera”. I am no great expert – the title of this little article is tongue-in-cheek – however I decided to share some tips and tricks that I have learned from my experience as a Pin-Up model – I hope this might be of use to those who are interested in modelling or simply wish to look well in the photographs.

When I think about the greatest Pin-Ups of all times, the most important one is of course Marilyn Monroe. It is the light of her bright, determined and vulnerable personality and charisma that inspires me, even though I greatly appreciate the charms and talent of Betty Grable, Gene Tierney, Rita Hayworth and other glamorous and hard-working artists of the golden age of Pin-Up photography. Naturally, I have to also mention the fabulous Dita Von Teese who has brought back that special kind of glamour to the modern day in a way that celebrates man-made beauty, artistic expression and individuality.

Did you notice that it is virtually impossible to find a poor image of Ms Monroe, even when caught unexpectedly? There is a good reason for that and it is not only to do with lucky genes or inner radiance – she has spent a considerable amount of time studying and practising how to look best in front of the camera when she first started modelling for the Blue Book Agency at the tender age of 19. Not everyone has the dedication and determination of Ms Monroe – or the time to spare – but we can all follow her example by putting some effort and preparation into our photography sessions and achieve very satisfying results.

Lola Vavoom image with mirror in black and white  by Peter Pan photography

Here are the tips and tricks that I have learned from my experience as an amateur Pin-Up:

First and most important tip which all amateur and professional models know very well is to get a lot of rest and have an early night before a photography session. It is a simple trick and yet it makes a considerable difference. No amount of make-up can lift tired eyes and skin. The lack of rest also affects your energy and, believe me, you will need it as posing takes its toll. Good rest adds that radiance and inner glow which simply cannot be manufactured.

Do try and arrange the photography session early in the day with as much light as possible. The brighter the light, the better. This is particularly relevant in amateur photography. Of course, many photographers have special equipment and may also want to photograph in the evening or in a dark or colourful environment however generally it is best to aim for as early a start as possible.

Do consider your make-up, clothes and props carefully and prepare for the look (or looks) that you are aiming for. Have everything packed and ready with a few changes of outfits. Usually one or two work well, three would probably be most that can be done in one photography session. Make sure that all the items are in good condition, clean and well packaged – it can be very disconcerting to find that a piece of clothing is frayed, make-up has spilled or a prop has become unusable.

Do try the make-up beforehand and take some photographs of yourself or ask a friend to do so in order to have an idea of how the colours work on your face and which areas need attention. Remember that our faces are not entirely symmetrical and the right and left are switched when we look in the mirror. Aesthetically speaking, symmetry is synonymous with classical concept of beauty so the more even the features are the more appealing they look. Of course, the secret to a truly beautiful and artistic image is that special feature or features which make us unique. A balanced combination of perfection and imperfection is what makes an image truly intriguing.

Matte make-up is best, particularly when it comes to foundation and powder. Shining or sparkling shadow might also highlight wrinkling which camera can sometimes pick up more than it actually exists in reality and eyes look best when shiny make-up is applied strategically at natural points of light (such as on inner eye corners or upper eyelids and under eyebrows). Lips usually look best when they have that liquid gloss which camera picks up really well so my trick is similar to the one Marilyn Monroe used – to apply lipstick with a lip brush and create a defined and well-filled shape and then apply lip gloss over the top. There are a number of tutorials available on the world wide web with a more in-depth colour blending and application guidance for those who wish to explore make-up application for photography. A word about full body make-up – it is worth thinking about covering all of your body in foundation and powder if there is a lot of skin exposed – different parts of our body have different undertones and they may appear slightly more red, yellow (or blue if it is cold) when photographed, even in black and white photography.

Do remember that even when standing or sitting still the hair and face will be affected by gravity and body movements even if they are small so check regularly that the hair is falling the way you like, re-apply powder on your forehead/nose/cheeks if your face tends to develop shine after a while and make sure that your lipstick is intact and even. Adjust clothes and props as well. This is where an assistant is particularly useful if that is at all possible to arrange or to command. The photographer might be able to spot some of these things and make some adjustments but they are busy with other aspects of the session such as lighting and composition so it is best to remain alert and keep checking that all appears how you wish it to.

Duration of a photography session is important as well – particularly when the photography is focused on the face. Three hours is the ultimate duration to photograph before the face “drops”. It is always better to make it shorter rather than longer. If there is a particular location that is not easy to arrange or other circumstances that require to photograph for longer periods of time my tip would be to take breaks and to find a way to do something active or different (have some refreshment, take a brief walk or do something else entirely different) and get the face and body re-energised before returning to the session.

Be ready to endure a certain amount of numbness and discomfort, especially if the photography session involves full body poses. It is a paradox that the more uncomfortable the pose, the better and more natural it looks in the photograph and it takes some effort to keep your face at ease while in an uncomfortable position. Be prepared for this and do your best to show good humour and good grace during the photography session – it will make it go smoother, will be much more fun and the images will come out better.

Be mindful of your movements when being photographed – some of our natural movements can look odd in photography, creating unnecessary shadows, wrinkling of the skin or unnaturally looking angles. It is usually best to keep your face slightly higher and centred rather than lowered, elbows close to the body rather than pointed to the sides or out, chest and torso straight rather than caved in (as it has been popular in fashion photography). Photographers are usually great at guiding their models but it is useful to be aware of this and to experiment with different positions..

My last word of advice is to connect with your inner star (or exhibitionist if you prefer) and flirt with the camera. That glow from within will certainly shine through making the photography session more enjoyable and the images more luminous.

Lola Vavoom image with red boa and black dress by Peter Pan photography



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