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Lighting Techniques for Hollywood Glamour Photography

How to Make Hollywood Portraits
Model: Kristabelle

Model: Kristabelle

Be sure to watch the Hollywood Glamour Photography Video for this shoot HERE

Photography Lighting Techniques are sometimes huge mysteries, at least to the beginning photographer. Sometimes to the seasoned pro too, only because maybe it was such a simple setup that it just couldn’t be that easy, right? I know I am that way sometimes when my friends tell me how they lit a set or how it was just one light or it was ambient light. Lighting has always fascinated me and when I decided that I wanted to take pictures like the people who’s photography I liked, that’s when things changed for me.

I had gone to New Orleans, just after Hurricane Katrina for Convergence, a gathering of Goths for the sole purpose of partying, music and having a great weekend, only much more. I had my Canon 20D and was taking pictures the whole weekend because NOLA is such a beautiful place and there’s so much to photo. One memorable part of my trip was the swamp tour in a boat; the swamp fascinates me, is beautiful and I will be back to photo the swamp again as I am drawn there.

Friends who know me say I sold my soul to the swamp witch we met, because this was the turning point in my photographic career. I had attended the fashion show for convergence and gathered the designers and models together to take some photos. When I got home to San Diego I made a gallery and put them up online. A few days later I looked at the gallery again  and said “These suck!”.  That is when I locked myself away for a year and studied nothing but lighting.

Nowadays people come to me and ask questions about lighting, I guess they say I am a go to guy when it comes to certain types of lighting, so I always share my knowledge of lighting with people when I can. Here are some lighting diagrams and techniques I used for a few images I shot a couple weeks ago with Model Kristabelle. I also have a video I will put online when I get it edited.

Model: Kristabelle

Model: Kristabelle, Black and White

I met Kristabelle at Ink n Iron 2009, as I contacted her for a shoot for the promoter as she was a finalist for the pinup pageant. I had also seen her on my friend Johnny Angel’s Myspace page which is where I originally seen her. Below is the lighting diagram for this shot. If you have any questions please make a comment and subscribe to the comment as I will answer your questions there.

Lighting Diagram for Model Kristabelle on Chaise Lounge

Lighting Diagram for Model Kristabelle in Black and White

Model: Kristabelle in Color

Model: Kristabelle in Color

I decided to show this image in color as I really like the tones and the scene, I like it so much that I am going to print a limited number and sell them here in case anyone is interested. Below is the lighting diagram for this set, it’s similar to the previous diagram with the placement of one light to camera right instead of left.

Model: Kristabelle in Color, Lighting Diagram

Model: Kristabelle in Color, Lighting Diagram

The previous two shots and lighting were done with Fresnel Focusing Lamps. They are a hot light and the same type used in the old movies of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. They are what some of the great photographers used for their portrait sittings in the old days of the movie studios, and it is what I use in many of my photos, because I want a certain look and color tone.

Model: Kristabelle in Archway, Black and White

Model: Kristabelle in Archway, Black and White

This shot was done in the archway of my studio where I hung a curtain in the archway to create a backdrop. I lit the model with 2 mini monolight strobes. The archway divides two rooms and I put one strobe above the curtain in one room, shining down on the model behind her. I put the second strobe with a modified softbox in the other room in front and to the side as you can see in the diagram.

Model: Kristabelle in Archway

Model: Kristabelle in Archway Lighting Diagram

The modified softbox is actually a Photoflex Litedome XS, the part that’s modified is the egg crate grid to control the lighting direction. They don’t make a grid for the XS, so I had to get the one for the next size larger and cut it to size and sew the Velcro back on. Actually I stapled it. I used this XS softbox with a grid, because I like the way it works. People might say the box is so small why use a grid on it, it’s because I like the way it causes the light to fall off around the edges and helps to create sculpted shadow and lighting.

I hope those diagrams made sense and they help someone. I know when I was first starting out things like this really helped me and I was glad someone would share something like this with me. If you have any questions please ask. I am more than happy to help.



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76 Responses to “Lighting Techniques for Hollywood Glamour Photography”
  1. Gorgeous photographs. Wish you lived near me. Would be so much fun to work with you. Keep ’em coming. Absolutely fabulous!

  2. lila says:

    This is a fantastic page, thanks so much for sharing how you set these great pics up!!




  4. Very nice, and some good tips, just thought I would give you a shout out and cheers for joining BPS.

    Patrick | BPS

  5. Renay says:

    Larry, the color image of Kristabelle is fantastic. Very nice colors and tones. Thank you for showing the lighting diagram.

  6. capsix says:

    Thanks for sharing, what a great model, love the pics.

  7. David Rogers says:

    As a keen amateur who is currently rekindling his interest in photography I found this a fascinating and inspiring post. I’ve never had the equipment or inclination to experiment much with studio photography, and tend to prefer natural light wherever possible. Dedicating yourself so much to mastering lighting certainly shows up in your photographs.
    .-= David Rogers´s last blog ..Do clothes make a person? =-.

  8. Tyrone says:

    Hi Larry,

    I like photography although not to the point of learning through all these lighting capabilities as yours! LOL. 🙂

    And yes, lighting is the most important part in taking great photos aside from the model itself and the backgrounds surrounding it – and even it seems that a photograph does look too black in it, I believe there’s still the great technique of lighting and that’s really for me, the most complicated part.

    Great shots, you really are an expert man! Best with everything.


  9. Lance Nelson says:

    Hi Larry,

    Absolutely amazing photographs and very fascinating how you so effectively light the shots, thank you. I’ll stay tuned for more,

  10. Equally impressed by the exceptional quality and depth of the photographs and the blog post. It’s easy to see – pun intended – why people would take to the air to work with you. Congratulations!
    .-= Beat Schindler´s last blog ..Personal Growth The Easy Way: Focus On Your Strengths =-.

  11. Mitch says:

    Awesome photography and I think these techniques are some that will come in handy. Thanks for making it at least look easy though through experience, it know it isn’t
    .-= Mitch´s last blog ..Index of Free College Basketball Picks Against The Spread 3/11/10 =-.

  12. Lighting does amazing things along with aperture, timing, and subject. All things I can appreciate, say but not control as you show here. You make it seem like I could buy a couple of lights, a camera and produce these results. These clear examples and good writing create that confidence in this reader. I think I am going to have to take one of your courses so I can get better at photographing my passion – grandchildren!
    .-= Bruce “the Mid-Life Mentor”´s last blog ..SKIN CANCER-5 FACTS TO KNOW =-.

  13. Corinne Edwards says:

    This is a great contribution to many who struggle with just the right lighting.

    Some simple tips like backdrops can be used by even the most inexperienced video bloggers.

    This interested me –

    This shot was done in the archway of my studio where I hung a curtain in the archway to create a backdrop. I lit the model with 2 mini monolight strobes. The archway divides two rooms and I put one strobe above the curtain in one room, shining down on the model behind her. I put the second strobe with a modified softbox in the other room in front and to the side as you can see in the diagram.
    .-= Corinne Edwards´s last blog ..WOMEN’S CLOTHES – ripped or ripped off? =-.

  14. Tom says:

    Seemingly unrelated to your post, but I really appreciate that you use alternative text to describe your images. By nature I always look out for the accessibility of web sites, and not providing alternative text is the most usual mistake developers make. Alternative texts greatly enhance the experience for people with disabilities. Very well done, I appreciate it.
    .-= Tom´s last blog ..Closed-Circuit Televisions =-.

  15. wow.. And I’m worried about getting a small light on my desk for a video shot. You’ve got fabulous work here, and useful tips – just wish it wasn’t so all over my head.
    .-= Michelle Vandepas´s last blog ..What Happens When We Die? – PMH Atwater – Near Death Experience Researcher =-.

  16. Debbie says:

    Hi Larry,

    Having had a brother that was took photos for years as his bussiness. Boy, you do a great job. It looks to me like taking that year off to study lighting really paid off. You are a good example to people in the fact if you have a passion, take some time to study that passion.

