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Herb Ritts Exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum

From 1991-1996, I had the unique opportunity to work with one of the most talented still photographers of the 20th Century. When I met Herb Ritts, it was as a gaffer. Joseph Yacoe was one of my clients and a mentor. He got the call to do a Levi Loose Jeans ad in Morocco directed by Herb Ritts. I was asked to organize the lighting for the intense shooting schedule in eight different cities. During this campaign, Herb and I really hit it off. This friendship quickly turned into helping him light all of his still work.

Not only was Herb a great artist, he was also an amazing human being. I learned so much from him in terms of how he talked to the talent and how his demeanor quickly put them at ease. He was so good at relating to others.

 

“Hard Light”

When I came on board as Herb’s regular lighting director on still shoots, I quickly understood what made him different. Herb was into hot lights. This terminology is big in the still world. It means lights that do not flash and create heat. Herb hated strobes. He loved looking through the viewfinder and seeing the light. He was able to orient a model’s face perfectly by being able to see the light, instead of taking a shot, then looking at it. He wanted to stay liquid. “Herb Liquid” was what we called it in the moment.

Traveling all over the world with Herb was absolutely incredible. Some of my best jobs to date have been with him. He inspired me to light, to look at a woman’s face and see which is the best side to light. I was blown away with how he would position his light, his HARD LIGHT. It became my mission to know where and when to position the light and from which side was best. Soon Herb did not have to say anything. We became so in sync as artists that he would show up, look at what I had set up and head back to make-up and hair.

 

“Heading Inside the Arctic Circle”

One of the last times that Herb and I worked together was in Sweden. We were sent about 150 miles inside the Arctic Circle to shoot an Absolute Vodka campaign with Vogue and Versace. Our two models were Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. We had all become good friends over the years and were shooting at the famous Ice Hotel. It was an insane job in every way – the art, the sets, the conditions and the beauty.

Here are four shots from this amazing shoot in 1996. We only had four hours of twilight and no daylight. The sun never rose above the horizon. For the first shot, we had the luck of a snow storm that whipped up right at the perfect moment.

 
Herb Ritts
Herb Ritts
Herb Ritts
Herb Ritts
 
I encourage all of you to attend Herb’s expose, which is at the Getty in LA until September 2nd. This is the last week. The exhibition also offers a screening room featuring Herb’s videos and commercial work as a director, as well as a documentary that I was privileged to be part of (embedded below). Herb changed the way I looked at light; he shaped me as a cinematographer, as an artist. I will always miss him.
 

Herb Ritts

Herb Ritts

Shane Hurlbut, ASC

Herb Ritts

Herb Ritts

Author: Shane

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9 Comments

  1. Shane

    This is excactly why I ask those seemingly neophyte questions about light grids, whether you scrim or not, big bounces vs small bounces. More questions to come… I love hard light would love to find a great source. The remote phospher stuff looks intriguing to me.

    Be well

    Laurence

    Post a Reply
    • Shane,

      What a way to learn. I was lucky enough to assist for one of the great architectural photographers here in New Mexico. Was trying at times. I kept asking questions and learned.

      Back to the doc: 
      It seems that we are so seduced by color. What was that comment? It is not how you shape light but how you shape shadow. The black and white imagery so rich in depths of shadow and light. Plus his smile seemed truly exuberant, he was in his passion. May we all be so lucky.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Be well

      Laurence 

      Post a Reply
      • Laurence Zankowski, you are so welcome and thank you for your kind words. Shaping shadows is half of it, but placing that light so it gets the perfect drop shadow to separate the chin as well as seeing which side was going to take the direct hit the best.

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  2. Wow! Great Post as always Shane. It is nice to get a personal glimpse into the experiences and people who helped shape your career, as you do the same for so many of us. Thank you for not only sharing your tips for techniques and workflow, but also for shedding light on what is most important in life, living it to the fullest by getting to know others around us while allowing them to get to know us.

    Post a Reply
    • Daniel Mendoza, I could not have said it better. Thank you for this and thank you for your kind words and support.

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  3. Shane,

    Did this become instinctive for Herb, or did he like to play with the models before you lit?

    I am referencing the Madonna images for chin and drop-shadow.

    Be well

    Laurence

    Post a Reply
    • Laurence Zankowski, he would not doing anything with the model’s other than talk with them, put them at ease, feed them lunch, check hair and make up. Then he would put them into the light and move them around in it to find the right angle.

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  4. Thanks for this post Shane!

    I went to the Getty this weekend and really enjoyed the exhibition. His art was inspiring but what really struck me about the documentary film is about how everyone described him as a person. Great share! #beagoodpersonfirst

    Post a Reply
    • Scott David Martin, you are so welcome and I am glad you made it before they took it down. He was a great man.

      Post a Reply

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