Hollywood portrait lighting

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by singlo, Apr 23, 2007.

  1. singlo

    singlo Member

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    hi this is my first post here. I have been using strobes for some time but recently I got hooked with hotlights. Yes it sounds crazy but I I am very fascinated by 1930-40s Hollywood style of lighting and have been working with fresnels for strobes a lot. I own a 14" and 8" fresnel spots for strobes. Beside I have two 150W dedolights and 1KW Arri Studio fresnel. I am very happy with the fresnels for strobes but nothing is better than using the same type of tungsten fresnels like the old masters did.

    I would like to use the Arri 1KW fresnel as key without diffusion like what they did in the old days. But one big problem I encounter is that the intense radiation heat and squinting of the model. It is not so bad when I flood the spot fully but I love to shot face with full spot having the fresnel placed fairly close to the subject,: this very much burns the model's face within a distance of 2m. It didn't help even if put a full double scrim and Hamburg frost in front of the fresnel. Here comes my question:

    How did the old masters avoid the problem of subject squinting with fresnel spot as key and the light shining directly toward the subject's eyes? Did the Hollywood film stars got used to very bright lights? What wattage of fresnels they normally used? I start to wonder if the old masters like Hurrell, Horst,..etc used fresnel of wattage less than 500W? Did they use dimmer with large powerful fresnels?

    I cannot get a way round the problem of squinting unless i angle the 1KW fresnel down at a very steep angle so that the light source is pointing slight above the subject's line of vision and I use softlight (tungsten light head with chimera softbox) as fill and eye light. I am going to replace 1KW bulb with 500W to see if it is less torture to the subject's eyes. Any advice will be appreciated.
     
  2. resummerfield

    resummerfield Subscriber

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    I think Hurrell and company used the 1kw and larger fresnels, and yes, the models did occasionally suffer from retinal burns. Check this thread for some other ideas.
     
  3. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Get a copy of Roger Hicks's book on Hollywood Portraiture -- it will tell you everything you need to know, right down to lighting diagrams for dozens of Hollywood publicity photos from the 1920s through the 1950s. Essential reading for the subject -- it is far and away the most useful book I've ever read on photographing people.

    Sanders
     
  4. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Clay Enos turned me on to gutting old fresnels and replacing the sources with strobe heads -- several prominent fashion shooters started doing this as far back as the 1970s, if my recollection is correct.
     
  5. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    that is a great book!

    mark wangerin's book should address this subject too ..
    but it isn't out yet :sad:


    good luck!
    john
     
  6. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Thanks for the kind comments about the book.

    One thing it does not really stress sufficiently is that it is much easier to shoot Hollywood-style portraits with an 8x10 inch camera and uncoated lenses. Even 4x5 inch doesn't have the same look.

    The original Hollywood photographers sometimes used HUGE lamps from the movie studios themselves -- often 2K, sometimes 4K and 10K -- but the likelihood that you'll be using less powerful lamps is offset by the availability of faster films.

    Another important point (which it does stress) is that the poses were usually those that could be held for a long time, without discomfort, to allow for the slow operation of the 8x10 cameras they used. And it was quite common to shoot two dozen or more 8x10s at a single session.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  7. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Don't sell yourself short, Roger. I remember your point about the need for big sheets, 8x10 and 11x14 -- it's in there. I remember only one photo in the book that came from something smaller, a Rolleiflex shot of Gene Kelly.

    Every photographer shooting people should buy this book and commit it to memory.

    Sanders
     
  8. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    Sanders, agree with you about Roger's book. Simply done, so even I can understand what is said, and the diagrams really help explain things. I'm still plowing through it in small sips, but do think it is a great aid to getting the right look in an image.

    Singlo, I'm just starting with this whole portrait business and got a couple of 650 watt hot lights. No lenses in fornt of the bulbs, but I've been using a scrim or two, diffusion and distance to start working out light ratios. With the 650 watt bulbs, I need to keep the key light up and out of the eyes, or squinting is the result. The fill is a bit more gentle and farther away. 650 watts on your face is a lot of heat from a couple of feet away. Not sure I'd want 1,000 watts at 2 meters.

    TX400 is a good choice for roll film (mf), but I still need to get things worked out with lighting before I jump up to the 4x5 or 8x10 txp. Will be using txp once I have things in hand a bit more with lights.

