which 4x5 camera for old hollywood glamour shot

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I am looking to recreate george hurrell's look he captured in the thirties and forties. I know he used an 8x10 camera. I'm looking for a 4x5 camera with a lens that is good for portraiture. Any recommendations? I wouldn't mind even buying an old folding 4x5 camera from the early 1900's to help recreate that look. Lastly, if i do buy new, what is the difference between a view camera and a field camera? thanks!

-- jimmy marsden (jpm110@earthlink.net), October 15, 2001


Hurrell did a whole lot of work to his negatives with a pencil, plus he was a genius. The camera you use is not going to make a difference, but the lighting and your skill with the pencil will. You might think about using an 8x10 if Hurrell's look is really what you are after, and you think you can get it.

A field camera folds up into a box. A monorail rides along rails.

-- Erik Ryberg (ryberg@seanet.com), October 15, 2001.

Look for non coated lenses and use a blue filter to recreate the look of the films and lenses ofthe period. As the first poster pointed out, the camera itself is not goingto make much a difference. And yes Hurrell's negatives and prints were heavily retouched.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), October 15, 2001.

Hurrell's lighting was evidently dead simple as well: a large theatrical spot light some distance from the subject so the light fall off was pretty even. across the face and there was plenty of room for "gobos" to shape the light.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (ellis@ellisvener.com), October 15, 2001.

You might take a look at Roger Hicks' book on hollywood glamour. I believe he discusses lighting setups including Hurrell's. Also take a look at Mark Vierra's (sp.?) book on Hurrell and his view camera article several years ago.

As the above post(s) suggest, Hurrell's technique was a function of his negative retouching in combination with the use of high-powered hot lights and soft-focus lenses. If I remember correctly, he used several Mole-Richardson 1000W lights and often employed booms to acheive just the right placement of light. His lenses varied over the course of his work. I believe his early portraits were taken with a Wollensak Verito, a variable soft-focus lens. Apparently, he used the Verito stopped down to achieve a balance between sharpness and the characteristic soft-focus halo look of the Verito. Later on in his career, Hurrell switched to a Goerz Celor.


-- Dave Willison (dwillisart@aol.com), October 15, 2001.

I have the Hicks book and have to say I like it.

As for the retouching, damn, they didn't retouch back then. On some it looks like they took a spray can, chisel, bleach, razor blade, steel wool, anything they could find, torch, shoe heel, bubble gum, etc. Pretty bad compared to what you'd think of now as retouching. :>}

Hicks and his partner point out a couple of shots in the book which exhibit particularly nasty attempts at retouching. Guess what, these are some of the most memorable pictures. You're so captivated by the personality and wonder of the image, you dismiss the obvious goofs.

That being said, have a look for yourselves.

-- (ratzlaff@ticnet.com), October 15, 2001.

From the little I've gathered Hurrell's subjects used little or no makeup (Joan Crawford was not too happy about that) and he lit them pretty hard with hot lights and then retouched the negatives heavily. If you look at some of his photos it often appears that eyelashs and eyebrows were "drawn" in and the skin tones appear almost "sandblasted" down. I'd suggest starting by studying the makeup and hair styles from that era and either go that way or learn to retouch bigger negatives, not as easy as you would think..good luck.

-- bill zelinski (willy226@yahoo.com), October 15, 2001.

For the retouching part, you might look for William Mortensen's book 'Print Finishing' (Camera Craft, 1938). He details the use of powder, eraser, carbon pencil, razor blade, spotting brush, and his own abrasion-tone process. This is for prints, not negatives, but it might help get the look you want.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), October 15, 2001.

Hi Jimmy, with regards to the 4*5 camera, I think you will find what you need is a camera with bellows extension of at least 16 inches so you can get in close. And this job doesn't call for a fancy camera or an expensive lens, maybe an old Kodak or Graflex studio camera on a rail which could probably be had for around $300. You might find a 10" lens useful. It would probably be best to rent a studio camera with Polaroid holder to find the perspective you want and then make decisions about buying equiptment. An old folding camera from early 1900s is not the answer IMHO; an old studio camera from the 1950s might be the answer. See if you can borrow a Kodak 10' Commercial Ektar for a lens? Not enough room to go into difference between field and studio cameras, but I think for the job you outline a studio camera is much cheaper without the limitations some field cameras might have. I mean with the field camera, the compromises are for compactness and portability. This ususally means expensive in any thing. Basically all you want is bellows extension on a rigid camera and that is pretty easy to find in 50s studio 4*5s. Good luck, David

-- david clark (doclark@yorku.ca), October 16, 2001.

With all due respect, please allow me to correct some misperceptions here. I am friends with Mark Viera, a latter-day associate of George Hurrell's who recently published a book titled "Hurrell's Hollywood." Mark reprints Hurrell's original negatives and uses the techniques Hurrell perfected. I asked Mark the same questions Jimmy has posted here, and this is what he told me:

1. Hurrell's lighting was not always "dead simple." He did not use just one spotlight, as many people believe, but often several lights. Yes, his facial light was often one carefully aimed key, but he built up abstract patterns and shapes on on the background with other lights, shapes complementary to his subjects.

2. Hurrell stopped using blue-sensitive orthochromatic film in the 1930s. Most of Hurrell's best known work was on standard panchromatic film - this is obvious to anyone who looks at his portraits taken after about 1934. So, no, the "Hurrell look" is not ortho film- you're wasting your time going down this avenue.

3. Yes, he was an extensive retoucher. Either Hurrell himself, or one of several assistants, would painstakingly pencil in the blemishes on the negative, using powdered graphite to "burnish" the highlights. And yes, he did not allow his models to use ANY base makeup whatsoever. The flawless skin you see is a result of pencil retouching. Joan Crawford, for instance was COVERED with freckles. . .Hurrell's genius is obvious when you see how well he covered them. If you pick up Mark's book, you'll see an interesting "before and after" - the negative of Joan with and without retouching. Her face is a mass of freckles in the "before" and the "after" is alabaster cream. Another

4. One poster seems to think these portraits are amateurish in their retouching - nothing could be further from the truth. The key to classic-looking portraits is not their "obvious goofs." That's an unfortunate attitude of the current mindset that no one knew how to do anything "in the old days" and that only current technology can produce good work. Hurrell's photos are masterpieces - find me an "obvious goof!"

5. Another common misconception about Hurrell's work is that it was done in soft focus. This is not the case. Hurrell ORIGINATED the portrait style of super sharp photography combined with the preternatural smoothness of skin. This is why his portraits hold up today. After about 1935, he no longer used soft focus because he didn't need to cover up amateurish technique with diffusion. Take a good look at these shots and you see crisp, sharp outlines (note the detail in hair and eyelashes) with no facial flaws. This is all retouching my friends.

-- Joshua Slocum (jayslc@yahoo.com), October 16, 2001.

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