Lately I’ve been doing some experimentation in an attempt to recreate some old school Hollywood glamour shots along the lines of George Hurrell or C.S. Bull. The other day I had my friend Yana stop by to do some modeling. She’s perfect for this sort of thing because she has that very classic beauty that was often evident in the bombshell actresses of the day. Keep in mind that this was a practice session in preparation for a real shoot in a few weeks in which we should have some good retro hair and clothing styling.
I asked Yana to come with little makeup; just lipstick and a little eye mascara. From what I’ve read, photographers of the genre preferred their talent to be similarly nearly makeup free. She also brought along a dress to roughly approximate a vintage look. Like I said, a bit later we’ll do the styling right, but this is a practice session for me to begin to get a grasp on the lighting and retouching.
I draped a faux fur spread over a small step ladder and had Yana position herself sitting on the floor and leaning back against it.
For the shot in this post I used a lighting setup like this:
I had Yana’s body basically face the camera and her face turned towards the key light which was camera right and pretty high. You can tell that it was high by the prominent “Paramount” light under her nose. The key light is a Xplor 600PRO fitted with a 7″ reflector and a 40 degree grid.
These kinds of shots are not easy for a model because they have to hold a position for quite a while. This is a completely different approach than what a lot of models are used to. Most of them are used to working in a manner in which they are moving a lot, flowing from one pose to another after each click of the shutter. A sort of rhythm. But for this kind of thing it’s much slower paced. It’s not easy holding an exact pose while the photographer moves the light around or directs subtle movements in search of the perfect shadows. I had her assume her pose and then then move her head just slightly until the shadow was just right. I popped off a couple shots to make sure the key light was as needed.
While holding that position, I moved the hair light which is camera left, more or less behind the model almost in line with the key. This light was a Flashpoint Zoom R2 Manual with a Rogue Flashbender rolled into a snoot. I moved it around until it was popping off of her hair. The third light, Also a Flashpoint Zoom R2 Manual was fitted with a Rogue 3 in 1 Grid and pointed at the wall behind the model and just a little right. The idea being to add that dimension you often see in the old Hollywood glamour shots.
I set my camera to 1/100, f8, and ISO 100. For this shot I used the Nikon 85mm 1.8G.
I asked Yana to give me her best Hollywood diva of yesteryear look.
This is what I came up with straight out of camera:
I don’t know about you, but this is not bad. It took me a bit to get to this point; a few test shots and getting that shadow under the nose just right. I also wanted the light carve out her cheeks a bit, too. I had to adjust the power of the hair light to just start clipping some of the highlights.
At this point, in Lightroom, the only thing I did was bring down the shadows a bit and then sent it over to Photoshop. Now, this is where the real fun begins. Keep in mind that the retouching was easily as important as the lighting for the old school Hollywood shooters. The idea was to create an image that was almost super human. To be honest, my inclination is to keep things pretty natural. But for this exercise, natural is exactly what we don’t want. The first thing that I did was use the Healing Brush tool and the Patch tool to remove every freckle, blemish, mole, etc., that I could find. I also made a cursory attempt at dealing with some fly away hairs, but didn’t pay too much attention to them.
I also added a Curves layer to crush the left side of the image a bit by burning it in. Next I added another layer and used Liquify to reduce some of the puffy fabric on the dress under her left elbow. After that I created a new layer with a soft light and 50 percent gray and burned in the right cheek just a tiny bit.
One thing that bothered me a bit was that the eyes and teeth were a bit obscured. To deal with that I created a layer and then used Nik Software’s Detail Extractor and then painted it in over the eyes and teeth in a Layer mask. I also painted it in to each pearl on the necklace. It’s pretty subtle, but it makes quite a difference.
For the skin, normally I use a form of frequency separation and go pretty light, but since this is Hollywood glamour, I pulled the best tool for overdoing it I could think of; SkinFiner 2. It actually works pretty good for more subtle skin smoothing, but in this instance I was anything but subtle. I left it at its default setting, created a layer mask and painted it in on the skin.
This is the result after all the retouching:
As you can see, it’s pretty heavily retouched. It may be difficult to see in this smaller resolution, but it’s way overdone by today’s standards. But not for back in the day.
The next part was the black and white conversion. For this I used Nik Software’s Silver FX Pro2. It’s probably the most awesome tool in the Nik suite. It’s a great black and white conversion tool.
Anyway, in Silver FX, I just started with the Default Neutral and added just a touch of contrast and a tiny bit of brightness. In the Color Filter module I added a Green filter to make that red lipstick a little darker and reduced the strength down to about 75%. Then I went to the Toning module and selected Coffee number 14 to give it that subtle toning that you see in many photos of the Hollywood golden age. I brought the toning strength down to about 30%.
The next step was to again go to Nik Software. This time I added another layer and then used Color FX Pro 4, specifically Glamour Glow. I pretty much left it at default, but reduced it a bit to about 25%. This creates an almost perfect representation of that kind of soft gauzy thing many images had going on back then. I then created a Layer Mask and painted the effect out of the eyes. I’m sorry, I love my sharp eyes.
After that I did a 1 px High Pass sharpening over just the retinas in the eyes and called it good.
This is the end result:
I think that it generally looks pretty good and in many ways is decently representative of the style of Old Hollywood glamour. No, it’s not perfect by any means. The right hand is a bit bothersome, the hair styling isn’t quite there, but it’s all a good start. And I learned a lot by doing this little project. Also, Yana, the model, is just amazing. She really does have that classic Hollywood beauty.
After doing this little test/practice shoot I’m pretty excited to do a full blown Hollywood glamour shoot with some great vintage styling.
Here are some other shots from the session. Each one has a bit different toning: