Hollywood-Style Glamour Lighting

Today's post comes from the book Professional Portrait Lighting by Michelle Perkins. In this book, Perkins profiles 11 of today's most successful professional photographers. This post is an excerpt from her profile of photographer Christopher Grey. This book is available from Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

“Being able to call up a technique that your client may not even have thought about can produce a positive difference in your bottom line,” says Grey. The Hollywood portrait look of the late 1930s to mid-1940s is one such style.

To emulate this classic lighting, your accessory list will include grid spots, barndoors, snoots, cutters, and flags. These will be used only with direct lights, just as traditional hot lights were used in the past. Although they might be bounced off a fill card or bookend, they won’t be modified by umbrellas or soft boxes. “This is the key to success,” says Grey.

Direct lighting is one of the critical elements when creating classic Hollywood portraits.

For the image below, the key light was tightly barndoored to almost exclusively light the subject’s face. Since the key was set high to get the deep shadows of her eyes, and because it was placed close to her, the light fell off rapidly. The first of the two backlights was aimed more at her shoulder than her hair and produced the hot spot on her shoulder. It was set 1/2 stop over the key light. The second was aimed at her hip and was set at 11/2 stops over the key
light, because it was aimed at black cloth. Grey also set a small fill card just above the camera to catch some of the backlight and open the shadows.

For the images below, an 18-inch dish, with the strobe set at its lowest power output, was the key. At about five feet from the model, it metered at f/8. Grey placed a hair light on each side. The camera-left hair light was fitted with vertical barndoors, throwing light down her side. The other hair light was a six-inch dish with a 30-degree grid spot.

Making small adjustments to this lighting setup and the position of the model allowed Grey to create the range of looks seen above.

The background was comprised of medium-gray seamless paper and a red flat, which appears dark gray when rendered in black & white. To light this, Grey placed a six-inch dish with a 20-degree grid spot on the floor almost directly behind the model. This was aimed at what Grey calls a “reverse cookie” (shards of broken mirror mounted haphazardly on a piece of plywood) to reflect a pattern onto both surfaces.

With his model in place, Grey tweaked the lights slightly and brought the camera-left hair light closer to camera and lowered it to widen the highlight and light the side of her nose. “Originally, I had placed the key just to the right of camera,” says Grey, “but I decided to move it over the camera instead. This little move gave me broad light (below, first) to butterfly (below, second). When she turned to profile, the slight move of the camera-left side light produced a perfect closed loop highlight (above).”

*excerpted from the book Professional Portrait Lighting


  1. Great ideas about classic portrait photography. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I really like your glamour photography.According to me so I love different style photography and you have to done also great job. I am impress.
    glamour photography

  4. This is Robert (Bob) Alexander of Brandon, MS. My email is robertalex@comcast.net
    See my blog at
    I have some great news for you, I hope.
    I have been a Pro Photographer for 61 years and studied under Max Munn Autrey of 20th Century Fox fame.
    For 40 years I used Fresnel Spotlights as did most of the famous "Golden Age of Hollywwod" photographers.
    As I grew older, I needed to be able to use simpler, lighter, potrtable flashes, but they just did not give the same effect as the big tungsten Fresnel Spotlights.
    One day I was looking on eBay and a man had what he called "Credit Card size" Fresnel lenses for sale for only a few dollars each.
    I thought it was a joke, but I ordered 10 of them for just a few dollars.
    Now, for portablr flashes, I have always used the Vivitar 285HV. They are light, cheap and very famous obver the years. At B&H only $89.00.
    When the little credit card size Fresnels came, I was delighted that they fit the filter slot of the 285's almost perfectly. 1/16th of an inch is all that had to be trimmed.
    With these on the 285's and with the 285 pulled ouit to "full zoom" position, you get the exact look of the old 1,000+ watt Fresnels.
    Write me or call me if you want to try this. I have a few extras I'll almost give you. My phone is 769-218-1810. Email is robertalex#@comcast.net
    Robert (Bob) Alexander
    Brandon, MS

  5. Is this book about lighting or Hollywood lighting?

    Am trying to recreate Hollywood lighting look using modern equipment.

    Wrote a review of a book about Hollywood lighting,see http://glamourphotography.co/?p=1329 was all about using hot freznels and other movie studio lights, and film.

    Learned a lot about the actual light.

    Like to learn about modern recreation.

    So, is this current book focused on the Hollywood look today, or is it an overview of lighting as the title implies?

    Anyone try Bob Alexander's method.. or other, and how does it working out?

    Got actual example photos to view, where?