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Photo Tutorial — Dreamy Great Gatsby Portraits

Published by Alex Flint · May 16th 2013

Hi everyone! My name is Alex Huff, I am a studio portrait photographer in San Francisco by night, and a product photographer & copy writer at BorrowLenses by day.

As a fan of both the book and the original Francis Ford Coppola written film, I wanted to create my own personal Great Gatsby cast of characters through my photography. In this tutorial, I am going to show you my process for creating Gatsby-esque portraits. I limited myself to a small indoor space to demonstrate that you can create a sun kissed, garden-like atmosphere even when you do not have access to that environment. It would also make for a fun photo booth set at a wedding.

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Continuous lighting and a fast aperture prime lens are used in this shoot.

Lighting and Camera Settings

I hang an average, translucent, plastic shower curtain in front of some average Christmas lights. This isn’t the first time I used a bath item as a light modifier. In this shot I fired gel-covered small flashes through a hotel shower door.

Behind the shower curtain, I place 1 Litepanel Flood and aim it over the model’s shoulder (with some directional variation for each model). I filter this with a full CTO Gel.

For my key light, I place the Kino Flo Celeb 200 DMX LED on a C-stand and aim it above and pointed down on the model at an angle. The 90 degree grid helps focus my light — otherwise it just spills out like a light bank. Depending on the position of the model, this gives me side lighting, Rembrandt lighting, and butterfly lighting. I set my temperature to around 4000k and dim and brighten to taste.

For my fill, I place 1 Litepanel Spot slightly below my model at the opposite side as my key light. I filter this with a A1/2 CTO Gel.

I wanted a dreamy and soft look for these portraits and also wanted my little Christmas lights to really spread and glow. For this effect, I used the rare Canon 50mm 1.0 lens. As a Nikon shooter who cannot shoot at these ultra-fast apertures due to mount constraints, this was a treat to use and really challenged my usual habit of shooting at the safe f/8, which is typically what I shoot at for my Chiaroscuro portraits. It also challenged the way I think about my light — even the light coming in from my window and the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling of the room were having small effects on my image.

My camera is set to ISO 100, 1/125th of a second shutter, and 1.0 aperture.

Flowers attached to light stands allow for fast and easy scenery adjustments.

Christmas lights behind a shower curtain create a cool, sparkling party effect.

Mood and Model Direction

My models are standing amongst a bunch of silk flowers that I attached to light stands so that I could easily move them up and down. I really wanted to see both my foreground and my background blurred out so I set some of the flowers very close to the camera and the rest behind the model. Further back still are my Christmas lights, all bokeh’d out to seem like far-off party lights.

I had the headpieces custom made by a local crafter and the boater hats were provided for the shoot by Goorin Brothers. The hair and makeup was done by Jessa Reanin. I recommend working with a makeup artist when possible —collaboration is great practice.

Headpieces handmade by Christy Howery. Hats provided by Goorin Brothers

Fortunately, all of my models are aware of the Great Gatsby story but if your models are not familiar with the particular era or story you are trying to convey, give them a sense of character to help them find the right body language and expression. Several of my models from the Game of Thrones shoot were unfamiliar with the show, so providing some background information helps. Magazine clippings and keeping a mirror on-hand are also helpful when giving a model direction.

I have my models each hold an item that at least tangentially fits the theme of my shoot: drinks, smokes, jewelry. This is a personal artistic choice but I also find that people love to have something in their hands so that is another excuse for using small props.


Adobe Lightroom and Nik Software are the editing programs I use. I use Lightroom mainly for broad edits, such as exposure or clarity adjustments, or for blemishes. I use Nik Software to be creative.

The RAW file in Lightroom with no edits.

EDIT 1: The RAW file is pretty much already where I want it. I increase the exposure a bit.

I increase the exposure a bit on my image.

EDIT 2: I use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom to increase the clarity in key areas such as the straw hat (to regain some of the lost texture from overexposure), and the edge light on the cheek where there is smoke. I also added some increased saturation to the shirt to bring in more of the pink color.

Spot adjustments in Lightroom allow for editing in key spots of your image.

EDIT 3: Going right into Nik Color Efex Pro as a plugin from Lightroom, I go into the Vintage FilmEfex menu and choose film version 1. It’s much too strong for me as-is so I reduce both the film strength and the opacity. You can adjust the strength of any filter in Nik Color Efex Pro — you are not forced into marrying a super strong effect for your images. Optionally, you can use Control Points to apply the filter onto, say, the entire image except the face. Sometimes, I will use Control Points to keep a filter from applying to the eyes so that the color of the eyes stay true no matter how dramatically a filter changes the look of my image.

I like the look of the Vintage FilmEfex for this particular project.

Use control points in Nik Color Efex Pro to keep a filter from applying to certain parts of your image (or, conversely, apply the effect to only certain parts of your image).

EDIT 4: Lastly, I put an art deco frame around my collection that I made in Photoshop just to add a little extra flair. If you are into this, check out Evan Eckard’s tutorial on creating the Gatsby-esque poster effect.

Final characters set


Thanks to Alex Huff and to BorrowLenses for sharing this tutorial. Have fun creating your own cast of characters. Let us know if you already tried Great Gatsby inspired photos, please share links in the comments below. We are excited to see your work!


