Golden Age of Hollywood Photography : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Now specialize in 30's and 40's Hollywood type photography. Would appreciate your critque of work on webiste Thank you. Larry Sawka.

-- Larry Sawka (, June 09, 2001


your images don't look very good. Not your photographhy but the digital presentation of you photography: blacks are very choppy and pixelated. highlights are chalky. Also you might want to learn some HTML and graphic design. Sorry to be so negative, but your photography deserves a better presentation.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, June 09, 2001.

I agree with Ellis, Hurrell's photo's were more than pretty faces & clothes, though that helped alot. You should go back and study his techniques of posing and lighting and don't forget the makeup. Remember that his were "Glamour" shots, not just someone in period clothes. I did like the first lady in Portraits 1 (top left) looking at the screen. Pat

-- pat krentz (, June 09, 2001.

I too think this was something of a golden age of photography. And I am curious what draws you to it. I would also like to know more about your technique. what kind of lens do you use, what kind of camera and what format? Do you use movements. What kind of shutter speeds and aperture combinations do you use most often? Filters? I am also curious about why you shoot this way. They are glamorous and sexy and retro looking, but, on the web site, I see little that can not be duplicated with medium or even 35 mm. what do you think is added by using large format. Thanks for posting this, I think, the problems of large format portraiture are intriguing.

-- jryder (, June 10, 2001.

jryder, While basically there is no reason you can't do this kind of photography with a 35mm (or even an APS) camera, the difference is the larger piece of real estate (large format film) makes the tonal gradations smoother as well as the use of longer lenses to get the same framing as you would with a portrait lens on a small format camera. (a 600mm lens on an 8x10 is roughly equivalent to a 100mm lens on 35mm camera.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, June 10, 2001.

Mr. Ellis, Yes all that you write is absolutely true. There is no substitute for a large negative for certain purposes. But photographer's purposes may vary. The vintage photographers were not always interested in accurate rendition of skin, or absolutely correct framing. sometime they were only interested in dramatic film noire lighting or clothes, or a seductive expression. If those are the goals how does large format help? As a photo collector it is clear the vintage photographers often used soft focus lens which to some extant decreases the usefullness of large format. Hollywood photos from this time often share a certain glamorous look but I am not sure if large format is the only way to achieve it and may make copying the look more difficult or awkward. However the use of large format may make other things beside copying a style possible. Super sharp, perfectly exposed and printed prints come to mind. Again vintage photographers seldom had these goals in mind when they shot. Portrait styles have changed and a borrowing of old styles in order to create a new expression is a very exciting prospect. However it may be possible the mere copying of old styles may be achieved using simpler more modern methods. It is for these reasons I asked the questions I did. There is something about red lipstick that certain uncoated lenses had a problem with. Is that phenonomon worth copying or worth correcting? I don't know, each photographer needs to respond. when a photographer inspired by a vintage style goes to the trouble of using a large format camera I want to know more about what's up. Is it copying? Or is it a fresh vision? And like you I can't tell from the web site. I could tell more by looking a actual prints but alas I am afraid we are stuck with words.

-- jryder (, June 10, 2001.

Whenever these critiques arise, consider the traditiona approach of: (1) What was the artist trying to do; (2) Did they do it well; (3) Was it worth doing?

-- David Stein (, June 10, 2001.

Mr. J, Mostly I think the studio photographer's of Hollywood's "Golden Era" used 8x10 because at the time it was the best tool for the job. We are 60-70 years on and of course there is a slew of new and in some ways better tools available. For instance who these days would choose to retouch & etch a negative by hand these days instead of using Adobe Photoshop?

In our desire to look backwards and see the work of photographers like Hurell and Steichen and Horst as "collectable art" we often forget that these guys were commercial photographers employed for their skill at selling a product: the glamour of the "stars" and personalities of the day, this is still true today of photographers like Annie Leibowitz, Herb Ritts, Greg Gorman and Albert Watson of course and diminishes the artistry of their work not one bit.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, June 11, 2001.

Soft focus lenses used by large format photographers in the past do not in any way negate the value of the large negative.

A true soft-focus designed lens will allow a variable amount of "softness" and depending on how that softness is achieved, can produce effects completely unlike anything a conventional lens or recent construction with LC or SF filters or a nylon stocking etc, could produce.

Additionally the use of heavy pencil re-touching on the negative, hot lights, orthochromatic film, etc. etc. etc. are essential to achieving the same look. I think perhaps you have orthochromatic film confused with un-coated lenses when you refer to problems with red lipstick.

While lighting technique is essential, it is by no means the only thing necessary to achieve the look of Hollywood glamour portraits.

Mark Vieira has written several books on the subject and I would heartily recommend them, especially, "Hurrell's Hollywood" and his article in View Camera magazine.

-- Sean yates (, June 11, 2001.

