How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits With Black And White Photograpy
Hollywood celebrity portraits from the 30's, 40's and 50's had a classic look that seems to be missing from portrait photography today. But with a few borrowed techniques from the master photographers of Hollywood's golden era, you can take classic Hollywood portraits.
The dramatic effects of these early photographs were achieved with lighting, makeup and minimalistic backgrounds. By studying these early photographs, and a little experimenting, you can achieve these same effects.
It is interesting to note, however, that these early photographs were often extensively re-touched. Despite the studio's claims against the practise, retouchers were employed by all of them, often outnumbering the photographers.
Key Light is the light that sets the shadows on the face.
Fill Lights fill in the shadows caused by the primary lights.
Background lights are used to light the background.
Effects light is used to highlight specific areas such as the hair.
Clara Bow 1905 - 1965
To capture the soft beauty of this portrait, I used a key light set just a few feet from the model's face. Two fill lights were used to eliminate shadows. The black background and clothing puts all the emphasis on the model's face. Her features stand out with dark lipstick and smokey eye shadow.
Clara Bow - 1924
The key light in this photograph is set high to shine down and light up the model's face. A fill light was set to light up the side of the face and eliminate shadows. Once again the dark background highlights the face.
Marlene Dietrich 1901 - 1992
To capture Marlene Dietrich's aloofness, the model in this re-creation was asked to look away from the camera. The key light is set in front of and just a little off to the left side. Two effect lights were used to highlight the hair.
Lauren Bacall 1924
Having the model look right at the camera gives her the classic Bacall look. Two lights were used for this shot. The key light was set to the left of the model. The fill light was low and pointed up lighting the chest and chin.
A fan was used in this photograph to add a dramatic effect to the hair. The model is facing the key light which is set high and shining down. An effect light is used to light up the hair in the back. A fill light is used low and slightly to the left.
In this portrait the model is again looking directly at the camera. The key light is set in front and slightly to the right. Two fill lights are used, one low and pointed up, which eliminates the shadow under the nose, and the other is set high and pointed down at the top of the head.
With the right equipment and a small amount of space, you can develop your black and white prints at home.
These beautiful ladies graced magazines, calendars, and the inside of GI's lockers.
Hollywood at its most glamorous
- Hollywood portraits
Duncan Evans turns back the clock to the golden age of Hollywood star portraiture.