The best photographs tell a story, unless you are extremely lucky you will have to invest time and effort to create the perfect picture. Firstly you have to decide what story you want to tell, if it is a bride on her wedding day it is fairly easy to photograph her outside the church or signing the register, however if you are using a photo to illustrate a story, obviously the photo has to have a direct connection with the narrative. To do that the connection with the story has to be obvious, but you also have to get it in context, for example the first photo below it not only had to have the connection with the story but also fit into the time frame. A modern electric sewing machine would have been out of place so everything needed to be in period.
When you are trying to create a 'period' photograph you firstly have to do your research, the items in the image have to be correct, if you go for a period 'look' then you can be a little more relaxed but overall the photo must have that feel for what ever period you are aiming for.
The image shown here was created to show a 50's feel scene that captured the 'make do and mend mentality of the time. Although the dress is modern, it has that 50's vibe, the sewing machine is believed to be 1930's and would have still have been used at the time, the lamp, again modern, but of classic design and the items on the table were intended to carry on the theme. The dress makers shears are a period item, modern plastic handled ones would just not look right, the cotton reels are of indeterminate age, but the design has not changed for decades. I used an embroidered table cloth as I feel this had some element of the time. The slip in the background is period, but I have to admit the curtains are in no way from that time, however in this mono shot I don't think they distract from the image.
Using props is a good way to convey a sense of period and add to the photo. But only include things if they add to the scene and are related to the story you are trying to tell. In this photo, used as a back drop, there is far too much in the scene. The note book and passport are fine as they add to the story, but less jewellery would have been better and the case in the background would add more by being closed with perhaps a slip or pair of nylons draped across it.
When adding props be aware of social history, a phone is always a good prop provided you use a phone suitable for the period you are trying to recreate. But you must also remember many homes did not have a phone, we didn't have one in our house until 1978.
Everything in view should be period, or at least appear so, if the scene you are trying to create is 1940, make sure you have a fountain not a plastic biro, even though the ballpoint pen was in fact first made before the second world war, in the eyes of the viewer something more period would probably be a fountain pen..........
Here we have our lady sitting at her dressing table, not so much clutter this time, she is writing a letter, but to who? She has cases beside her chair, admittedly not quite lit well enough to make them prominent enough to stand out. However the washing basket is a tad over the top, just a stocking draped over the top or a suspender belt, but probably not both. Being subtle with your accessories is key I think........... Our model was obviously posed to show her legs off to the best advantage, although just how much bearing this would have on the story is up for debate!
Here we have a simpler view, our lady is standing somewhat apprehensive (?) waiting, but for what?
It clearly is a bedroom scene as the end of the brass bed is clearly visible, but there are two glasses and an unopened bottle of champagne, has her suitor failed to arrive? there is a story to be told but the viewer is left wondering..............
A simple set up, apart from controlling the lighting, this was shot during the day with natural lighting, the slip is probably 1970's or could be later, there is nothing else in the scene to date it to a particular period.
Therefore we have a period setting without a particular date to pin on it.
In this shot I was looking for a 60's look the slip is a Vanity Fair product from the late 50's so would be in period. The phone is a Trimphone from the GPO (General Post Office forerunner of British Telecom and later BT) introduced in the mid 60's so again in period, although this one is actually later, it is identical from this point of view. Other elements of the scene include the brass bed and door furniture, particularly the brass finger plate which is not something you see in today's houses. All these elements, although not necessarily from the 60's all add up to add a touch of atmosphere. Again not an attempt at an accurate period representation more of trying to get the period look.........