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Lighting Techniques for Hollywood Glamour Photography

How to Make Hollywood Portraits

Photography Lighting Techniques are sometimes huge mysteries, at least to the beginning photographer. Sometimes to the seasoned pro too, only because maybe it was such a simple setup that it just couldn’t be that easy, right? I know I am that way sometimes when my friends tell me how they lit a set or how it was just one light or it was ambient light. Lighting has always fascinated me and when I decided that I wanted to take pictures like the people who’s photography I liked, that’s when things changed for me.

I had gone to New Orleans, just after Hurricane Katrina for Convergence, a gathering of Goths for the sole purpose of partying, music and having a great weekend, only much more. I had my Canon 20D and was taking pictures the whole weekend because NOLA is such a beautiful place and there’s so much to photo. One memorable part of my trip was the swamp tour in a boat; the swamp fascinates me, is beautiful and I will be back to photo the swamp again as I am drawn there.

Friends who know me say I sold my soul to the swamp witch we met, because this was the turning point in my photographic career. I had attended the fashion show for convergence and gathered the designers and models together to take some photos. When I got home to San Diego I made a gallery and put them up online. A few days later I looked at the gallery again and said “These suck!”. That is when I locked myself away for a year and studied nothing but lighting.

Nowadays people come to me and ask questions about lighting, I guess they say I am a go to guy when it comes to certain types of lighting, so I always share my knowledge of lighting with people when I can. Here are some lighting diagrams and techniques I used for a few images I shot a couple weeks ago with Model Kristabelle. I also have a video I will put online when I get it edited.

Model: Kristabelle, Black and White

I met Kristabelle at Ink n Iron 2009, as I contacted her for a shoot for the promoter as she was a finalist for the pinup pageant. I had also seen her on my friend Johnny Angel’s Myspace page which is where I originally seen her. Below is the lighting diagram for this shot. If you have any questions please make a comment and subscribe to the comment as I will answer your questions there.

Lighting Diagram for Model Kristabelle in Black and White

Model: Kristabelle in Color

I decided to show this image in color as I really like the tones and the scene, I like it so much that I am going to print a limited number and sell them here in case anyone is interested. Below is the lighting diagram for this set, it’s similar to the previous diagram with the placement of one light to camera right instead of left.

Model: Kristabelle in Color, Lighting Diagram

The previous two shots and lighting were done with Fresnel Focusing Lamps. They are a hot light and the same type used in the old movies of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. They are what some of the great photographers used for their portrait sittings in the old days of the movie studios, and it is what I use in many of my photos, because I want a certain look and color tone.

Model: Kristabelle in Archway, Black and White

This shot was done in the archway of my studio where I hung a curtain in the archway to create a backdrop. I lit the model with 2 mini monolight strobes. The archway divides two rooms and I put one strobe above the curtain in one room, shining down on the model behind her. I put the second strobe with a modified softbox in the other room in front and to the side as you can see in the diagram.

Model: Kristabelle in Archway Lighting Diagram

The modified softbox is actually a Photoflex Litedome XS, the part that’s modified is the egg crate grid to control the lighting direction. They don’t make a grid for the XS, so I had to get the one for the next size larger and cut it to size and sew the Velcro back on. Actually I stapled it. I used this XS softbox with a grid, because I like the way it works. People might say the box is so small why use a grid on it, it’s because I like the way it causes the light to fall off around the edges and helps to create sculpted shadow and lighting.

I hope those diagrams made sense and they help someone. I know when I was first starting out things like this really helped me and I was glad someone would share something like this with me. If you have any questions please ask. I am more than happy to help.

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You work is pretty amazing. I look at these photos and the lighting is so intriguing.

I am ready to buy some studio equipment but I have some questions if you have time. I want to shoot glamor and I love the look of Fresnel lights.

What do you think of strobe Fesnels vs continuous Fresnels?
Is it possible to shoot with strobes along with continuous Fresnels?
Can a Fresnel look be accurately achieved using a snoot and honeycomb grid on a strobe?

I just worry about overheating the model with too many continuous lights. I know a lot of fashion photographers strictly use strobes but it seems that all Fresnels are done continuous.

Any help will be appreciated.

Hi Jason, I’ve not use fresnel lenses on strobes, I use old studio fresnels and some modern fresnels. You can mix the strobe and fresnel to get some interesting effect, but the color temperatures will be way different. Depending on which way you color balance your image if shooting digital, your strobe light will be blue if you balance for the fresnel. If you balance for the strobe your image will be orange where the fresnel is hitting.

