Hollywood Glamour From Start to Finish

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:

Hollywood glamour lighting setup
Hollywood glamour lighting diagram

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:

Straight out of camera shot in creating a Hollywood glamour photo.
Hollywood glamour straight out of camera pre post processing.

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:

Hollywood glamour retouch
Hollywood glamour after retouch.

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:

Completed Hollywood glamour.
Hollywood glamour final 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:

Hollywood glamour session.
A bit different toning.
Hollywood glamour photo session
Circa 1940

Workflow for Post Processing Photographs

Few things can be as contentious as a discussion of workflow for post processing photographs. I think the reason for much of this is because there is really no such thing as an incorrect workflow. The workflow one incorporates can vary depending on many factors; desired results and targets, software used, etc.

One thing that I think can be agreed on, however, is that most photographers who are serious will have a workflow that goes beyond simply offloading their photos and then calling it a day.

Over time I’ve massaged my workflow in various ways. Mostly because I’m a sponge and when I see someone doing something that works better I’m all over it. I have no pride that way.

The following is my workflow. It works for me. I don’t suggest that you do it my way. I’m simply describing it to give any ideas that may or may not be useful for you. Also, my workflow is Adobe centric because I use Adobe products. The foundation of my entire post processing workflow is Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. Yes, there are other solutions for post processing photos; some I hear are quite good. But for me, I made the decision to go with Lightroom and Photoshop years ago. I hate to even go into the reason, but here it is.

Long ago I experimented with various other software. The biggest problem I had with other software was that it was difficult to learn general post processing with it. No, Lightroom and Photoshop are definitely not easy to learn. In fact they are a downright pain in the ass in many ways. But what made them easier tools to learn post processing with was because of the sheer amount of resources for both Lightroom and Photoshop. Like it or not Lightroom and Photoshop are the industry standard to which all others are compared. Because of this there are almost endless learning resources and tutorials. If you Google anything related to post processing photographs you’ll find far more information from an Adobe perspective than any other software.

That alone saves a bunch of time.

If you’ve just installed Lightroom and getting started one thing that I highly recommend is watching this video that does a great job of explaining how to get started. It’s long, I know, but well worth it. When it comes to Lightroom how you get started will determine your future happiness. Trust me.

Anyway, my workflow.

The first thing I do is import my photos into Lightroom. All of my Lightroom catalogs and libraries reside on an external HDD that is constantly backed up to two other locations; one on site and one in the cloud (for this I use Backblaze). When importing I always create keywords for the session to easily find images later. Once they’ve imported I go through them and decide which ones are keepers and which ones are not. Personally I don’t use a rating system in the conventional way, they are either keepers or they are not. The keepers get rated with 5 stars, the non keepers get zero stars. I then go back through and delete everything that does not have 5 stars.

Note, I shoot everything in raw. You should too.

At this point, if I shot a white balance patch I sync it to all of the files; along with lens corrections and custom profile. I do this not for color accuracy. I do it simply to have a consistent starting point for all of the images from that particular session. At this point I then start working on the images themselves. I’ve never applied any editing globally. I know a lot of people do, but I don’t. That’s just me. I treat each and every image as a single entity.

I bring up an image in the Develop module and start making adjustments. Often times I’ll click Auto in the Tone section just to see what it does. About half the time it comes up with a pretty good starting point. It does a really good job with setting a white and black point. Either way I’ll always end up playing with the tone and presence sliders. I do it to my personal taste. One slider I’ve found that I almost always push up is the Dehaze slider. It always adds an improvement. Just go easy with it because a little goes a long ways.

Beyond this I do very little in Lightroom. If I notice some chromatic aberration or fringing I’ll deal with it in Lightroom, but that’s about it.

I then send it to Photoshop as a 16 bit TFF in the ProPhoto RGB color space (set that up in Lightroom; Edit > Perferences > External Editing). Whether you choose TFF or PSD doesn’t really matter. I personally choose TFF. But one thing that I highly recommend is that you always maintain the largest color space available during the entire post processing workflow which means 16 bit ProPhoto RGB. This article gives a good high level explanation as to why you should always do your post processing in 16 bit ProPhoto.

Anyway, I send it to Photoshop; right click > Edit In > Edit In Adobe Photoshop. It is here where I do the bulk of my post processing. The reason is because I like the control it gives me. With layers I can selectively edit different aspects of the image as needed. It’s not unusual for me to have several layers on an image. I’m not going to go into the particulars as to what I do in Photoshop as there are about a billion ways of doing anything in Photoshop (yes, I know, hyperbole), but once I’m done with the image I save the layered TFF; File > Save. This saves it back to my Lightroom Library (and the external HDD that’s always backed up that I mentioned above). Now, when I locate an image in my Lightroom Library I have easy access to both the original raw file and the layered TFF that is the completed image. The developed image if you will.

