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Hollywood Portraits By Roger Hicks and Christopher Nisperos Book Review Video

(If you can't see the video, please click here.)

Grab a copy from in the USA.

Get a copy from in the UK.

This is a fantastic book for anyone who's interested in lighting techniques and re-creating the Hollywood looks from the 1920's to the 1950's.

I have to say that I'm not into taking portrait photographs at the moment, especially anything with off-camera lighting, but it is an area of photography that I'd like to develop (groan!). What I really like about this book, is that the photos are large and beautifully reproduced, there's nice accompanying text, and the "how to" diagrams are clear and simple.

All the Hollywood Royalty are here, from John Wayne to Marilyn Monroe, and from Rudolph Valentino to Greta Garbo. All in all there's the analysis of over 50 shots, and a myriad of smaller photographs too. Of course the lighting diagrams are an analysis after the fact - few records remain of the actual shoots - but Roger Hicks and Christopher Nisperos do an admirable job, and I'm sure photographers who are more experienced than me could recreate the styles.

One of the more surprising issues the book brings up is the use of large view cameras with massive tripods and camera stands. Many of the early Hollywood photographs were taken on 8" x 10" film, that's a massive 20.3cm x 25.4 cm! This isn't spur of the moment photography - each set and pose is carefully considered, and many frames were shot to make sure there was always a "keeper".

I really, really, enjoy looking at this book, even if I'm not yet ready to have a go at recreating these Hollywood Photographs - but I will soon, I promise!

Thanks, Rob.

What Do You Think?

Should we just be photographing in natural light, or is the use of hot-lights and speed-lights a necessary skill for all photographers? Are we creating fake images, or is the art of "sculpting" with light the highest form of photography? Please add your thoughts below.

More Book Reviews.

Reader Comments (2)

Hiya Rob,

Now this is a great book and one that I used to own but unfortunately lent it someone who didn't return it back! (Then people wonder why I don't lend things anymore.)

It doesn't go into great detail with step by step tutorials which may annoy some people but does reverse engineer the lighting and techniques used for those classic and iconic photographs of the Hollywood greats of yesteryear.
One of the reasons for still using great big 10x8 negatives when other film formats were around at that time was simply quality and 'oh dear' retouching(!) It's far easier to hand retouch a big 10x8 or larger neg than a small piddly one and there used to be armies of 'retouchers' in the old days remembering that there was no such thing as photoshop. Retouchers often earned more money than the photographers themselves!

A contact and friend of mine, a great photographic artist himself Tobias Feltus, (just a little warning that he utilises the full arts and so nudity is present on his stream for those of a 'sensitive' persuasion), posted some examples of his grandmother from the same era. Anne Winters was his grandmother and you can see uses the full beauty a 10x8 neg of the era suitably lit can give and produces a stunning portrait. He was also kind enough to post Anne WInters - Retouching where you can clearly see the fine pencil work that was added to the neg!
Marvellous work really and a good bit of history some of us are unaware of.

As far as the use of light I personally think ALL light is good, especially to a photographer. People usually have a preference for one kind of light over another and the more adventurous will use a combination of lights sources. Sometimes practicality plays a part, (flash at night), and other times for the photographer to fully utilise and express his art. A good photographer can make flash light look as every bit as good as natural light or sculpt the subject with it to emphasise the subject itself.

As for 'cheating' or creating 'fakes', well that's up to the individual to decide and I think that for the sake of photographic 'art' you should utilise every tool available to you. I personally deplore the idea of 'staged' or heavily 'retouched' shots that are then presented for factual reportage and unfortunately there have been many famous examples over the years. But, that will always be one argument that will never be settled and should just be left to personal choice.

Great work again Rob, always good to catch up with your site.

All the best,


October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

Hi Victor,

I'll look out for another copy at the car-boot sale, I think I picked this one up for a couple of pounds!

It's really amazing to think of retouchers using pencils on large format negatives - that must have been a real art form to make it look realistic!

That's a great link to Tobias's Flickr-stream - thought-provoking work indeed.

I think that I need to have a go with more off-camera lights soon - and this book has inspired to have a real play!

Thanks, as always, for your comments, Cheers, Rob.

October 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterRob_Nunn

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