Essays / category / Portraits

I love George Hurrell. Now a few of you may be asking "Who is George Hurrell?" Without going to far into a history of 20th Century Photography, George was the man who MGM back in the Golden Age of Cinema would have photograph it's stars. Folks like Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Clarke Gable and Marlene Dietrich among many others were subjects of his 8x10 camera. Many times these shots were done on the very sound stages in between setups that were being filmed, George having mere minutes to setup the shot. So great was his skill that even at the end of his career, entertainment's latest and brightest would make the pilgrimage to his lens. Madonna and Brooke Shields among some of his final subjects.

What made George so great? It was the fact that he was the master of using a single light. Now there are many of his shots when he had the chance to shoot in his own studio that used more than one light, but his most iconic shots of the great stars of the silver screen are one simple light, usually shot "broad" in Rembrandt position with the light to camera right. No diffusion, just a hard light usually some motion picture light swung into position for the 20 minutes or so he was given to shoot his subject on set.

Above is the diagram for the typical setup George used. Since he was on an 8x10 his portrait lens was a 300mm/5.6 lens wide open. That is basically for you 35mm folks a 50/1.0 or so for FOV and DOF. For me it's basically my 75/2.8 wide open using my Pentax 645Z. Mastering a single light is honestly one of the hardest things for a photographer in my humble opinion. A single light takes discipline and skill. No reflector no diffusion, nothing but the purity of light that a single light can afford. It's my favorite way to light a portrait, especially a glamorous one. Here is a shot I recently did of Adriana Vago using what I call "Hurrell Lighting"....