ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits With Black And White Photograpy

Updated on November 6, 2010

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.

Lighting Terms

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

This portrait was taken by photographer E.R. Richee in 1927.
This portrait was taken by photographer E.R. Richee in 1927.

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. 

How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits
How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits

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.

How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits
How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits

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.

How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits
How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits

Lauren Bacall 1924

This portrait was taken in 1945 by Bert Six.
This portrait was taken in 1945 by Bert Six.

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.

How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits
How To Take Classic Hollywood Portraits

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.

How To Take Classic Hollywood Portriats
How To Take Classic Hollywood Portriats

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.

Classic Hollywood Portraits
Classic Hollywood Portraits

Related Articles

Black and White Photography - Darkroom Basics

With the right equipment and a small amount of space, you can develop your black and white prints at home.

Famous Hollywood Pin Up Girls

These beautiful ladies graced magazines, calendars, and the inside of GI's lockers.

Hollywood Portraits of the 1920s

Hollywood at its most glamorous


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)