Martha Blanchfield of Renegade Photo Shoots organized a most excellent workshop on Hurrell lighting. Led by photographer Rafael Hernandez, the goal was to use modern studio lighting, digital cameras, and post-processing to simulate the look of classic Hollywood glamour photographer George Hurrell.
There were three models, a make-up artist, and some propping in keeping with the glamour theme. But the main emphasis was lighting, and digital simulation of the effects that Hurrell achieved the natural way.
Hurrell is probably most famous for his work in the 1930s. He made contact prints directly from 8X10 film shot in a view camera, typically at fairly slow shutter speeds (so the models had to be posed to keep still during the exposure process). The orthochromatic film available led to unrealistic renditions of colors; lips and cheeks tended to go dark. Uncoated lenses produced halo effects, and the film stock added halation, increased glow on the highlights. Film was underexposed and overdeveloped, leading to dramatic high contrasts between lights and darks, and much retouching (which was done directly on the 8X10 film, very carefully, by the legions of retouchers employed by the movie studios).
Essentially, harsh lighting and high-contrast development were balanced by soft lenses and extensive retouching.
These technical considerations led to what might be considered flawed results by modern standards. Certainly, Hurrell portraits are a far cry from the smooth glamour images of today. But Hurrell produced images that are dramatic and extraordinary. It’s interesting to speculate whether his success was in spite of, or because of, the technical constraints placed on Hurrell.
While chief portraitist at Paramount Studios, Hurrell helped develop the “butterfly” portrait lighting style (sometimes called “Paramount” lighting). Basically, a key light was placed above and directly in front of the model’s face.
The term “butterfly” refers to the shadow made by the model’s nose. As a matter of fact, dealing with the nose shadow is one of the key issues in any kind of portraiture with direct lighting pointed at the face. Hurrell’s approach was to position the model for an attractive butterfly shadow. Emulating this requires close coordination between camera position and the model: a little bit in one direction and the shadow becomes large and ugly, and a little to far in the other direction and your lens is looking up the model’s nostrils.
I shot the model above using my 100mm Zeiss lens, essentially a movie optic, and great for portraiture. Of course, it is much sharper than the uncoated lenses that Hurrell used, so I softened the image in Photoshop using a Gaussian blur, and also applied the Nik Glamour Glow filter.
Simulated Hurrell black and white tones and contrast were achieved by combining a High Contrast Red preset Black & White adjustment layer with the Nik Silver Efex Antique Plate 1 filter. You can find more about my monochromatic conversion techniques in Creative Black & White: Digital Tips & Techniques.