SOPHA to offer Hollywood portrait class

With a glamorous nod to Tinseltown, The SOPHA (Studio of Photographic Arts), will offer the photography class, “Recreating the Hollywood Portrait,” on April 21st, from 9:30AM to 5:30PM.

SOPHA owner, photographer and instructor Bud Thorpe explained SOPHA’s mission statement, in creative terms.

“The SOPHA does three things,” he said. “It’s a membership model; we run classes for our members; but we’re really a home for their photography, so we do everything from image reviews to equipment rentals, and a big piece of what we do is we rent out studio space – we have 6,000 square feet. Plus, studio space for our members comes fully equipped, which is rather unusual in our industry- we have two studios. And our 65 members rent for their art or for their business.”

SOPHA offers a number of classes, said Thorpe, “some of which are more broad in nature, like ‘The Beginnings of Photography,’ or “The Beginnings of Studio Lighting,’ but some are much more narrow in focus and much more deep. And this one is an example of one that is much more deep.”

Thorpe began delving into Hollywood portraitures and said that’s part of how this class came about.

“With ‘Recreating the Hollywood Portrait,’ we’re looking to show how, from the ’30s to the ’50s, the Hollywood classic portraits were made, using techniques that are almost forgotten today. Because we’re largely reliant on strobe lighting, which does not at all look the same as portrait lighting, I’ve been studying these techniques for a very long time. And have wanted to run a class for a long time and so that’s what this class is about.”

Thorpe said the class won’t be huge and it might appeal to diehard photographers who are willing to move into the future of photography while keeping one foot firmly in the past.

“We expect six or eight photographers,” he said. “So it will be narrow, but we are using models, one male, one female, from Maggie’s Inc., a big agency in Boston that we’re friends with. And we also have a stylist as well.”

So, is there a lot involved after these golden-age images are shot?

“That’s an awesome question” Thorpe replied. “So, we obviously didn’t have digital editing techniques back then, but there were quite a lot of post processing techniques that were done. It’s where the term air brushing comes from. And while we won’t be doing that part, we’ll be capturing things digitally, not using film though I wish I could. We will be showing people how those techniques used to be done; but then showing how we can mimic that look digitally.”

Thorpe also relied on a little old school know-how.

“We have some very old books, that have behind the scenes images in them and we’ll be using that as reference material because they’re some of the only known behind the scenes pictures of these things.”

For those in the know, Thorpe will be using Hurrrell-style shooting, named after famed photographer George Hurrell.

“He was 50 or 60 years in Hollywood,” said Thorpe. “He’s responsible for this style by anyone’s definition. We’d be hard to argue this. Everyone from Ann Sheridan to Shirley Temple to Robert Montgomery and Gypsy Rose Lee- the famous picture of her that everyone knows, that was him. And Barbara Stanwyck – the list is endless.”

Thorpe added that there are many reasons how and why old Hollywood images all have that certain “It Girl” (and Boy) quality.

“That’s true- there is a whole number of reasons why the photographs looked that way,” he said. “One big reason was because of the film stock available at the time. The film stock of the time had a relatively low D-max so to get the highlights and the skin correct, you had to expose correctly for that which meant your shadows went completely to black unless you went way out of your way to make sure that wasn’t the case. And that actually became the style.”

He continued, saying, “And then when you add to the type of light they were using, which were mostly Mole Richardson’s hot lights, Hurrell-based lights, that are very, very bright in the center, very, very dark on the edges, they create stark, dark shadows so because the light wasn’t very soft, like it is nowadays, it necessitated some crew mastery airbrush skills. In fact, if we look at the diagram of the studio that George Hurrell ended up building later in his career (when he had money), you’ll see square footage wise, he has more square footage allotted to the folks doing post processing than to the folks handling the negatives and doing everything else. You couldn’t do it all on a Mac and be done with it. It was a whole other level of artisanship.”

Hurrell also went retail- another advent to his success.

“In fact, in one of my books I have the address of it, because he sent out a postcard announcing that he had sort of a retail store front if you can believe it,” said Thorpe. “Because there were so many young stars and starlets looking to have photographs down by George Hurrell. He had a whole sales process around that.”

Hurrell’s era probably ended in 1954, give or take, said Thorpe.

“They moved into color and then we have the contemporaries from there.”

So, does Thorpe embrace the new techniques or relish the old richness?

“The truth is I love every genre of portraiture there is. To me, this is just an additional tool in a tool box to be able to recreate, either for my artistic need, or a client’s want.”

Ultimately, Thorpe said it’s the creative need that drives any artist.

“If you have something that an art director is presenting to you as a style that they want to create, to be able to recreate that as you will, would be an important skill,” he said. “And to go farther than that, there are two sides to a photographer. There’s the business side-you know, where a photographer wants or needs to get paid, and so to be able to meet that need is important. But also, artistically, photographers in many ways are like painters or many other media artists, where in their brain, they’re starting with a blank canvas and they’re adding the parts that they want. So, to be able to have a lighting style in your quiver to be able to pull out, I think is a valuable skill. That’s true for many genres in the way they were done. But in this one, because one does not typically pull out 750 and 1000-watt Hurrell lights to light something. I do. I’m odd and quirky I suppose. “

For more information, contact Bud Thorpe at or call 603-782-8403.

George Pelletier may be reached at