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Keith Tarot  12 months ago
nice work!i think it is a very interesting project~thanks for sharing~~
Ohad Redlich  12 months ago
interesting !! thanks for sharing !!! XO
Nathaniel Dodson  12 months ago
Very nice work!
Talya Price  12 months ago
Faez Ehya  12 months ago
Thank you
Lulu K.  12 months ago
Oh! I love this portait tecnique! But most of all I would have adored to pose for this serie! : (
Patrick Ng  12 months ago
Great article and gorgeous photos. Thanks for sharing your work and your knowlege.
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Richard Ryan  12 months ago
Thanks Alex a great Article, I cant wait to try this out! with a bit of imagination one can do many different variances to this theme! Should make a Great B&W theme as well
Tony Mayer  about 1 year ago
great job, a Hollywood lighting the way of the great photographer George Hurrell who wrote among others the most beautiful images of the film, Alex asks for it, I think even in these black and white photos are superb ...
Shaina DeCiryan  about 1 year ago
Wonderful article and photos! I love seeing how different photographers set up their shots, and appreciate your willingness to share your ideas! I'm very impressed by this 500px site, and articles like this make this seem like the sort of photography community I've been searching for lately.
Rene Asmussen Photography  over 1 year ago
wow!! Excellent tutorial!


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Brian Xavier  over 1 year ago
I really appreciated your detailed walkthrough of the setup for the shots and the edits. Nice portraits! Thanks so much for sharing.
Chris Biele  over 1 year ago
Thanks for the great article and images! You've inspired us to do a Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker themed shoot with a bit of a modern twist.

Donald Davis  over 1 year ago
Our Camera Club have decided to give this one a try, many thanks for the inspiration and sharing all your experience and techniques, I don't know if we'll be able to pull it off as well, but I'll share the results soon.
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Jason Philbrook  over 1 year ago
It's cheaper and more authentic to use some traditional equipment. I could probably do this with a Graflex RB super D or speed graphic with a fuji instant back for color photos with instant feedback. Pick up a copy of Mortensen's "Pictorial Lighting" to see how lighting was done then; commonly two flood lights on light stands. Mortensen's lighting is still usable with contemporary equipment too. I've used his setups with LED lights and CFLs.
Tp FourReels  over 1 year ago
Great photos!!! Question , what is the brand of tripod you are using the shoot ? I want one, super bad .
Thanks ! :))
Tp FourReels  over 1 year ago
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Eugene Krivoborodov  over 1 year ago
очень позновательно
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Adriana Ludwig Loebel  over 1 year ago
Javier Cobos  over 1 year ago
Thanks a lot!
Elena Rachor  over 1 year ago
nice work. Great article
Joaquin Palazon  over 1 year ago
Fabio Bosco  over 1 year ago
Fantastic. Again, thanks for sharing this with us.
Filipp Isachenko  over 1 year ago
Looks strange. Why eye in loupe in nik software is so not detailed ? May be i miss something?
Ray MAC  over 1 year ago
First row - second pict : the lighting is doubtful:
the rear lamp left hits the nose of the model;
This is not allowed in glamourphotographie.

I can't remember that Gatsby had had such a red stitch.
Sorry that I'm not as impressed as obviously the rest of the world

Damien Decaix (inactive)  over 1 year ago
Many thanks for this one.
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Günther Rudigier  over 1 year ago
Thanks for so much detailed information and ideas!
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Sukirno Maskur  over 1 year ago
TFS !......
Adnan Ali  over 1 year ago
Zeynep Ugurdag  over 1 year ago
great sharing ...
Nutchaphon kuekoon  over 1 year ago
بثينة فارع  over 1 year ago
thank you .
陈益科 Chen Yike  over 1 year ago
Great work. Thanks!
Matheus Pratta  over 1 year ago
Amazing work!
So bad that the Canon 50 1.0 went out of production, since by judging by these shots, it was a great lens for creative shots...
Amonsak S (inactive)  over 1 year ago
ahmad hadidoun  over 1 year ago
thanks for sharing, excellent work!
Jack Mulligan  over 1 year ago
Beautiful work and a nicely written piece. I loved the insight to your work flow and thought process. This really got my imagination churning to play around and try something of this sort, limiting myself to the gear that I have but using it in different ways. Thanks!
Irma R.  over 1 year ago
Great,thank you .
Isabel Pinto  over 1 year ago
Yiannis Kaltseras  over 1 year ago
Great work. Thanks!
Marcantonio Fiume  over 1 year ago
"My camera is set to ISO 100, 1/125th of a second shutter, and 1.0 aperture"

1.0 on a 1.2 lens?

Andy Chakalov  over 1 year ago
You have misread the technical specs. They are using the old 50mm f/1 (which is already several years out of production) lens and say the "much cheeper" f/1.2 is considerable alternative (substitute).
Unfortunately mine slow 50mm goes as wide as f/1.4 so probably I can't take advantage of all this. ;)
Andy Chakalov  over 1 year ago
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DJO Photo  over 1 year ago
Good tutorial and pics, but man, that setup costs like $12,000. Unthinkable for semi-pros like me.
Marina Corton  over 1 year ago
gran trabajo!
Maya Pik  over 1 year ago
Paul Drevnytskyi  over 1 year ago
i like this path :)
Saad Salem  over 1 year ago
Good ,to you and us.
Thank you .
Adriana Miani  over 1 year ago
bel tutorial, grazie
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Paul Wan  over 1 year ago
Karen Winter  over 1 year ago
This is great work Alex! What a fantastic, romantic era you recreated with you digital camera! Well done!
Keka Teresa zc  over 1 year ago
Nice tutorial and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

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