    One thing I'm seeing more now, in some of the images I view, is how little exposure was actually used. At times, there is not enough exposure to give full shadow detail. They must have been just on the lower edge of exposure, which dropped some shadow values to nothing. Coming from a landscape background, I need to look at exposure again. What was a "good" exposure is now too much in some of my attempts. This changes the look a lot. Another help can be the use of a very dilute developer and longer development times. You can get away with less exposure and still keep good tonality with this method. tim
     
  9. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I've seen photos of Hurrell working with what looked to be a Kodak studio camera that had a rack on the side with twenty or thirty slots to have that many 8x10" filmholders at the ready.

    Another thing to bear in mind with working in this style is that many of the effects have as much to do with retouching (for Hurrell largely pencil on the negative) as with lighting or lenses.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2007
  10. gr82bart

    gr82bart Subscriber

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    I have Roger's book and it is a great resource.

    Now, back to the OP's question about models squinting due to the flash/light, I don't use the Arri Fresnel equipment, so I am unfamiliar with the output. I have done several sessions where I have attempted the Hollywood Glamour Lighting and I don't recall my models having trouble with squinting. I recently did one this past winter at a very upscale old hotel in Toronto.

    Now that I recall, many of my images have the model facing one way and the lighting, although focussed on her facial area - she wasn't looking directly at the light. During those images where I needed the model to to look at the light, I used the model light to place the light and then do a 'count down' so the model's eyes are in the direction of the light for a minimal time.

    For those of you that are unfamiliar with lighting equipment, most modern equipment have two lights - the model light and the strobe itself. The model light is used to prepare for the actual shot - which uses the strobe light. The strobe is much, much more powerful than the model light.

    I also recall not having too much of an f-stop difference between the lighting of the room/studio and the model light. I would dim down the light to place the model light where I wanted, but then set the room lights back to normal before taking the final image. I used a very powerful ProPhoto strobe to ensure that I got the desired look without having to turn off the lights to darken the background. Basically, the shot was taken at something like f8 at 1/500s on ISO 100 film. Any room taken at that speed would be pretty dark. I think this helps a lot on the model's eyes.

    The equipment I used was Prophoto with a spot attachment and a 10% grid before the spot attachment. I would also use the black foil to further reduce/direct the spot as I wanted. Fill was with a small softbox <--I know all wrong! I'll post some images whenever I get them scanned. I think there's a digital out take in Sabrina's OMP profile at http://www.OneModelPlace.com/SabrinaStarr. If I recall correctly, the image is labeled "Hollywood Glamour".

    Hope this helps a bit.

    Rgards, Art. (Yes, basically I used my $5000 Nikon D2X digital SLR as a light meter)
     
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  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Tim,

    Absolutely! You can also see subject movement sometimes, especially the bottom of a beaded dress moving slightly. Exposures were commonly in the range 1/10 to 1/2 second, despite the extremely powerful lighting used.

    From examining literally thousands of classic Hollywood images at the Kobal Collection in London, (the source for pics for the book), I can assure you that many of the pics look better in repro than as originals. I am reasonably confident that many used the exact opposite of the current overexpose/underdevelop creed and exposed for the highlights and then developed generously, even at times unto gamma infinity as recommended by Mortensen.

    In other words, it ain't just underexposure that blocks the shadows; it's also high contrast.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  12. singlo

    singlo Member

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    Thanks for all the reply. Roger it is nice to see you posting here. I got your book and find it a great source of inspiration.

    Today I look through the book by Mark Vieira on Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits....I found the answers!!! Hurrell liked to use lower wattage fresnels 500W or even 200W becuase they produce much less heat and blown out highlights. There was one exception when he placed a 1kw fresnel two feet away from Bette Davies in one photo. I think this is only possible becuase she looked down and maybe posed for a very short time. I would imagine she could get 2nd degree burn on her face if this lasted more than 10 minutes. I had black foams cookies/cutters placed 1 meter in front of the 1Kw Arri and it started to melt within minutes! I made the mistake of assumming a 1kW spot was not too much for portrait photography. Now I use an Elinchrom and a Bowen fresnels as keys instead of the Arri.

    From the photos of Hurell's lighting settings, those boom lights seem to be very light weight maybe fresnels less than 6" in daimeter.

    The fresnels used in the old days are not quite the same as the modern ones. Modern fresnels have smaller bulbs/filaments and more compact lens. I used to own a vintage 500w fresnel, its bulb and filaments are hugh. In order to accomodate the large bulb, the lens must be larger. Therefore, the fresnels seen in archive photos look quite large but they might not be installed with poweful bulbs.