    I’m like cheryl wish you lived close to me for photos. Keep up the great work. You are very good.

    .-= Debbie´s last blog ..Make Your Unhappiness Disappear Like Magic! =-.

  17. Joel says:

    Awesome photos, it’s amazing how much lighting comes into play. Do you do much outdoor shooting? Would be interesting in see how to overcome some of those challenges.
    .-= Joel´s last blog ..Updated Ultimate Guide To Online Video =-.

  18. Hello Darkman,
    I’m back for a second visit – photographs are still interesting, the second time round.

    You’ve made some really nice changes to your blog. Blog experts often encourage the top of the page for ads. Contrary to that expert advice, your ad placement at the bottom of the post worked well for me. I clicked on all of them. Got an unexpected “eyeful” – should have known, given the title ;D
    .-= cheryl from thatgirlisfunny´s last blog ..Guess Who’s Doing the Tough Guy Challenge? Hayley plus friends – Week One =-.

  19. Lisa82367 says:

    Beautiful photographs! As a person who has never taken a “good” photo in her life, I am greatly impressed!
    .-= Lisa82367´s last blog ..Welcome March! =-.

  20. Teagan says:

    Wow, I knew lighting is important in photography, but his is amazing! I love how you explained things, and the graphs showing exactly how you did it. The tone variations in your black an white photos are fantastic, and the colors in the color picture are gorgeous. Whatever you did in that year you took off and studying lighting, it sure seems to have paid off big time. Impressive photography.
    .-= Teagan´s last blog ..Another Food Recall =-.

  21. Darkman,

    You are soooooooooooooooo incredibly talented … it’s amazing.

    You have such an eye. These photos are stunning.

    Thanks so much for sharing your art (and talent) with the rest of us.

    .-= Eat Smart Age Smart ´s last blog ..Best diet: 5 Bite Diet? =-.

  22. Hi Larry, I’m amazed at the artistic way you have mastered the use of lighting in your photographs. I had no idea that it was such an art form – the diagrams that you include make it even more fun – to look at the picture and see how the light was used to get the effect. Incredible!

    I thought I was doing pretty good because I just got a tip today to use extra lighting when shooting video to brighten things up and found it helpful – this blows that away :0) You’ve got a beautiful site!
    .-= Jan – queenofkaos´s last blog ..What’s Up With Procrastination? =-.

  23. Amy LeForge says:

    You know….you could sell a mini-course teaching people what you know about lighting. I’d love to learn, and I bet many others would as well. 🙂 Just sayin’.
    .-= Amy LeForge´s last blog ..FFYF: End of a Tough Week Edition =-.

  24. Brian says:

    Stunning photographs! I’ve just started getting into photography (albeit, with a crummy digital camera) so your site will be a great resource for me the more I improve with my shots.
    .-= Brian´s last blog ..Banner Ad Blueprint Review – Banner Ads the “New” Way to Make Money Online? =-.

  25. Andrew says:

    Most helpful indeed. I always like to review what good photographers are doing with light. Helps to keep me current.
    Thank you

  26. Wow Darkman – absolutely gorgeous photos. I love the old film look – the women seem so elegant and angelic.
    .-= Keller Hawthorne´s last blog ..Simply Fresh Themes Has Officially Opened! =-.

  27. Nelson James says:

    You are an inspiration!

  28. Sam says:

    Hey, This site is a great help to us just starting out. Thanks for sharing your info.


  29. Jason says:


    You work is pretty amazing. I look at these photos and the lighting is so intriguing.

    I am ready to buy some studio equipment but I have some questions if you have time. I want to shoot glamor and I love the look of Fresnel lights.

    What do you think of strobe Fesnels vs continuous Fresnels?
    Is it possible to shoot with strobes along with continuous Fresnels?
    Can a Fresnel look be accurately achieved using a snoot and honeycomb grid on a strobe?

    I just worry about overheating the model with too many continuous lights. I know a lot of fashion photographers strictly use strobes but it seems that all Fresnels are done continuous.