I do this with all of the images. Then, depending on the target I want to use an image on, I’ll open it in Photoshop from Lightroom; Right click > Edit In > Adobe Photoshop > Edit Original File. In Photoshop I’ll flatten the image and then convert it to the color space needed for the intended target. Typically I’m uploading the images to the world wide web which means that I’m converting them to sRGB. I then resize as/if needed crop, etc.

And that’s pretty much it. Again, this isn’t meant to be taken as the way you should do it. Or even a suggestion, really. It’s meant to simply show how I do it. If you are able to take something away from it, great.

sRGB, Adobe RGB, or ProPhoto RGB?

When post processing photos which color space should you work in, sRGB, Adobe RGB, or ProPhoto RGB? I’ve seen a ot of discussion on which one should be used. Some of it just plain wrong. 

It’s a common refrain to work in the space that your end target will be in. It goes something along the lines of “You shouldn’t work in color spaces that the target color space doesn’t use.” Or, better yet, it should be within the gamut that your monitor utilizes. 

To put it simply, that is completely wrong. You should be doing your post processing in the largest color space available (in this case, ProPhoto RGB), and then convert the end result to the color space required for the intended target. 

Rather than rehash why you should do that I’ll refer you to this article. It gives a very high level explanation as to why. You would be wise to read through the comments as well. 

If you want to dig deeper, I would recommend going to this site

Individual workflows can be as varied as there are individuals, but working color spaces need to be the largest color space available. 

In a later post I’ll go into my workflow. Not to convince anyone, but to give an idea for those who are new, newish, or just looking for some inspiration. 

Best Way to Upload Photos to Facebook

A while back I wrote a piece on the best way to upload photos to Facebook and still retain good quality. In a nutshell it basically was that you should resize your images to either 2048 on the long side if in landscape or 960 on the short side if in portrait 4:5 aspect ratio. You would then export to .png > and then upload that file. 

I hear that the reason that it worked so well was that when converting the image to .jpg, Facebook did not compress them. Bug? Intentional? Who knows? Either way it worked great. 

Now Facebook as once again moved the goalpost. Uploading images the above way results in absolutely horrendous compression artifacts. If I didn’t know better I would almost be tempted to assume that Facebook wants photos uploaded to their platform to look like shit. 

If you peruse the internet you’ll see various so called solutions to Facebook’s onerous handling of images. They run from sizing the images to Facebook’s suggested sizes with a little compression, to adding a noise layer to the image to “fool” Facebook’s algorithm. 

They are all wrong. 

After doing some experimenting I’ve found the new way to upload photos to Facebook and not have them look like utter crap. Actually it’s simpler, now. 

Here’s how: When processing the images crop them in either the original aspect ratio or 4:5 > convert to sRGB > Save As. Make sure to save them at the highest resolution possible (this is important). Then upload them. 

There, simple as that. They don’t look as good as the way I used to do it, but they are close. My guess as to why this method works the best is because whenever you upload a file to Facebook, Facebook is going to compress them no matter what. If you resize and optimize before you upload them to Facebook, the image actually gets two doses of compression; yours and Facebook’s. By uploading a full size, full resolution file, it only gets one dose of compression. 

Anyway, there you have it. If you want your photos to not look like crap when you upload them to Facebook, just upload full size and full resolution photos. 

Hollywood Glamour Photography

Lately I’ve been doing some research into a specific genre of photography known as Hollywood glamour. Typically, when one thinks of Hollywood Glamour it’s a given that we’re talking about publicity photos from the so called Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s a very unique style of photography that was pioneered by photographers like George Hurrell and Clarence Sinclair Bull. Though there were others these two really exemplify the style of Hollywood glamour of the Golden Age. Arguably, George Hurrell  is the defacto Hollywood glamour photographer that set the standard to which all others are compared.

One thing that is interesting to me is that although both Hurrell and Bull were both tasked with creating publicity photos and they were aesthetically similar at first glance, in reality they were actually quite different in some ways. Generally, although Bull could be as noir and contrasty as any of them, he tended to produce works that were less so; more open shadows than Hurrell. I have the feeling that Bull’s work is probably more aesthetically in line with today’s eye. That’s just a guess, though.

