The 1930s and 40s are seen as the golden age of Hollywood. The stars of the day would often film three or four movies a year, which left very little time for publicity shots. This meant that photographers would shoot them on sound stages or while they were on the sets themselves. The lighting came from direct, tungsten lamps, and the exposure times were long.
In this tutorial we are going to recreate the style of those photographs by emulating the film stock, lens types, lighting, makeup and retouching techniques that were used in the 1930s. The starting point is to equip your subject with period clothes and, in the case of the ladies, apply plenty of makeup to look as glamorous as possible.
Step 1: Convert to mono
The photos of the time were shot on black and white or sepia-tinted film, so the first step is to convert the image to mono. Duplicate the Background layer and call it Mono. Go to Image > Adjustments > Black and White. This is the preferred conversion system as the red element needs to be controlled.
Step 2: Rendering Complexions
The Eastman SS Pan film was introduced in 1931 and was much more responsive to red tones than previous stocks, so lips didn’t come out black and complexions weren’t as dark as those in 1920s photos. Set Reds to 50%, Yellows to 50%, Cyans to 100%, Blues to -50% and Magentas to 50%.
Step 3: Loop lighting effect
Zoom in to 300% and duplicate the Mono layer. Call this Loop shadow (see the box out on loop lighting). The shadow under the nose needs to be modified, so select the Clone Stamp tool and set it to the Lighten blend mode. Set the Brush Hardness to 75% and remove the shadow by the right nostril.
Step 4: Under the nose
Change the shape of the shadow under the centre of the nose so it angles to the left. Then use a Blend mode of Normal and an Opacity of 20% to fill in above the centre of the lips. This is a small area, so watch out for repeated patterns. Clone in other areas to mask repeated sections.
Step 5: Scape the shadow
Next, you’ll need to reduce the brush Hardness to 50%, keep the Opacity at 20% and go back to the Lighten blend mode. Now clone from around the shadow to curve it. Then switch to the Darken blend mode and clone from inside the shadow area to fill it out.
Step 6: Tip of the nose
The tip of the nose has an even highlight on it. Use the Normal blend mode, 0% brush Hardness and 20% Opacity to clone down from above on the left to remove it on that side. Extend the highlight to the right and down so it brightens up the dark part of the nostril on the right.
Step 7: Clean up the face
It’s now time to clean up the face. Don’t think airbrushing is a modern phenomenon, the studios had an army of retouchers correcting flaws, complexions, and so on. Start with the Clone Stamp brush on 100% Opacity, Darken blend mode and 50% brush hardness. Use this to fill out areas of missing lipstick.
Step 8: Stray hair
You could use the Spot Healing brush to remove the stray hair on the face, but it’s a little hit and miss. Try using the Clone Stamp tool with the Darken blend mode at 100% Opacity and sample from similar areas of brightness as the source. Then switch to a 20% Opacity brush using the Normal blend mode.
Step 9: Skin textures
Use the Clone stamp tool to sample skin texture from under the left eye and make a few swipes to remove the slight shadowing. Use this to clean up around the mouth and smooth out the rest of the complexion. To smooth under the edge of the veil use the Darken blend mode so the net is unaffected.
Step 10: Tidying up
Tweak the shadow under the mouth so that it’s more at an angle by using the Lighten or Normal blend modes, and then use the Spot Healing tool to remove blemishes from the next and v-line of the chest area. When finished duplicate this layer and call it Depth.
Step 11: Shallow depth
Zoom back out so you can see the next stage. Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a value of 10 pixels. This will simulate the shallow depth of field and softness of camera lenses of the time. Apply this and then add a layer mask to this layer. Select the Paintbrush with black foreground colour.
Step 12: Paint the mask
Select the mask and set the Paintbrush Opacity to 25%, Hardness to 0%, then paint over the entire figure. Paint over the edges of the figure, but don’t include the furniture she is sitting on. Paint a second time, covering only the face, the forehead and hair, the black glove and the bust.
Step 13: Little touches
You could mask the eyes and lips a little more, but as one eye is under a veil it isn’t advisable here. Make sure the mask is selected and go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and enter a value of 20 pixels. This spreads the mask out, giving it a smoother edge, which makes the depth effect smoother.
Step 14: Halation effects
Right-click on the Depth layer and select Merge Down. Duplicate the Face touch up layer and call it Halation. Halation is a feature that causes a glow to appear around highlights. Select the Dodge tool at 50% and brush over highlights on the right of the hat and hair. Add a blank layer called Shadow.
Step 15: Dark shadows
Select the Gradient Fill tool and choose the Foreground-Transparent gradient with a black foreground. Click on where the left arm meets the glove, and drag out to the necklace. Reduce the layer Opacity to 80%. Select the Burn tool at 3% Exposure, click on the Halation layer and darken the left side of the face.