You can achieve a similar effect with a strobe and a snoot, but me being a purist feel to get that fresnel look, you have to use a fresnel. Fresnels have a hard edge, yet soft falloff that can’t be achieved with strobes, with or without snoots.

Great photos! I can’t wait to try these out for myself! I am dying to learn more and more about lighting and the diagrams help tremendously. Please post more!!

I’ve dabbled a little with tungsten Fresnels and have to say I’m amazed at how much light you are getting out of 100 and 150W units. To get that fstop/speed at 400 with my set up I’m using 650 W lights. I guess you are putting your lights much closer to the subject. Admittedly, I’ve not had the lights long so maybe it just takes a lot more practice!

Great site, thank you for sharing.

This is a big help for me. I’m prepping for a shoot in this style and seeing setups with the resulting shot is great. I tried to figure your lighting schemes before I read them based on the pic and once I got it exact, the other times I missed the position of one light.

I had a few questions for you. I’ve noticed other photographers, namely, Damien Lovegrove, who is able to achieve great noir at 100 ISO!

When I shoot with moody light I cannot seem to get my ISO below 400, which makes things grainy. Any tips?

Also, what brand/make of Fresnel lights are you using?

Hey Mike, Some of my lights are arri or altman, mole and something else I can’t remember. that’s my oldest one from the 50’s from a movie studio. I usually buy mine off ebay or locally if I can find them, as cheap as I can find them too. Do you have his video and his he specifically stating 100ISO? because from the video preview it looks like he’s using small lights, maybe 500watt at most, and I’ve never really shot at 100ISO, unless maybe getting super close to the subject so the light is brighter. I don’t remember having any issues with grain unless it’s higher than 400, but then I am also using digital and a little post process helps minimize that. I’ve also shot film but use 400ISO for that too. Is there a specific reason you are looking to get 100ISO? the only other way would be to increase your wattage in fresnel but you take a chance on blinding your subject hahahaha…

I also shoot in B/W, I don’t color convert.

Mike, just watched his sample chapter and he IS using higher wattage, 100’s so that’s how he’s getting it down to 100ISO.

He’s also using LED Fresnel which I’ve never used, I’ve always used the older tungsten lights which are f-ing hot.

Mike Robely says:

Yes, that would explain it, he’s got higher wattage but if you look at his sample tutorial video, man it’s dark in there. Maybe in that video he’s shooting at a higher ISO.

The reason I’m asking is I’ve been shooting at 400 with plenty of light on digital camera [Canon Rebel ti3] with a 28-55 zoom lens] and the photos look really grainy when I enlarge them on the screen, and they are so pixelated.

Must be my aperature, I’m not recalling what that was offhand but I know I was getting a lot of blur shooting handheld.

Shooting models with fixed lighting 1 Linco light tent with 4 bulb flourescents head.

Looks good when I use flash fill but can’t really get the moody lighting that way.

I’m gonna have to spring for the Fresnels and use a monopod I think.

I’m going to stop you right there.

You can’t do this style and get “The Look” with light tents and strobe. (period).
wtahc some of my videos and look at the behind the scenes post. as well as his.
There is a video/post where I do a shoot with strobe, softbox and grid with also a bare bulb, it’s just NOT the same. Too soft on the lighting.

toss the monopod and get a tripod. You’ll be happy you did.

and get THIS BOOK: it’s where I got my start it will help you immensely:
Hollywood Portraits and how to take them:

Mike Robely says:

Yes, I agree, I was not clear, I’m mixing my subjects. What I mean to say is that for the kind of model shoots I am doing, I have light tents set up already, this isn’t noir, it’s brightly lit studio style stuff, but I have to move around FAST, so my tripod gets in the way. The monopod will help keep camera steady shooting at the slower speeds.

I was trying to do some lower light shadow noir stuff with that setup and it didn’t work very well. 🙂

The book you mention I already have, just got it a few weeks ago its great. But yes, I realize to shoot noir style I am going to need the proper lighting and that is fresnels, not light tents and for that I will likely use tripod.

yeah that book is AWESOME! LOVE IT Mike Robely says:

I can send you over one of my studio shots in RAW CR2 maybe you can have a look. Do you have a direct way for me to send it? I don’t want to post it publicly, if that’s ok