    Any help will be appreciated.

    • Darkman says:

      Hi Jason, I’ve not use fresnel lenses on strobes, I use old studio fresnels and some modern fresnels. You can mix the strobe and fresnel to get some interesting effect, but the color temperatures will be way different. Depending on which way you color balance your image if shooting digital, your strobe light will be blue if you balance for the fresnel. If you balance for the strobe your image will be orange where the fresnel is hitting.

      You can achieve a similar effect with a strobe and a snoot, but me being a purist feel to get that fresnel look, you have to use a fresnel. Fresnels have a hard edge, yet soft falloff that can’t be achieved with strobes, with or without snoots.

  30. Lisa says:

    Great photos! I can’t wait to try these out for myself! I am dying to learn more and more about lighting and the diagrams help tremendously!! Please post more!!

  31. Alan says:

    I’ve dabbled a little with tungsten Fresnels and have to say I’m amazed at how much light you are getting out of 100 and 150W units. To get that fstop/speed at 400 with my set up I’m using 650 W lights. I guess you are putting your lights much closer to the subject. Admittedly, I’ve not had the lights long so maybe it just takes a lot more practice!

    Great site, thank you for sharing.

  32. NewTo40sLighting says:

    This is a big help for me. I’m prepping for a shoot in this style and seeing setups with the resulting shot is great. I tried to figure your lighting schemes before I read them based on the pic and once I got it exact, the other times I missed the position of one light.


  33. Yucel says:

    Great post, love the pattern on the wall cast by shooting thru the plants…

    How did you do the lighting diagrams please?

  34. Andy Wilson says:

    Can’t get enough of your work. Love the nostalgic look! Thanks so much for sharing the set ups and tips.

  35. JBLP says:

    Hi, good stuff and very informative, as a long time street and news rat doing more studio. I also like how you use an OM-1 to get a film cap or two. I bought my first OM-1 in 1977, it’s long gone but I still have my OM-4t and a Rolleiflex tlr and want to use them to do what you did, have a film cam with x-sync available– digitals are like the polaroid backs of the 21st century. anyway thanks and keep it up! JBLP

  36. Dave Bowers says:

    Are you in the LA area I will be coming down there next week and would love to pop by for a few minutes, depending on your schedule. Love your work. Hope to learn it.

  37. Dave Bowers says:

    are you in the LA area? I’ll be down there next week. I’d like to pop by.

  38. Dave Bowers says:

    Used it for my granddaughter. Worked first time thanks. You would be proud. Great website!

  39. Ralph says:

    Hi Larry, congrats on the best site of its type. Question is- when your thinking about the subject and lights, is there a specific set of shadows you want to see or usually look for/ try to bring out? Or maybe contours. hope I expressed it right. Thanks, Ralph

  40. Mike Robely says:

    Hi Larry

    Great photos!

  41. Mike Robely says:


    I had a few questions for you. I’ve noticed other photographers, namely, Damien Lovegrove, who is able to achieve great noir at 100 ISO!


    When I shoot with moody light I cannot seem to get my ISO below 400, which makes things grainy. Any tips?

    Also, what brand/make of Fresnel lights are you using?

    • Darkman says:

      Hey Mike, Some of my lights are arri or altman, mole and something else I can’t remember. that’s my oldest one from the 50’s from a movie studio. I usually buy mine off ebay or locally if I can find them, as cheap as I can find them too. Do you have his video and his he specifically stating 100ISO? because from the video preview it looks like he’s using small lights, maybe 500watt at most, and I’ve never really shot at 100ISO, unless maybe getting super close to the subject so the light is brighter. I don’t remember having any issues with grain unless it’s higher than 400, but then I am also using digital and a little post process helps minimize that. I’ve also shot film but use 400ISO for that too. Is there a specific reason you are looking to get 100ISO? the only other way would be to increase your wattage in fresnel but you take a chance on blinding your subject hahahaha…

      I also shoot in B/W, I don’t color convert.