I've also been experimenting w/ large format and portraiture. Imagon lens. Regular and orthochromatic film. There are a couple things that haven't been mentioned here: First, I know little about Hurrell and the Hollywood style, etc., but the great pictorial portraitists of early century used printing out processes almost exclusively -- platinotypes, kallitypes, bromoils, bromoil transfers, etc. All of these processes (and they are essential to the look of the stuff) require a big negative or in any event as big as you want the image to be. That tech limitation has not changed to this day, unless you want to make a bigger negative from a smaller, which is a lot of trouble in itself plus you lose resolution and all. Second, the limits of the large format equip + minimal or no artificial lighting present opportunities. For example, slow exposures. With my Imagon in place, using the largest disk (biggest aperture), and using natural diffused light, I'm looking at an exposure of about 1/4 or 1/2 of a second w/ HP5 (400 speed). This is okay. I just do that and have gotten some interesting results. When I tried the much slower ortho film, however (Ilford Ortho+; only brand on the market I know of), I was looking at around 4 seconds. I found that to be a bad interval. Quite minor, instantaneous movement was registered (a blink, a flinch). So, I bagged it and deliberately went for VERY LONG exposures of about 50-90 seconds. Now that's been interesting. I've gotten the sitters well-achored somehow (to prevent swaying), told them to look straight at the lens and relax every muscle in their face (actually list them, one at a time: "Now relax your mouth, now your forehead...."). Minor movement is not recorded (only a change in position that's kind of sustained). The results can be very "candid" -- no pretenses. This has not resulted in the look of Hurrell-type glamour but in something more like Nadar or J.M. Cameron.... One other observation: Some people find the old equip intriguing and they forget themselves.... -jeff buckels (albuq nm)

-- Jeff Buckels (, June 11, 2001.


Keep plugging, you are off to a great start.

One thing that is apparent in studying the work of Hurell is his use of back light. The back lights are often his key lights, with the front lights just there for detail . The whole idea is to create the feel of stage lighting which, as you know, has "kickers" all over the place......This also requires a somewhat large studio.

This is also what makes the effects of a soft focus lens really come to life. Without those little specular higlights, that back lighting creates, there would be little more than fuzz on fuzz.

And don't be too concerned about the Orthochromatic film thing, just stay away from film/dev. combinations that produce a long toe and you will have those deep shadows without brittle flesh tones.

Hope this is of some value, Bruce

-- Bruce Wehman (, June 11, 2001.

It was mentioned above that he should learn html. Well, I must admit that his page isn't full of bells and whistles, but it seems clean enough and loads easily. What more do you want? I will admit that the quality of the images isn't great though. And I mean the scans, not the originals. I don't know though. Maybe the scans are poor because the images are, but I think you just used a cheap scanner. They are muddy and soft, but not soft from the lens, soft from a cheap scanner type of soft...

-- Jason Janik (, June 12, 2001.

Ellis, I'm surprised to hear you call Photoshop a "better" tool - and surprised to hear you ask who would hand etch a negative! You're usually less of a cheerleader for modernity:) The answer? I would. Why? Photoshop is not "better" or "worse," it's different. I've just begun trying to immerse myself in the old studio techniques, and I fully plan to retouch my negatives by hand. Why? Because it's not as satisfying to do it on the computer. It's cold, it's electronic. It feels commercial. Plus, for goodness' sake, I'm not going to compromise the quality of my print by making it all digital when I'm shooting 4x5 to begin with. And please, don't anyone engage me in an argument about the merits of silver halide BW printing vs. inkjet - that's just silly. Another point - most old Hollywood shots from the 40s (Karsch, Hurrell, Horst, Von Stroheim) are NOT in soft focus. Let me repeat that: they are NOT in soft focus. The images are often razor sharp - the smoothness of the skin is due to extensive retouching, not a filter over the lens. In today's world, most people try to approximate this look by shooting in soft focus - and it looks like a a knock off. This is due to a complete misunderstanding of the techniques of the time. The appeal of a Joan Crawford portrait done by Hurrell is the contrast - the frisson, if you will - between the razor sharp detail rendered by the lens on large film and the softened cheeks burnished by retouching. This is what sets apart the true masters from those who seek to emulate them lazily. Having said that, I wish Sawka the best of luck. . .it's a great period to explore. If anyone can give me pointers on retouching black and white negs by hand, I'll buy you a beer!!!

-- Joshua Slocum (, June 16, 2001.

The vintage style can be replicated by medium format, but in my opinion it is just as caviar to fish sticks. Anyway, I fell in love with the large format portrait the day I looked at my grandmothers pre bridal portrait. The detail in the satin gloves, her skin how smooth, the detail of every mascara-ed eye lash, the lace, every rhinestone sparkled to the furthest degree. That day I have studied the large format artform and refuse to shoot any less than an 8x10 negative. I WANTED MY PORTRAIT DONE THAT WAY--- which is what I offer to my clients. No one else could do it, knew how to do it or knew what I was talking about (local studio owners that is). Hats off to you Sir---Keep up the GREAT work!!!!

-- Amie Lynn (, June 16, 2001.

I've never been that enthusiastic about the Hollywood style, based on what I had seen in books and such, but today I saw an original Hurell print in the window of a Madison Avenue gallery, and it was absolutely stunning. The light on the face had a shimmering quality like evening sunlight reflected from rippling water, and the separation of tones was outstanding--not really achievable in a smaller format. I doubt any form of reproduction (except an excellent copy from another large format negative) could reproduce it successfully.

-- David Goldfarb (, July 02, 2001.

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