Hi guys! It’s my first time writing for this blog and it feels great to get to share some stuff with you. I’m currently on tour in Europe with a Colombian band called Bomba Estéreo, and we’re driving into Bilbao, Spain. It’s almost sunset, everyone is busy doing something so it’s finally the perfect time for me to sit down and do this. Today, I’m going to talk about a technique I’ve been using to do portraits that’s gotten a lot of attention from my peers. It’s a very old trick that’s been around forever but people still seem very curious about the results.
The “secret?” Vaseline!
About a year ago I was a little bored with the look of my images. I had seen some band promo photos from the 70’s using the Vaseline trick at a gallery show and since then I had been wanting to try it out. I do a lot of portraits of artists and musicians so I have a lot of freedom to be creative and experimental.
The first thing I did was buy a pack of UV filters that I could rub vaseline on and use specifically for this purpose. I tried it around photographing friends first, and a couple weeks after I found myself in Vegas shooting with Arcade Fire. I knew it was time to try it out for real! It was my first time covering a concert for what happens to be my favorite band so I really wanted to do something great. I shot the first part of the concert without it to be safe and then I pulled out my “vaseline filter” and shot away. As soon as I took the first shots I knew it would totally work. I realized this technique works really well when the subject is back lit. It gives the image a super dreamy effect and the lights take the shape of the trace of vaseline.
The more Vaseline you rub on the filter, the bigger the effect of course. I usually have to take some of it off because to create the effect all you need is a little bit. For example, for these images of sister duo Farrow, I wanted to do something a bit more subtle. This first image of them definitely has a touch of it but it looks crisp and clean.
For the second image I went little bigger and played around with bokeh. The girls had referenced some whimsical images before the shoot so I thought they would love something like this, where they seem to be bathing in light type of thing. I also find that the bigger the depth of field, the more noticeable the effect.
Another thing I noticed while playing around, was that metallic things really shine. I shot these images of artist Asian Doll in a dingy green room at a club in New York and I loved how they turned out. Her belt shining does it for me. It was pretty dark in the room, so the images are a little grainy, but I think it totally works. The glitter looks nice too!
For these next images of dancer Penny Wild, I wiped the center of the filter almost clean so I could get her in the middle of the frame and have her look super sharp so she could stand out. The whites tend to over expose even more with Vaseline, so I’m always really careful of that.
This is another image where I wiped the center clean and I also used bokeh to make her stand out even more. At a first glance you might not even notice the effect, which I think is great, but the image has a special feel to it and it makes it stand out.
The last images I’m going to show you are of my friend Alex. We shot this just for fun at a hotel. On this first one I really bumped the highlights in post to surround her with bright white light.
On this second one the effect is more subtle, but combined with the room we were in, it gives the image a nice vintage feel.
All these images were shot with natural and available light with no modifiers. I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with Vaseline, and I can say that the only way to master it, is of course trying it your own way. The choice of lens, aperture, lighting, etc. really makes a huge difference when it comes to creating the effect. It’s important to try different things to figure out how you can effectively use it to enhance your images.
I hope this was useful and I hope you give it a try! Thanks so much for reading!