    • Darkman says:

      Mike, just watched his sample chapter and he IS using higher wattage, 100’s so that’s how he’s getting it down to 100ISO.

    • Darkman says:

      He’s also using LED Fresnel which I’ve never used, I’ve always used the older tungsten lights which are f-ing hot.

      • Mike Robely says:


        Yes, that would explain it, he’s got higher wattage but if you look at his sample tutorial video, man it’s dark in there. Maybe in that video he’s shooting at a higher ISO.

        The reason I’m asking is I’ve been shooting at 400 with plenty of light on digital camera [Canon Rebel ti3] with a 28-55 zoom lens] and the photos look really grainy when I enlarge them on the screen, and they are so pixelated.

        Must be my aperature, I’m not recalling what that was offhand but I know I was getting a lot of blur shooting handheld.

        Shooting models with fixed lighting 1 Linco light tent with 4 bulb flourescents head.

        Looks good when I use flash fill but can’t really get the moody lighting that way.

        I’m gonna have to spring for the Fresnels and use a monopod I think.

        • Darkman says:

          I’m going to stop you right there.

          You can’t do this style and get “The Look” with light tents and strobe. (period).
          wtahc some of my videos and look at the behind the scenes post. as well as his.
          There is a video/post where I do a shoot with strobe, softbox and grid with also a bare bulb, it’s just NOT the same. Too soft on the lighting.

          toss the monopod and get a tripod. You’ll be happy you did.

          and get THIS BOOK: it’s where I got my start it will help you immensely:
          Hollywood Portraits and how to take them:

          • Mike Robely says:

            Yes, I agree, I was not clear, I’m mixing my subjects. What I mean to say is that for the kind of model shoots I am doing, I have light tents set up already, this isn’t noir, it’s brightly lit studio style stuff, but I have to move around FAST, so my tripod gets in the way. The monopod will help keep camera steady shooting at the slower speeds.

            I was trying to do some lower light shadow noir stuff with that setup and it didn’t work very well. 🙂

            The book you mention I already have, just got it a few weeks ago its great. But yes, I realize to shoot noir style I am going to need the proper lighting and that is fresnels, not light tents and for that I will likely use tripod.

    • Darkman says:

      in his sample chapter he’s shooting at ISO 800.

  42. 1. Also, if I were to buy a Fresnel light (do I call it a light or a lens?), which do you recommend? Daylight? Tungsten?
    2. I typically buy used equipment; is it reliable for this type?
    3. How much power do I need if I’m photographing just one person or two people at close range?
    4. Can I get buy with only one?

    • Darkman says:

      The ones I use, I get from ebay. used. Mine are typically very old so they are only tungsten.
      I would suggest starting with just one. Because that is where it all starts. with just 1.

      I woudl also suggest getting the Book Hollywood Portraits and how to take them, it is the Bible in understanding all this:

  43. Meg Cosgrove says:

    I checked out your work years ago, and it got me thinking about the techniques you did. You inspired me to try! I know this style of photography had a resurgence when you started. I’m a bit late to the game, but I chose this type of lighting because of what I saw you did. I like the models you used, too. Definitely a different vibe than my work! I like it!

    • Darkman says:

      Some nice work you have there Meghan! Very nice, Polished!

      • Meg Cosgrove says:

        Thank you! I picked it up quickly enough…moved to film, but it is expensive…I have some shots using 4×5, I recently ordered a camera from https://intrepidcamera.co.uk.

        I have had help from Mark Vieira in Los Angeles, specifically when to use flood instead of spot. We are meaning to get together after a vaccine. He worked under Hurrell for years and is an Old Hollywood historian.

        I agree with you on needing to use fresnel only. I have had people tell me you can use modern lights, but that’s not true. I think it turns potential into a cliche!

        Are you still going to make a book?

        • Darkman says:

          someday I’ll make a book. I know Mark, but we don’t get along. had some questions once about photos used in his books and he got weird on me. I believe I have all his books on Hurrell.
          I spent the day with Hurrells last assistant once. There’s a video.


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