    Also, I believe soft lights (a rectangular white scoop reflector with linear tungsten bulb plus silk diffusion scrim on the front ) or sky pan (like the modern beauty dish) were often used as key in movies/still in 1930-40s to light female stars as characterised by a large catch light in their eyes. It would be less torture to look directly to the lights.
     
  13. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    The very same look can be achieved with much lower wattage. Larger f-stops, slower shutter speeds and todays faster films make this very feasible.
    I frequently demonstrate making portraits with bulbs from 5 to 50 watts for my students. These can also have the same Hollywood look if the lights are correctly arranged.
     
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  15. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    Another variable that makes replication difficult is the loss of the films used then. I suspect Kodak has come a long way in formulating the antihalation dyes used with its films, and that some of the "glow" of those photos comes from halation in the highlights.

    Sanders
     
  16. singlo

    singlo Member

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    In this thread:

    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum57/27415-1930s-hollywood-glamour-lighting.html

    Christopher Nisperos said he used all Dedolights. I love my dedolights. They are very small and the light can be controlled very precisely. But they are very expensive and the hardest type of spotlight. I never thought of using dedo as key light on female face without diffusion unless she got faultless skin.

    BTW, the people in Studio Harcourt seem to use Desisti and Mole fresnels. Their works are amazing. They seem to like use double soft fills--two fresnels bouncing off two reflectors on both sides of the camera axis.
     
  17. Kino

    Kino Member

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    If you're having trouble with the heat from a 1K Fresnel, think about the 10K units they had to use on Technicolor films for key lights...

    Think about one of those for about every 10 square feet of the set for the approximately effective ASA of 3 that three-strip Tech demanded; not to mention the 5 and 10K Mole Richardson "sky pans" they used to light the cycloramas behind the sets or the 5K soft-box Moles for the fill...

    Think of 130 to 140 F degrees as a "normal" temperature for a stage floor on a Technicolor set.

    You begin to understand that the old gaffer phrase to turn off the stage lights, "save the lights" REALLY meant "hey, let's keep from killing the actors".

    Before that, in the Silent Era, the stages were illuminated by Cooper Hewitt Mercury Vapor lights that were rich in UV and would burn the retina because the pupil would dilate wide under the deep purple light and allow the retina to cook during a scene.

    Another manufacturer was the Kleig Brothers; ever heard of Kleig eye? That came from the carbon dust that filtered down from the carbon arcs used for back lighting and would cause an inflammation of the eye...

    Yes, actors did endure a lot for the "glamor"...
     
  18. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi sanders --

    i read/heard somewhere that hurrell used old/ very expired film which helped with his look as well :smile:

    john
     
  19. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I've read that Hurrell purchased film in very large quantities and used it for a long time until it ran out. Some of that had to be fairly old by the time he got to it, but I don't think he aged the film intentionally.
     
  20. singlo

    singlo Member

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    hey Kino (any relation to Kino Flo? :O)) ),

    I heard of Kleig Eye...it is an inflammation of cornea or a small burnt hole in the retina caused by looking at very intense light source... I suffered " Kleig eye" myself from observing the Sun Eclipse in London years ago with insufficiently strong sun protection filter! My trouble is I have to shoot in an incredibly small space while the Technicolor film set guys shot in a studio had the ceiling height and size of a small aircraft hanger. Carbon arc went out of fashion quickly, it was quite possible that actors/actress worked in much better conditions with popularity and advancement of tungsten spots from 1940s.

    Tungsten bulb converts electrical power into about 70% radiation in the infra red wavelength and the rest into visible light spectrum. It is not energy efficient (except Dedo). HMI light is the opposite, converting most energy into visible light spectrum similar to sun light. I used to own an old Strand 575W HMI fresnel running on magnet ballast (which weighted a ton). It is much less hot and brighter than a 1KW quartz junior. But its light flickers and rich in UV. You can get kleig eye by staring at the HMI light directly. I didn't like to use old HMI light because you have to handle it with great care or it could kill you during a strike if there is a short with the EHT, so I got rid of it in the end. Obviously the modern HMI fresnels running on electronic ballasts are great but very few people can afford one.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2007
  21. Kino

    Kino Member

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    No, no relation, but I have done a fair amount of DP work...

    Sorry, wasn't trying to make light (ugh!) of your problem, just clumsily responded with some trivia...

