Indoor Portraits with 8x10 : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I wanted to ask if anyone would let me know the correct approach for taking indoor portraits in the style of George Hurell or Clarence Bull. I have an old 8x10 wooden view camera and would like to get the classic head and shoulder shots that made these photographers famous. I am concerned with depth of field and the amount of light needed. I would like to shoot at a shutter speed no slower than 1 second. What lens would you suggest and how much lighting is necessary. Any help would be appreciated.



-- Foley (, November 12, 2000


Foley: Hurrell and Bull used incandescant spotlights with lots of wattage. One thousand to five thousand watts were normally used witht he film available then. Four to five spots were normally used. For head and shoulders portraits, you will need at least a 18" lens, with a longer lens being helpful. You can do half-length portraits with the normal lens. With the longer lenses, depth of field is almost nothing, so a small f-stop is very helpful. I would try faster film at least in the 400 ASA range, such as Tri-X, HP-5+, or T-Max 400. There isn't much room for error with 8x10. You will need to develop some precise working methods.

Hope this helps,


-- Doug Paramore (, November 13, 2000.

I'm kind of goofing around with the same idea, although more on the Karsh style than Hurell. I've just shot some portraits with my 4X5 and a 300 mm f9 Nikkor M. That lens will be the one I use for any 8X10 portraits I do, just because that's the only lens I have that will cover the 8X10 format.

I used a 500 w/s flash on full power to short light the subject, as I was looking for something dramatic. The single flash was set up to the subject's right and set about four or five feet away. I didn't use a soft box or an umbrella, once again to get a more dramatic light and to lose as little power as possible. I was using ISO 100 and getting a measured reading of f16. I also put in a reflector on the subject's left to add just a hint of fill to the portrait.

I think that I'd like to be using an ISO 400 film when I do the 8X10 stuff, just for the depth of field. I also used a green filter for a few shots to see if I could get that "tawny" look that Karsh got with his green extended films. Of course the green filter knocked off about a stop and a half so I was shooting pretty much wide open. I also tried a B&W "Brand X" softar filter to see what effect that would have and it was surprisingly nice.

I'd be a bit concerned trying to do this kind of portrait with available light, mainly because of subject movement (even sitting) and the necessity to shoot wide open, unless you just want the subject's eyes sharp.

I routinely do inside medium format wedding portraits with available light and use shutterpspeeds of 1/8 of a second @ f4. But that's with ISO 400 film rated at ei 250 and with a camera that is much more spontaneous to use than LF. That natural (non direct) sunlight is also very soft, broad and there's surprisingly little of it (1/8 @ f4?) so I'm not sure if this is the "Hurell" lighting you are looking for.

The faster film should help somwhat but I still would be a little concerned. All of this is going to be moot if you just want to play around a bit. A tiny bit of depth of field with a little lens movement may give you all the sharpness you want. The idea to me is to explore and have some fun along the way.

-- David Grandy (, November 13, 2000.

Hurell used a complex lighting scheme and spent a whole lot of time working on his negatives after development. Any long lens should work fine - at least 18 inches in focal length though.

Hurell was no hack. He really knew what he was doing, and I suspect it will take a great deal of time to approximate his effects.

-- Erik Ryberg (, November 13, 2000.

Start with a Fresnel type focusing spotlight with about a 12" or larger lens as your main light, "Grid spots" (honeycombed black aluminum defractors) for electronic flash simply have a different quality than a fresnel does. Hurrell was limited to "hot lights" but you can use electronic flash. A lot of the quality of his finished work is due to the retouching on the negative. You can either do this manually or digitally after you have the negative scanned. Hurrell also had to work out his lighting scheme over time and lots of practice and you will too but using Polaroid will shorten the process as you aren't looking to create a new style but recreate an existing one.

One other aspect seldom remarked on: Hurrell had a relatively large studio which meant he could experiment with his light placement and setting "gobos" to shape the light. Two or three years ago I saw a book by a fashion photographer who was recreating the Hurrell style portrait but I can't remeber what his name was. he said in an interview in the book that the lighting was relatively simple but required a great deal of attention to nuance.

One other item: film today is very different from what it was back then. I suggest you experiment with Ilford XP-2 cross processed as a transparency or even better with Kodak T-max 100 processed in the direct reversal kit. The films produced by these processes seem to create a more "silver rich" image.

-- Ellis Vener (, November 13, 2000.

Hi Foley

I've started to look at creating a similar style to Hurell. As a start, I've just bought a tungsten spot, but will obviously need to add more lights.

As others have said, the retouching appears to be a major part of this style. I've seen an example of a portrait Joan Crawford before and after 6 hours of retouching, and the difference is incredible. Every freckle and line is worked on.

I understand that Hurell quite often used a high 'boom' light as the key, then broads as fill lights. However, I'm sure I'll know more after a lot of experimentation. In the early days, he used ortho film, and a 'soft' lens, but ended up with slightly more modern materials, a sharper lens - and more retouching!

My current film stock is Tri-X, platinum printed, so this is going to give me a different look anyway.

