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PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 2:54 pm 
Looking for a wee bit of help if possible.

Don't know if this is the correct place to post this, just wondered if anyone had any tips/advice on producing 'classic' 1930/40's portraits. The Roger Hicks and Chris Nisperos book offers some good help with lighting, and I think I've got that sorted.

Just looking for some tips and help with creating the effect - has anyone come across someone producing these type of portraits today? And what do you think the treatment of the models make-up should be, I have heard that many of the classic images the models had almost no make-up and the large 10 x 8 negs were touched up later by hand.


PS 50D just out - what the hell!

Last edited by GlasgowKiss101 on Sat Aug 30, 2008 10:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 5:50 pm 
This is the right place for your question.

I'm more grounded in the technical aspects of photography (particularly lighting) and that's pretty much where I can help you, but taking 1930s/40s Hollywood style portraits isn't my area. I know you say you've probably got the lighting sorted, but it should hurt having something similar said and for those who want to know.

Having websearched for some images, I can deduct the following:

1930s - Hair appears straighter. Lighting was popularised by loop lighting. Loop lighting has a key light is placed to at 45 degrees to one side and also above the camera. This translates to a light above the model. How can I tell? If you look carefully at noses, you'll see a shadow to one side.

1940s - Hair a mix of curls and straightened hair. Props came in such as hats, gloves and pearls. Lighting looks like it was a mix of loop lighting and butterfly lighting. Butterfly lighting is the same as loop lighting except the light is now right above the camera pointing 45 degrees down to the model. This takes away the shadows from the nose. If you're wondering why the light can't be directly pointing at the model's face, all you need is to look under the chin - there's a shadow!

That's my Sherlock Holmes'-esque lighting sleuthing done. I hope it helped. Now all you need is someone else for the make-up advice!

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:04 pm 
--- Thanks for the info Photoj, I guess I'm looking to find out about the technique that was used by photographers at the time. The subjects seem to have a dusting of matt powder on their face (to cut down on the glare). I know Fresnel spots ware used quite a lot, I know there some add-ons to modern systems but I wondered if this style can be replicated successfully by modern studio flash.

Also in post production I get best results by shooting in raw and in photoshop I use Lab Colour in the Channels to obtain deeper B&W prints, an overlay of colour at 10-14% can then add a bit of warmth (yellow/orange) or cooler (blue) if it's needed.

Anyone know of a good modern version of this style?


 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:19 pm 
Hmm. I can't tell you how they did it in the 30s, but if you're asking for post-processing, how about the following?

- Channel mixer to get the monochrome but reduce the % of red to make the lips and skin tone darker.

- The originals had very shallow DoF and studio lighting nowadays is momre powerful that it generates more DoF. It also might be down to a soft filter in front of the camera. The effect could be replicated with a duplicate layer and guassian blur - 3 to 5 pixels. A layer mask with a brush in black at 15-25% opacity should reveal the details in the face and perhaps the foremost hand/arm.

- Facial imperfections such as wrinkles might be ironed out with the clone stamp using a normal blend. I'm sure they did that with the large film plates then.

- And as you've mentioned, a little colour can be introduced by another duplicate layer with a variation of yellow, orange or red. The strength of the colouring can be altered by the opacity.

This again is down to sleuthing from breaking down sample photos.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 8:20 pm 
Thanks again - A wee bit of a technical point do you know how the light waves differ from a fresnel to a modern studio head.

Of the images I have looked at the light from the fresnel seems to softly 'wrap' the subject or 'creep' slightly - would a fresnel lens change the light in this way?

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Aug 26, 2008 9:53 pm 
I hope this makes sense.

Unlike a studio head the fresnel had concentric rings across the glass element in front. This rippling across the element allowed the light to be less harsh, giving that soft wrap. This softness can't be compared to a modern softbox because the lighting from the fresnel is focused in a beam through refraction and reflection in the different layers that make the rings whereas the softbox just lets light disperse in different directions. The physics of light wave concept isn't altered by the Fresnel lens.

EDIT: re-read the question and reworded the answer to better suit it.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 9:40 am 
Would a honeycomb fitted to a modern head start to achieve the same results. I understand, unlike a fresnel, this could not have a focus pull but it would give a directional beam. I could soften the edge with 1 or 2 layers of trace? any feed back would help (what size of honeycomb, how powerful etc) WDYT.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 4:45 pm 
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Joined: Mon Dec 31, 2007 7:03 am
Posts: 1899
Location: Southern California
This is a facinating thread...I have always loved the "head shots" of that era...and when they throw in an elegant gown, then you are talking magic. Maybe that is the word can we re-create the elegance of a by-gone era. If you don't mind, g-kiss...would you post some of your trial and error shots, as you perfect your technique..and if that is not something you might like to do, would you post a "finished" portrait...I would love to see the differences, as you choose the path. I would imagine, the size of someones features, and knowing how to light them, to create the appropriate mood, is a difficult task.

Great sleuthing always, a concise critique, and pertinent informtion, makes this thread so informative.


canon 7D, Mark iii 5D, ef 70-300 f/4-5.6, ef 28-135mm canon 100-400mm L IS 4.5, and a little 24-70 L f/2.8...

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 6:46 pm 
GlasgowKiss101 wrote:
Would a honeycomb fitted to a modern head start to achieve the same results. I understand, unlike a fresnel, this could not have a focus pull but it would give a directional beam. I could soften the edge with 1 or 2 layers of trace? any feed back would help (what size of honeycomb, how powerful etc) WDYT.

The most commonly used honeycomb grid is one of 60 degrees. That would focus your light but the difference to the fresnel is that it is more harsh. I suppose you could try to soften the light with your suggestion; it's unchartered territories for me. I've not tried softening a grid or snooted light before because I've used it for quite the opposite effect to create some harsh highlights. Do let me know how it goes.

 Post subject: Sample Speed Swimmer
PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2008 11:01 pm 
Here is a sample image taken of my son (a speed swimmer) a couple of weeks ago, this was the spark for my interest in the whole 1930's/40's look.

This was taken with a couple of very old Courtney 1000s heads using a 30D. This is my first image posted on Camera Labs and don't quite know how you guys treat ownership. Either way please respect that this image is copyright 2008.


Photo copyright James Aylin 2008

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