“Hollywood Portraits, Classic Shots and How to Take Them” by Roger Hicks & Christopher Nisperos – Book Review

Ava Gardner, Black and White, Hollywood Actress, Head Shot, Hollywood Portraits Classic Shots and How to Take Them Roger Hicks And Christopher Nisperos Front Cover

Ava Gardner, Hollywood Actress, Cover Photo

Hollywood Portraits, Classic Shots and How to Take Them,” by Roger Hicks & Christopher Nisperos is 144 pages with 120 black and white images from the Hollywood years before the 1930’s through 1950’s.

What Hicks and Nisperos have done is to study an assembly of Classic Hollywood studio photographs from The Kobal Collection and attempt to reverse engineer how the shots were created.

The cover is graced by a glamorously shadowed, ‘Rembrandt’ lit photo of Ava Gardner.  This volume gives us insights into the types of gear, lighting, settings and poses photographers George Hurrell, C. S. Bull, and Laszlo Willinger and others used to photograph the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire and so on.

So how was it done, this ‘Hollywood dream machine’?

  • Lots of large movie style hot lights mainly
    • Spots, Fresnels, many on booms and hanging from ceilings
  • Various light modifiers
    • Tiny and large Gobos
    • Reflectors
  • Mainly 8″x10″ black and white bellows type cameras
    • Uncoated lenses
    • Huge camera stands
    • 20-40 exposures
    • Normal to moderate telephoto with shallow depth of fields (DOF)
  • Longish Exposures 1/10 to 1/2 second
  • Poses and Props which allowed stillness
    • Walls to lean on for men
    • Reclined poses on love benches for women
    • Cigarettes and Guns
  • Famous Stars who drew attention away from technical flaws with the photos
  • Lots of retouching on the negative
    • scraping with razors
    • pencil and soft eraser
    • a bit of water as a fixative

Okay, got the formula?

Hmmm ….

At 11 inches by 8.5 inches by 1/2 inch thick in paperback “Hollywood Portraits,” tought me a great deal  about how Tinsel Town shots studio promo shots were taken.

Ah, the glamour days of the Golden Era …

Even though Hicks and Nisperos provide 50 lighting diagrams, they admittedly guessed at actual lighting.

One of the things one learns from this is how to back engineer lighting in a shot.  Worth buying just for that.  These guys really take one through how they back engineered lighting for quite a few shots…

The copyright on “Hollywood Portraits,” is 2000.   What advise Hicks and Nisperos provide on taking these Hollywood shots is dated to those still shooting film and is close to useless for digital photography.

With where we are left, we know fairly well how the pictures were taken with what is gear we largely do not have nor can easily/cheaply get our hands on, and if we were to have, where would we store these huge dinosaurs ???

Completely missing is any detail on post processing in the digital age…  in fact, no mention is made at all of digital photography.  Everything, advise wise on exposure and processing, is 100% film related.

Still, if you like to know how the photos were taken in the day, and how many of them were poor in technical detail, “Hollywood Portraits,” is a great, easy to read and fun book to have on the shelf.

It will show you what the results looked like.  Give you an idea for the hardness/softness and locations of the lights.  Tell you about setting and posing.

Up to you to from this point to figure out exposure using your gear and post processing to get the Hollywood look and feel.

If you enjoy the studying glamour from Hollywood’s Golden Era, along with a light touch of “how to” on the posing and lighting and back in the day equipment, then “Hollywood Portraits, Classic Shots and How to Take Them” may be a nice addition for your library.

You can buy or peruse one by clicking here.

For a more basic and comprehensive book on lighting also consider “The Best of Photographic Lighting: Techniques and Images for Digital Photographers, Second Edition” by Bill Hurter, see review here, or buy one here.


For a listing of Books Reviewed on GlamourPhotography.co, click here.

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2 Responses to “Hollywood Portraits, Classic Shots and How to Take Them” by Roger Hicks & Christopher Nisperos – Book Review

  1. Pingback: Full frame vs crop sensor what is the future? | Cultured Woman, LLC

  2. Van O'Gwin says:

    It’s worth noting that the comment about “dinosaur cameras” is foolish. Lighting is lighting. Take note that hurrell and the others modeled much of their lighting on Rembrandts preferred patterns. You may recall that his use of a “film camera” was rather limited so the comparison of ” film and digital” and the comment about the books diagrams and techniques being useless in the digital age make no sense at all. Furthermore all the camera and darkroom techniques I studied pre digital have carried forward into the digital realm and enhanced my abilities as a digital photographer. Most if not all latter day digital photographers would enhance their proficiency by divesting themselves of their “digital is best” mantles and studying photograpy as a whole…..as it was…..as it is…….and then helping shape it as it will be. In that way only will photographies future come close to equaling its past.

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