Old School Hollywood Portraiture

“It’s all so simple – no one believes me … you strike a pose, then you light it. Then you clown around and get some action in the expressions. Then, you shoot.” George Hurrell

fpvl500cPhotographers get inspiration for their work from many places. One friend of mine finds it in old world master’s paintings; I get the inspiration from the movies. When watching Frank Capra’s 1937 classic Lost Horizon I was struck not just by the cinematography but also by the still images used to illustrate a “making-of” video on the DVD. These images were made during a time that was truly the golden age of Hollywood still photography.

Most classical —1930’s-1040’s—Hollywood portraits were shot in black and white using large format cameras often with high contrast lighting from Fresnel-style lighting. Hair and skin highlights were often overexposed and long lenses were shot wide open to produce shallow depth-of-field. Hollywood portrait Masters, such as George Hurrell, create their trademark look using extensive retouching.

laura.hollywoodInstead of Fresnel lighting, my interpretation of this style with model Laura Bachmayer was shot with using an inexpensive ($149.95) Flashpoint 500C LED light with barndoors. The light was placed at camera right, with a 32-inch Westcott reflector at camera left for fill. Camera was a Canon EOS 60D, which used to be my workhorse portrait camera with a EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens (at 78mm, 125mm equivalent.) Exposure was 1/25 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 800. Noise reduced by the free Dfine. Retouched and converted to monochrome with Silver Efex Pro and further enhanced in Color Efex Pro—all free Photoshop compatible plug-ins.

hicks.boookMy friend by Roger Hicks along with Christopher Nisperos created the landmark book on this style of portraiture with Hollywood Portraits, showing lighting diagrams that deconstruct the setups used for many classical Hollywood portraits. While out-of-print, affordable used copies of Hollywood Portraits are available on Amazon for affordable prices. If you want to get started making these kinds of images, this book is the place to start.

Author: Joe Farace

Share This Post On