How to Shoot Fantastic 1940s Glamour Portraits from Start to Finish

Imagine a world in which the only thing standing between you and a life of movie-making stardom was a simple photo. A world where huge movie studios called all the shots and stars were made, not born. This was the world of the glamour portrait—the photo that could make or break your film career. The Golden Age of Hollywood may be long behind us, but its iconic style of portraiture still remains one of the single most influential genres of portrait photography. Luckily, creating stunning glamour photos with modern day equipment is both fun and easy. Photographer Bob Harrington shows us how in this full-length video tutorial:

Setup for 40s Style Glamour Photography

Harrington likes to shoot his glamour photos with a simple three-light set-up: a key light, a hair light, and a background light. Beyond that, all he uses is a great model and a backdrop. Unlike most current photographers of the genre, Harrington favors speedlights over studio lights; they may not provide modeling light, but they’re far more portable and easier to adjust.

The steps for creating the glamour photo are pretty straightforward. Harrington begins by adjusting his key light until he gets the “look” he’s after. He then adds in his hair light. Once he’s happy with that, he adds the background light. He then poses his model, takes a variety of shots, does a bit of post-processing, and voilá, a great glamour portrait!

40's glamor photo

A Modern-Day Glamour Photo

Lighting Equipment for Glamour Portraits

(If you’re adventurous, you can try the shoot with just one light in your setup.)

3 Light Glamor Portrait

Setup for Glamour Photos

Post-Processing Software

  • Capture One
  • Photoshop
  • Totally Rad Actions
  • Nik Filters
Glamor Photo Post-processing

“Totally Rad Actions” for Post-Processing

Tips and Tricks for Glamour Photography

  • Get your light high and angle it down to a steep angle to get the deep shadows indicative of glamour photos.
  • Once you have your three lights set and you’re happy with how they interact with your subject, start to change things up. Don’t change your lights or your model—change your own position instead. You can repose your model slightly, but make no large adjustments.
  • When dealing with make-up, make sure the skin tones of your model match. Also, make sure you have powder on hand–speedlights produce a hard light.
  • When choosing which shot to use, look at your photos last-to-first. You’ll get a fresh perspective that way.
  • Learn the proper technique and then go off on your own. Don’t hold yourself to any conventions.

The Hollywood glamour era was one of the most influential periods of film history, producing some of the most classic films of all time and creating some of the most memorable stars ever known (Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant come to mind), all the while serving as a potent antidote to the emotional demands of the Great Depression and World War II. The Hollywood glamour world was literally ingrained into our collective psyche, and although the Golden Age of movie-making no longer exists, the lustrous world of the glamour photos still beckons to many. Fortunately, creating a great glamour photo today is much simpler than it was in the 40s: all you need are a good model, a lighting system, an idea of what look you’re going for, and a decent post-processing program.

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