Returning to the Golden Age of Hollywood Glam’s Most Iconic Portraits

August 20, 2014

By Jack Crager

For Animoto’s ad campaign (evoking the golden age of Hollywood glamour), Sue Bryce and Felix Kunze each had to do a bit of stylistic stretching. Bryce, whose usual subjects are what she calls “everyday people,” found herself shooting fellow photographers replicating Hollywood icons: Tamara Lackey as Veronica Lake, Brooke Shaden as Marlene Dietrich and Susan Stripling as Audrey Hepburn.

Tamara Lackey as Veronica Lake. 2x Arri lights were set close to each other, with a 1x Arri from behind pointing at her stomach for the highlight on her dress. All photos © Sue Bryce

Though known for his subtle use of lighting, Kunze imitated the sharply drawn, high-low shading of classic Tinseltown black-and-white portraits. “It’s a very high-contrast look,” Bryce says. “The highlights are high and the shadows are dark. That’s what makes it so beautiful. It’s very directional and consistent light, isn’t it, Felix?”

Her lighting guru concurs. “It’s continuous light—they had those bright lamps,” says Kunze, who used three Arri lights and a 5 x 4 diffuser softbox on the shoot. “I think what they used to do is just go to the back lot of the studio, use some of those lights that they were using to light the movie, and point those at the actresses. And that’s one of those places where that high-glamour portrait thing evolved.”

The photographers also got in on the modeling fun, with Bryce portraying Elizabeth Taylor and Kunze posing in a “Bogie and Bacall” segment with photographer Lara Jade, their mutual friend who first introduced them. Animoto, the video-creation service that commissioned the project, put together a cheeky behind-the-scenes video (posted on Bryce’s blog).

“Working with Sue and Felix on this campaign was truly awesome,” says Rebecca Brooks, marketing manager at Animoto. “Sue’s mastery of posing coupled with Felix’s lighting expertise resulted in really striking images Animoto has been using for an ad campaign we launched at WPPI 2014. They were not only amazing to watch, from a talent perspective, but also managed to infuse a sense of fun and play into the shoot. Being on set with them made me realize what a fun and creative process photographers have when manifesting ideas into beautiful photographs.”

Brooke Shaden as Marlene Dietrich. Profoto flash was used with a softbox mounted almost directly overhead.

A key aspect was the styling, combining historic re-creations with Bryce’s flair for makeup and wardrobe details. “The hair is probably the most important thing,” Bryce notes. “We noticed in studying all the imagery from the era that there’s not a lot of eye makeup on the ladies. It was really about their outfits, their fabulous Hollywood hair and their lipstick.”

Says Kunze, “And I would add eyebrows.” They both laugh. “Lots of eyebrows in that era,” Bryce says. “So if you follow those rules, the styling gives it a very distinct look, that directional light and the contrast add another layer, and the black and white evokes the era, that whole George Hurrell look. And the subjects—I feel like each of the women really got into the character of the icons they portrayed.”

Bryce and Kunze both look forward to more friendly collaborations. “I’d like to do shoots like that all the time,” Bryce says. “It’s great when you can play and learn at the same time, and create great images for the client, plus you have something for your portfolio.”

Kunze sums it up: “All the best commercial stuff comes from really fun projects.”

Related Links:

Glamour Lighting: On Set with Sue Bryce and Felix Kunze

From Weddings to Fashion Photography: The Nuances of Broadening a Brand

How to Light Bomb Senior Portraits Like Shawn Lee