What If I Were, 1930s

Sep 8, 2011 12 comments
"What If I Were...sitting with Hurrell in 1930?"
Yesterday I received Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles with Step-by-Step Techniques in the mail, and read it cover-to-cover last night.  That meant hair adventures today, so I tried out a 30s style from the book, and despite it turning out to look quite "meh" in the back, with the step-by-step instructions I was able to make my first Successful Deep Wave.

Successful Deep Wave meant pictures, which I got into tonight, with some artificial lighting and a white backdrop.  Don't be afraid of artificial lighting!  I have two dish lights I bought at Home Depot - the kind with a metal dish and an exposed lightbulb, plus a clamp for easy placement pretty much anywhere - an an IKEA flexi-neck lamp.  Fancy equipment is not necessary.

Ironically, neither of these pictures show my Successful Deep Wave, but I did have a lot of fun taking them anyway.  If your interest is piqued by Old Hollywood style portraits, I can highly recommend Hollywood Portraits by Roger Hicks and Christopher Nisperos.  This book shows you exactly how to set up lights to reproduce the original Hollywood portraits of Joan Crawford, Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, and many other famous faces, shown in the book.

"What If I Were...Important Enough to be Photographed in 1930?"
I'm not going to do a step by step for these, because the techniques are the same as were used in the 1920s photo tutorial, which you can read here.  You *can* make these photos in Picnik.com, the free photo manipulation website.

Some tips:

  • As always, the hair and makeup is important, as is the pose.  Study 1930s portraits online, to get ideas, before doing your snaps.
  • Both natural light (from a window) and artificial lighting were used in the 30s.
  • Remember when you're shooting for black and white to wear darker lipstick and eye makeup than you would normally.
  • "Contrast is the Meaning of Life, and Shadows are your Friends."  1930s portraits tend to be moody, with high contrast and very deep shadows.
  • Two Must-Have Books: Hollywood Portraits and Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles with Step-by-Step Techniques
  • Be creative!


  1. So pretty! It's been fun seeing your "What If..." series of photos. Thanks for sharing them with us :)

  2. Dear Lauren,

    Such great pictures: the 1930s suits you. The first photo reminds me of some of the portraits taken of my Great Aunt Marion. We have a studio portrait of her in the 1920s in full flapper mode, with waved hair, her pearls, and an ostrich fan, and a similar pose and lighting except that it's taken from the side and her head is less drooped, and she's smiling. She was a real flapper: made gin ("hooch") with her doctor husband in hospital tubs, danced, played cards, was so witty. I remember her fondly and your photo brings it all back.

  3. These are beautiful! I have several photos of my grandmother during the 30's & 40's that I just love and always wanted to see if I could recreate that look. Look forward to more "What if". Elizabeth

  4. You look lovely! I too have been playing with wave techniques from Lauren's book. I never thought I'd be able to pull off making waves that would hold up but the front, at least, has come out nicely on both of my tries.

  5. I love that book, it used to live in my bathroom when my hair was still long so I could reference it for Victory Rolls. Have you checked out her blog as well?

  6. What amazes me about Hurrell is that his sitters wore no makeup--it's all touched up. The silver glow of his photos is another touchup. His use of light was masterful!

  7. I have checked out Bobby Pin Blog, yes, and LOVE IT! That book now lives in my bathroom, hahaha, and also on my nightstand. I want to try 1940s next, but I haven't got much length to do anything very high...so...bring on the false hair clips!

    Summer, I love that best about Hurrell. Of Joan Crawford she said she used to scrub her skin until it squeeked, and only wore lipstick and eye makeup to her shoots with Hurrell. HOURS and HOURS of retouching later, he'd have a photo of Joan Crawford, but before, it would be a photo of an aging, freckled, slightly scary looking woman. AMAZING.

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  9. I really love the softness of these '30s photos...

    Your "What if I were" series inspired me to take some pictures with my vintage hats - http://indifferentcentury.blogspot.com/2011/09/vintage-hats-part-1.html (By the way, I'm not sure I got my hat date estimates right- feel free to correct me!)

  10. Thank you! I went over and espied your vintage hattery, and your photos look so fantastic! I can recommend a great book for dating hats. It's "Vintage Hats and Bonnets: 1770-1970" : http://www.amazon.com/Vintage-Hats-Bonnets-1770-1970-Second/dp/157432604X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315689082&sr=1-2

  11. I love these posts! You look wonderful. That book is one of my all favourites, along with the make up she recently wrote.


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