Jessica Lange for American Horror Story
Fortunately, I’ve studied Hurrell’s lighting for years, and while I would never profess to approach his level of mastery, I had a pretty good handle on how he achieved what he did. In fact, a few months before, I had done a portrait of actress Teri Wyble (who guest starred on The Walking Dead last season) in that 1940s glamour style for a movie industry magazine. When the production staff looked at my website, they had seen that very shot.
I set up in a smallish red tent where the art department had constructed a black box for the shoot with a raised platform and a painted backdrop. Around 7pm, Miss Lange got settled in the chair on the platform. Hair and makeup applied last minute touches, and she looked at me behind the camera and asked – I knew this was coming – “So have you figured out Hurrell’s lighting?” I read this as a mixture of playful tweaking and genuine curiosity; the production designer and I assured her that we’d studied diagrams of Hurrell’s setups and that what we had in place was pretty similar. She then told us about one of her shoots with Hurrell, where she lay on her back with her hair spread out and a large beauty dish over her. She said he showed her the 8x10 negative afterward and recalled that it looked “horrendous.” “Don’t worry, darling,” she remembered him telling her, “I’ll retouch it and it will look beautiful!”
Miss Lange shook my hand and thanked me, and I wished her a good evening before breaking everything down and packing up my car. Once I got home, I sent the camera RAW image along with a few notes to my retoucher, Pratik Naik. Ninety minutes later, Pratik sent me the work he had done, and I proceeded to do some additional dodging and burning to create the overall Hurrell mood. Around 2 in the morning, after taking breaks, drinking a lot of coffee, and making some more adjustments, I sent a jpg of the completed image to the AHS people for approval. The production designer gave me the green light, the AHS staff member who had initially contacted me sent me a gracious text to thank me, and I uploaded the finished high resolution tif.
Below is a diagram of the lighting setup: three lights, with the hairlight gridded, the background light with a standard reflector, and barn doors on the key light at an oblique angle to the subject, to keep the focus of illumination primarily around her face.