Photo Photography Thoughts

Exploring Hollywood Lighting

April 12, 2018

My friend and mentor James Schmelzer is known for his hard lit images that echo the early Hollywood days especially the work of George Hurrell. Today I picked up a Cucoloris (Cookie) and worked on getting that signature Hollywood look. Below I share what I learned as well as the tools I used to create the images below! 

If you haven’t seen James Schmelzer’s work be sure to check out his instagram over at

To get you in the mindset, first here is the inspiration board that I was building off of for the shoot today:

As you can see from the photos these photos utilized what we would call “hard light” modifiers. Grids, Snoots, Barn Doors, and Flags are your best friend when it comes to this type of lighting. 


My goal for the background is to have light and shadows just to break up the otherwise plain background. To accomplish this I setup the Cucoloris ( with my B1 pointing through. 

 As you can see, there is some spill onto the background with this setup so I changed the grid to the 10 degree to focus the light more.
As you can see, there is some spill onto the background with this setup so I changed the grid to the 10 degree to focus the light more.

Key Light

For my key light I knew that I needed it to be very focused and not spill onto the background. As you can see from the image above, the light is very focused into a tight circle and it is very directional. I accomplished this by using the 20 degree grid on my 2nd B1. 

You can find a link to the grids here for Profoto:

Also I have these grids that also work quite well:

Here is a pull back using the gridded B1 as the key light, notice the harshness as well as the control that you have by using the grids. (Sorry for the iPhone quality) 

What I learned.

The nose shadow is KEY.

The nose shadow is what determines the look of the overall photo. I noticed during the shoot I was constantly having the model change just her face in order to keep the shadow exactly how I wanted it. In my head I was looking for butterfly, loop, and Rembrandt to give me different looks to pick from in post. 

Light spill is really hard to control

One thing I found while doing this exercise was how hard it is to control light spill from the flash head. I found myself using flags in order to keep light off of certain parts of the scene. Do yourself a favor and have some flags or cardboard handy to help block the light from spilling all over the scene. 

Using the cookie to light as the Key light creates a really cool look

I really liked the look that the cookie was creating on the background so I decided to use it as a key light in order to light just the face. Overall this created a unique look that I really enjoyed. 

In camera black and white is your friend

While I was shooting these images I had my camera set to both raw and jpg and I had my camera set to black and white mode. Doing both raw and jpg allows you to have a raw file that you can work with in post as well as a black and white jpg exactly how you see it on screen. There was just something about seeing the black and white, well lit image, in the viewfinder while I was shooting that got me super excited. Also having the black and white allows you to show your model exactly the look you are going for. 

Post Processing

For these images I used On1 Photo Raw to create a unique film look both in color and in black and white. Here are the 2 On1 presets I created to get a color film look as well as black and white. 



Black and White

Gallery of my faves

Overall this was a fun exercise. I really enjoyed the looks I was getting right out of camera. For this shoot I used the Panasonic Lumix Gx8 and the Leica 12-60. 

Check out George Hurrell’s Hollywood, a book full of inspiration from the man himself:

For all of the gear used in this shoot check out the full kit

If you give this a try, leave your images in the comments below!