    I've heard Kleig-eye attributed to both carbon dust and over exposure to UV from the arc; you are probably right, more like welder's eyes...

    Carbon arcs went out when sound came in; you couldn't have the strike and the hum/splatter of a big arc during a quiet scene. This lead to a push to use incandescent lights which, in turn, caused an eruption of various "studio styles" that came about in the early years of talkies as cinematographers reacted and tried to deal with the loss of blue-rich light sources the filmstocks preferred.

    Yes, panchromatic was available, but was still red-weak, which is (as you say) the bias toward which radiated energy emitted from early incandescent luminaries, so they had an urgent problem on their hands that had to be dealt with post-haste.

    Auteur theorists will no doubt rise in revolt, but I think like the Novelle Vague owed its revolutionary styles of production to a basic technical break-through in lightweight location equipment, so to did Hollwood Studio "styles" emerge in their fight to regain enough illumination to continue their film factory output.

    No doubt a few bright individuals made good use of this technical problem to craft a creative response and continue it as a signature, but I highly doubt the various "styles" would have been so pronounced had there been no technical crisis.

    Man did I wander off topic, sorry!
     
  22. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Kino,

    Staying off topic, with the subject you introduced, this question of technical breakthroughs has long fascinated me. Some 30 years ago I was very short with an interview panel at the University of Bath, where I had applied to do a Ph. D. in the history of technology, on the history of the 35mm still camera. It rapidly became clear that all they were prepared to countenance was yet another arts-graduate rehash of the impact of 35mm in illustrated magazines.

    They were totally uninterested in the technical reasons why and how the 35mm camera had progressed so far and so fast, i.e. they weren't actually interested in technology at all. Machine tools, metallurgy, lens design, the possibilities of extreme focal lengths and very fast lenses, the progress in film design: they dismissed all this as irrelevant. For that matter they seemed to have only the shakiest grasp on how and why illustrated magazines had become popular.

    The interview ended with my pointing out as politely as possible that they were supposed to be a department dealing with both history and technology, and that I saw little evidence that they had any understanding at all of the latter. They were of course history graduates to a man (or woman): no-one there had studied engineering at all.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  23. singlo

    singlo Member

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    There are some scientific articles written by Peter Mole on the development of movie lights here (you might have seen them):

    http://www.mole.com/aboutus/history/tl_smpte.html


    I got John Anton's book "Painting with Light". It gives very comprehensive overview of the luminaries used in that Era. Most interestingly, it mentioned in somewhere about the use of lens diffusion disk made of glass to be placed in front of the fresnel lens...this is something different from wire scrim we use nowsdays and it was used for close-up face shot especially actresses. Obviously glass diffusion disk does not alter the directionality & spread of the beam and its effect is different from putting a silk/spun glass/frost on the barndoors or scrim frame that gaffers use these days.
     
  24. Rolleiflexible

    Rolleiflexible Member

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    There's another book I recently picked up, a 1947 volume by Charles Abel called Professional Portrait Lightings -- a copy just sold on eBay for $130 but they can be found for a third of that at used booksellers. The volume presents 100 portraits, each accompanied by a narrative from the photographer and a diagram of the lighting arrangement used. Few are of the Hollywood style. A number seem dated.

    What impressed me about the book -- and why I bother to mention it here -- is how many of the diagrammed rigs relied on a bank of fluorescent tubes for their key lights, and also for their fills. Some were augmented by tungsten lights, others not. But the overwhelming majority used fluorescents as their principal light source.

    I've been using a homemade softbox filled with compact fluorescent bulbs for a couple of years now and have been thrilled with the light it gives me for B+W portraiture. I thought I was being innovative. Little did I realize I was sixty years late to the idea.

    Sanders
     
  25. Kino

    Kino Member

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    Roger,

    I could not agree with you more!

    Yes, I ran into that ALL the time in my professional gigs at University. As you say, the technical details were treated with either contempt or pure fright and suggesting one influenced the other was greeted with horror, ear-plugging and loud humming!

    The stories I could tell about PhDs in Cinema History...
     
  26. Kino

    Kino Member

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    You know, I dropped by the Mole Richardson Showroom in LA year before last when I visited SIGGRAPH and they had TONS of beautiful old stills all about the place in a impromptu museum. When I asked about the negatives, they said something to the effect of, "Yeah, they are around here somewhere"....

    Yes, I have an original 1st printing of the Alton book and highly recommend it.