Keep in touch, and let me know how you get on.

-- David Nash (, November 13, 2000.

Thanks for all of the great answers, I know that Hurrells style and percision will be almost impossible to duplicate. But through experimentation and testing, maybe I can come close. I would like more information in regard to what everyone thinks about the type of lens and minimum amount of light needed. What is the fastest lens that is affordable and what amount of lighting would be needed to get decent depth of field with a fairly fast shutter speed?

-- Foley (, November 13, 2000.

Sorry if this seems too commercial, but it's an excellent resource:

Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits Mark A. Vieira George Hurrell (Photographer) Format: Hardcover, 224pp. ISBN: 0810934345 Publisher: Abrams,Harry N Inc Pub. Date: May 1997

Synopsis The Chapman Collection is an archive of photographs by the celebrity photographer George Hurrell. Vieira includes "275 of the images from the collection for this book." (Libr J) Index.

Annotation A "studio portrait photographer from 1930 to 1943," George Hurrell "was responsible for creating a bold new idiom, one in which movie stars were idealized, glamorized, and, ultimately, turned into icons." Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits: The Chapman Collection by Mark A. Vieira presents his work in chronological order by studio affiliation from "one of the world's largest private archives of original Hurrell photographs."

From the Publisher This book presents in depth the work of George Hurrell, the photographer who more than anyone else was responsible for inventing the Hollywood "glamour" portrait The genesis of the pictures is examined in a remarkable text by Mark A. Vieira, himself a highly regarded portrait photographer, who came to know Hurrell well during the photographer's later years. Vieira explains in detail Hurrell's technical feats of lighting and retouching. And drawing on firsthand accounts, he vividly re-creates the lively interplay between the photographer and his subjects at the shooting sessions in which these portraits were taken.

From the Critics From Library Journal George Hurrell was the most sought-after celebrity photographer in Hollywood's Golden Era. He had total control of light, the complete confidence of his subjects, and a storied reputation for making the ordinary beautiful and the beautiful dazzling. A close friend of the photographer, Vieira has carefully selected 275 of the images from the collection for this book.

David Bryant, New Canaan P.L., Ct. From Patrica Eliot Tobias - The New York Times Book Review Cecil B. DeMille compared Hurrell to Rembrandt, and no wonder; under Hurrell's guidance, movie stars became burnished, unreal images. Hurrell described his work simply: 'Bring out the best, conceal the worst, and leave something to the imagination.'

Viera also wrote an article in View Camera Jan/Feb '98 I believe. You can see it at Borders, Barnes & Noble or the local library. If it's not available locally, you can interlibrary loan it.

-- Sean yates (, November 14, 2000.

And of course, there's always:

-- Sean yates (, November 14, 2000.

I knew this had come up before somewhere..... msg_id=000bcL&topic_id=23&topic=photo%2enet

-- Sean yates (, November 14, 2000.

I have browsed through the book, Sean, and it seemed to be an interesting read... though a bit pricey, (p) It gives wonderful insight into the equipment used, the lighting, and the fact that Hurell was exceptionally innovative and talented at retouching negatives. (p) It would be a great reference for anyone interested in his work. - Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, November 14, 2000.

Foley - Don't let folks scare you off with comments about needing several thousand watts worth of lighting, etc. Here's a quote on lighting from the Vieira book on Hurrell:

'When shooting the average portrait, he used 500 watt lights. "If you can keep the light low key," said Hurrell, "that's to your advantage. People aren't too conscious of the lighting - or blinking". He found that 500 or even 200 watt lights were better than 1000 watt lights. Lower wattages were less hot and they allowed for more bounce light - excellent for "skin texture and portrait work. When the light is too hot, you lose highlights."'

Also, he didn't always use half a dozen lights. His first studio only HAD two lights, period, and some famous later shots were made with minimal lighting. It wasn't the lights - it was his eye.

As far as exposure times, you can get workable times without much supplimental lighting. I've been doing 'natural light' portraits using diffused window light. I have a picture window which faces east, so I shoot before noon with a shade in front of the window - turnes the window into a large, soft (and not too bright) source. Using 100 speed film I'm getting times of 1 second or less at f/16. I'll be trying faster film soon (400) which will help the DOF and/or exposure problem, but so far I'm happy with the results, contact printed on Ilford Warmtone fiber base paper.

If you want to experiment with hot lights on the cheap, go to Home Depot and pick up a couple of 250 or 500 watt halogen lights and stands. No, they're not big-buck fresnel fixtures, but you can get 1000 watts worth of lighting on movable stands for probably around 50 bucks total and experiment your heart out with those classic, dramatic lighting styles (Paramount, etc.).

Go for it, and have fun!

-- Mark Parsons (, November 14, 2000.

I don't know about the lens or lighting, but one thing I'd do is push the film speed by up to 2 stops or perhaps more if I were contact printing the negs only, e.g use HP5 rated at 3200 chances are if contact printing is the only thing done, you'd be hard pressed to spot the grain. Just a thought.

-- David Kirk (, November 27, 2000.

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