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How to Shoot Old School Hollywood Glamour Photography

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 6 min read
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Hollywood glamour photography has been a source of inspiration in portrait photography for a very long time.
This style is dramatic, high in contrast, and emotional, making it the perfect genre for photographers of all kinds.

Characteristics of Hollywood Glamour Photography

Hollywood glamour photography has a very specific style that can make your photos stand out in any gallery. You need to use a specific makeup and hairstyle look to successfully re-create the Hollywood effect.
Hollywood glamour portraits are usually very high in contrast. They feature lots of dark shadows and very bright highlights. The models’ skin is often perfect.
Lighting plays an important role in this genre. Most Hollywood glamour photographers use artificial light to create a striking look. You can also use direct natural light.
Last but not least, Hollywood glamour photos are black & white.
It’s possible to create this look in color, but you might want to use b&w. It will emphasise everything in your photos.

Hollywood glamour photography of a female model posing in a studio
Hollywood glamour photography is unique. It focuses almost completely on the model’s face and body. Everything else is supposed to either be dark or faded. This dramatic effect is perfect for artists who find inspiration in old school film stills and mysterious portraits.

Look for Inspiration to Understand the Essence of Hollywood Glamour Photography

Many styles share characteristics with this genre. This means you can’t take photos based on the information above alone.
What makes Hollywood glamour portraits special is their essence. This can be found by researching different photos in the same genre, watching films, and creating mood boards.
You can also follow Instagram accounts dedicated to Hollywood film stills, photoshoots, and clips from various films:
@oldhollywoodfans – Clips from different films like A Star is Born (1954) and The Wizard of Oz (1939).
@hollywoodretrospect – Photos of different actors and actresses from classical Hollywood cinema.
@bacallshollywood – Film stills and photos of actors in studios.
Looking at photos will give you a clearer idea of the atmospheres and emotions that make this genre so unique.

Choose the Right Hair and Makeup to Create Authentic Portraits

Unless you have a different look in mind, you must use hairstyles and makeup that look similar to ones used years ago. This includes elegant curls, long eyelashes, and winged eyeliners.
Because you’ll be working with bright light, your model’s skin and makeup need to look perfect.
Google 1960s old Hollywood hairstyle women and Hollywood glamour for extra inspiration.

A female model having her make up done for a Hollywood glamour portrait shoot
Hollywood glamour photography gives makeup artists, hairstylists, and costume stylists the freedom to experiment with contrast instead of color. Make sure your team is aware of this so that they can get as creative as possible.

Use Natural or Artificial Light to Create the Classic Hollywood Effect

Hollywood glamour photography is bright and dramatic. This means your light source needs to be bright and controllable.
Some photographers use in-camera flash, incandescent light, and barn doors. Barn doors are tools that can help you control your studio light more easily.
There’s no right or wrong way to use this type of lighting. Experiment with whatever you have first.
If you don’t have a studio or professional lighting equipment, you can use direct light indoors. Shoot next to a large window when the sun is at its brightest.

Monotone portrait of a female model posing for Hollywood glamour photography
Hollywood glamour photography isn’t strictly open to studio photographers only. This portrait was taken in front of a large window on a gloomy day. I intensified the highlights and darkened the shadows in Photoshop. This made it seem like this image was taken in a studio. Editing tricks like this will come in handy after your shoot.

You can use curtains, or even sheets of paper, to control the light.
Regardless of the approach you use, you need to put the spotlight on your model and make the background fade out.
The background doesn’t have to be dark, but it shouldn’t take over the picture either.
This will create a stark contrast between your model and everything around them. This is something that’s often evident in this genre.
Monotone portrait of a female model posing for Hollywood glamour photography
As its name suggests, Hollywood glamour photography is glamorous. This means your model should wear fancy outfits and jewelry to look as elegant as possible. Don’t be afraid to embrace simplicity as well. Minimalistic portraits like this one will put the spotlight on your model’s face. And they’ll create a moody feel, something that’s acceptable in this genre.

Play Music During Your Photoshoot to Create a Specific Mood

Once the lighting and styling are ready, you can play music from a specific time period to set the mood.
Even though this sounds simple, it will help everyone in your team relax and feel inspired. It might also give your model a better idea of how to pose and express themselves.
If you have a lot of time, you can regularly take breaks to show various clips and references to your model.
Photos of expressions and poses will make it easier for them to understand the look you’re going for.

Monotone portrait of a female model posing for Hollywood glamour photography
Certain lyrics or musical notes might inspire you to change the direction of your photoshoot, give different posing instructions to your model, or add a certain prop the set. These small alterations will contribute to the success of your Hollywood glamour photography shoot.

Convert Your Photos to B&W to Instantly Create Contrast

While shooting in b&w is acceptable, it won’t give you the control you need. Black & white conversions will let you focus on different parts of your photo without ruining others.
Once you convert to b&w, you can add more contrast, darken the shadows, and mute the highlights. This will enhance your image and possibly get rid of distractions.
Despite the dramatic lighting, most Hollywood glamour portraits are soft. Avoid intensifying the clarity in your photos. You can decrease clarity to add more softness to your images. The image above is a great example of that.
You can also add a pop of color to your photos, as pictured above, to give your portraits an old Hollywood feel.

Add Textures to Create an Analog Feel

Textures aren’t usually added to modern glamour portraits. If you want to make your results look as old as possible, you can add textures to them.
Textures include subtle light leaks, scratches, dust, and grain. You can create these on your own or use stock photos.

Monotone portrait of a female model posing for Hollywood glamour photography
While this approach isn’t traditional in Hollywood glamour photography, it’s a great way to make this genre your own. Feel free to combine different elements, like textures and color correction, to create an incomparable Hollywood look.


Even though the Golden Age of Hollywood is long gone, its essence remains in photography.
This style is easy to create, fun to work with, and refreshing for photographers who need something exciting to work on.
Check our post on vintage film cameras next!