Jean Harlow and the Bear Skin Rug for Vanity Fair – Lighting Diagram
The classic Iconic image by George Hurrell of Jean Harlow on the Bearskin rug, is a classic that many photographers equate to the quintessential Hollywood Glamour. It’s really not that hard to reproduce if you know where the lights are coming from. All you need is a Polar Bear Skin rug(good luck). The lighting is the easy part.
The negative sold for about $57,000 recently in the largest auction of George Hurrells works by Epstein and Schwimer. I would love to have a copy of that negative.
So if you take a look at my diagram you can see where I have set the lights for the photograph, and in the second and third images I will point out to you why it is and how I know.
The hairlight which is on a boom and above Jean Harlow, this is easy to tell by the shadow direction of this light(fresnel) and how it falls onto Harlow in a tight pattern around her indicating it is a mid level tight focus, and above her.
The next light is a narrow focus photo flood light to the right of the camera at about 90 degrees from the subject, also indicated by the light shining on her left side of her body to camera right. Also see the bears nose for highlights. This lamp is low to the ground, pointing slightly up at Harlow.
The third light, called the Key light is also a flood, but set to wide, and more of a fill light than a key light. Take note of the catch lights in Harlows eyes, and the lightness of the shadows on her ribcage, the back of her right arm and let hand, and her face. This light is slightly higher than the second light, and set to wide to soften and lower the brightness, so as not to remove or blowout the shadows, but rather to open them up, so the camera can get that shadow detail.
This image is Hurrells signature dramatic lighting which is accomplished by painting or composing with light, rather than blast with light. A little here, and a little there. until the perfect balance is met. Some would say the brighter parts of the image are her hips and the left side of her face, drawing attention away from the face, but instead, it frames the face.
As with many of Hurrell’s works, he the broke rules. To him there were no rules. This is what made Hurrell different, stand out and noticed. Not just by clients but by other photographers as well.
The other reason I know where the lights go is in the book “The Hurrell Style: 50 Years of Photographing Hollywood“, it’s documented where the lights are, as Hurrell took extensive notes on his setups and layouts. That book is available here, at Amazon.Com.
The light is shining on her left side to camera right, also see the bears nose for highlights.
Take note of the catch lights in Harlows eyes, and the lightness of the shadows on her ribcage, the back of her right arm and let hand, and her face.
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