Hollywood portrait lighting
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.
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.
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.
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.
that is a great book!
Originally Posted by Sanders McNew
mark wangerin's book should address this subject too ..
but it isn't out yet
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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.
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, 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
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.
Originally Posted by Roger Hicks
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 David A. Goldfarb; 04-24-2007 at 07:54 AM. Click to view previous post history.
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)
Last edited by gr82bart; 04-24-2007 at 08:38 AM. Click to view previous post history.