I will admit that, personally, I generally prefer Hurrell’s work over Bull’s, but they were both just amazing at what they did.

Hedy Lamarr by Clarence Sinclair Bull

The shot above of Hedy Lamarr by Bull is quite representative of his work.

The one below of Jane Russell by Hurrell is, I believe, quite representative of his work:

Jane Russell by George Hurrell

You’ll notice that Hurrell’s pic of Russell really hits the contrast. He wasn’t afraid of shadows in the least. Now, of course, there are plenty of shots by either that are practically indistinguishable. But I think that these two are example of how they did differ.

Something that I find interesting is that I bet if Hurrell and Bull were alive today, not famous, and posted these exact same images on a portrait critique forum, they would be heavily criticized for all kinds of reasons; too hard of light, over processed skin, wonky cropping, etc.

Another thing that is apparent that is almost anathema for modern portraiture is the often missing catchlights in the eyes. Yes, there were often catchlights, but there were often no catchlights, too. Whatever the criticisms may be, there is just no denying that these two gentlemen created amazing works. Though they both were different from each other, they both managed to create almost otherworldly beings; something that was required by the Hollywood studios of the day. Their goal was to represent their talent as beyond and above the average person.  And, boy, did they succeed in doing that.

Completely unrealistic, but oh so amazing.

Which brings me to the issue of post processing. Today a common refrain is the over use of post production. It’s often blamed on Photoshop or other post processing software; as if it’s a new phenomenon. We talk about the over use of Instagram filters and bemoan the lack of reality in today’s glamour portraiture. But the reality is that it’s nothing new at all. It’s just done in a different way.  Both Hurrell and Bull relied extensively on post production. They spent hours in the dark room dodging and burning, shaping arms, cheeks, and bodies, and smoothing skin; all in an attempt to create a sort of perfection beyond the reality. In fact the movie studios employed many more retouchers than photographers.

When it comes to gear they used mostly 8×10 portrait boxes and repurposed film studio lights. Looking at the photos, generally, there seemed to be a key light, a hair light, and a background light to light up the background adding a more dimensional quality. A big limitation of the gear that they used was the fact that they typically had to rely on long exposure times, perhaps up to a couple of seconds. This is one of the reasons you see most of the poses like they are; seductively lounging, reclining, resting their heads on hands, etc. Yes, these kinds of poses tend to appear sensual, but they served a purpose, too. They are the kinds of poses that are easier to hold for long periods. So, when you look at the photo of Jane Russell above, lying back with a “I’m waiting” demeanor, there was more to it than that. It’s the perfect pose to exude sensuality and hold for a long exposure time.

When it comes to closely replicating the look of Golden Age Hollywood glamour it can certainly be done with modern cameras and lighting gear. Some would have you think that it just can’t be done without a spot and a Fresnel lens, but that just isn’t so. For example, Robert Harrington shows how it can be done using nothing more than speed lights in this video:

Is it exactly like a George Hurrell photo? Maybe not, but it certainly is very close to the style. The key, really, is to use a three light setup and choking down the light. Harrington uses snoots on both his key and hair light, and a grid on the background light. In the old days they used Fresnel lamp lenses to focus and concentrate the light, and barn doors as well as flags. Today it can be accomplished using grids and snoots along with flags if needed. Yes you could use barn doors and Fresnel lenses, too, but it’s not really necessary.

The one thing that I might do differently than Harrington would be to use studio strobes rather than speed lights, at least for the key. I think a modeling light would come in very handy in finding just the right shadow.

Something else that I notice is how the talent performed. Typically when shooting models they tend to get in a flow. By that I mean they sort of sync with the photographer and are moving a lot. The flash pops and they switch to a different pose. Flash pops, switch it up. It’s easy to bang off a lot of shots and then comb through them for the keepers.

Obviously the nature of digital more easily allows for that. However, in the day of Hurrell and Bull, each shot was almost a production in and of itself. They could take several minutes creating a single shot. They would have the talent assume a pose and hold it. They would then move lights around to create just the right shadows. Sharon Stone has talked about doing a shoot with Hurrell in which she was lying on a bed with a tea service, in her pose. Hurrell moved some lights around, looked at the scene and then went up to Stone and adjusted one of her fingers just so. He then finally took the shot.

Anyway, I think the whole thing is extremely interesting. And I think that there is a lot to be taken away from these masters of the Hollywood glamour shot; something that perhaps has been washed away a bit by technology and the ease in which photos can be taken in today’s world.