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epic portrait // george clooney

George Clooney – March 14th 2012

The Gear

Lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.2

Camera: Nikon D3s

Technique: Inversed Lighting & Brenizer Method (3 frames)

Light Sources: 2 Einstein 640 WS by Paul C. Buff

Light Modifiers: Key light is Lightmod Snoot – camera left backlight is 60″ Parabolic Light Modifier – camera right

The Goal

Create a dark and moody portrait using light modifiers completely reversed from the way they’re normally used.

The Vision

I wanted this portrait to be a bit dark and moody because of the issues George Clooney was drawing attention to in Sudan. I had tried this lighting setup in a few tests and liked how the snooted light as the main light casts the harsh shadows on the subjects face. It’s not soft and dreamy like my Danica Patrick portrait. Using the parabolic light modifier feathered heavily on a side provided an interesting gradient and background with quick falloff.

The Story

I had a day to prepare for my portrait of George Clooney. I have about 60 seconds to make the actual image with him. No matter how much I plan or conceptualize what I want a portrait to be like there’s almost always a big stroke of luck on my side. Literally having time to only get a few frames means I have to be ready to rock and roll asap. Especially if I want to try for a few different looks/expressions.

This portrait was made the day after George Clooney returned from a recent visit to Sudan. I was told he was even wearing the same suit that he was wearing when he got off the plane in NYC. He spent an entire day doing interviews with major news networks and radio shows before I had a chance to work with him. In fact, even though I had setup my lights and positioned them roughly how I wanted I was told that he would probably not have time for the portrait because he was running a bit late. As luck would have it he took a look at my setup and decided he had time for me to take a few frames. I quickly ran around and turned all my equipment back on. Thankfully, I already had my ratios set for what I wanted and all I had to do was try to place him where he needed to be and my lights where they needed to be. No time to adjust once I started taking the actual photos. This is where having the modeling light capabilities of the studio lights has a huge advantage for me vs. speed lights. I can see where the light is hitting before I take the image.

Here’s a setup shot from my iphone.

and yes… an old receipt with my strobe power settings was in my pocket – just in case.

The Lesson

I’m incredibly happy with this portrait considering the tight time restraints I was working within. He’s definitely not a hard guy to photograph. I really like him in this portrait because he’s got a bit of a “working man” look to him. Many of the other portraits I’ve seen of him have him perfectly styled, but here his collar is unbuttoned and his general demeanor strikes me as if he’s had a long day of work and travel… which he had.

The very next day he was arrested with his father for protesting in front of the Sudanese embassy and made headlines all over the world.


Leave a Comment

  • Epic indeed. I think this is my favorite yet.

  • LEGIT.

  • Awesome man! I was waiting to see this one after someone tweeted that you took his portrait. Good job on trying a different lighting arrangement! 🙂 So you really want to sell that 1.2?

  • so freaking good, man! since it’s a 3-shot pano, you’ve got the resolution to make a huge print that would look amazing.

  • Dude, I love this series and this shot is one of my faves. Even with the setup shot you’ve shown I can’t believe you lit George as you did – nice work.

  • Awesome… I’m going to check out the rest of your epic series now 🙂

  • Clooney is the man. And this portrait is the portrait. Nice work.

  • great shot for such a short amount of time. I love that he’s not perfect, definitely makes him cooler in my eyes.

  • I love him, and like your portret…great look from him…

  • Love love love it. The light is pure perfection! The expression is what makes it though, the ever so slight hint of a smile 🙂

  • Alex

    Sam, this is really amazing. I’ve come back to look at this several times just because of the lighting. Very well done.

  • Incredible! By far, my favorite of this series yet! 🙂 keep up the awesome work, Sam.

  • cool shot! light is awesome!

  • NO WAY!!! I’m so jealous!!

  • Nice one! Hope you got a chance to get his autograph too 🙂

  • holy crap, sam. you’re the real deal, dude.

  • Bec

    AMAZING. every bit of it. Well done!

  • So cool, dude!

  • Crazy good Sam. Clooney’s about the only actor I really admire. Great job man. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

  • I want to hate you so much but I’m just so damn impressed. This entire series is so amazing.

  • Damn, dude! You make me want to be a better photographer.

  • Awesome Sam!!

  • Beautiful portrait of George! Thanks for sharing your work. What an honor!

  • Yeah, this is rad. Super stuff Amigo.

  • This is so amazing…George Clooney?!!? I love how you captured him, you can tell he has a gentle, kind spirit. Either way…I mean damn, George Clooney!

  • Freaking amazing. Great work!

  • seriously good portrait. not a fan of lighting but you made it look amazingly natural.

  • I love this portrait in every way. The expression you’ve captured and the perspective you used with your focus is amazing. Seriously.

  • so excellent. i’m a big fan of this series … just keeps getting better.

  • dan


  • Really, really incredible. You captured a side of him (as you said) that was unpolished and rough, but in SUCH a good way! You are on your way to the top, you’ve got amazing talent. 🙂

  • Wow! Amazing my friend!

    Thanks for the insights also!!

  • I don’t think I have to tell you how good you are. But in case I do, you’re oh-so good, Sam. 🙂

  • This is indeed an epic portrait, I can’t believe the amazing portrayal you’ve achieved in such a short amount of time with the man. Brilliant!

  • Dave T

    Fabulous photo Sam. Wonderful lighting, facial expression, bokeh, everything … just marvelous. You got skills young man … keep it up!

  • Epic portrait for sure, Sam.

  • No way! This is unreal! Fantastic job – truly amazing portrait and actor.

  • Bakko

    This post is all kinds of awesome. What do you do in post to give it a retro tint?

  • Really do like the lighting. Even as scruffy as George looks, you captured the rough and soft. Very nice work indeed.

  • […] have made this technique their own, using it for everything from weddings to still lives to even George Clooney. It makes me thrilled to see people taking this and using it in ways that achieve their own vision […]

  • Awesome stuff, cool portrait!

  • Hi, this portrait and Alec’s one are amazing! I love Brenizer method! But I’m a very curious guy, I’d love to know how you applied this with a headshot. In fact I’d love to see the 3 shots that composed this portrait. I just don’t get how is it possible to stitch a face (that moves!) like you did. I can’t imagine myself telling George Clooney or Alec Baldwin: Sorry Dude! I need you to stay still for about 10 seconds the time I take a portrait of your face! So I assume you took the eyes the mouth and a separate picture but i can’t figure out why you took 3 pictures. Thanks!

  • […] there are plenty of instructions out there that will get you in the ball park. (here, here and here for […]

  • […] Für dieses Porträt habe ich mich von Sam Hurds Serie Epic Portraits inspirieren lassen, genauer gesagt von der Aufnahme von George Clooney. […]

  • […] vor einiger Zeit hab ich die Portraits von Sam Hurd gesehen – zum Beispiel dieses hier von George Clooney. Was sofort auffällt ist die unglaublich geringe Schärfentiefe, obwohl der Bildausschnitt eher […]

  • […] vor einiger Zeit hab ich die Portraits von Sam Hurd gesehen – zum Beispiel dieses hier von George Clooney. Was sofort auffällt ist die unglaublich geringe Schärfentiefe, obwohl der Bildausschnitt eher […]

  • It’s epic indeed. I love George and this photo is great.

  • […] was nice enough to help judge instead of enter even though, let’s face it, a Brenizer Method portrait of George Clooney is sort of a […]

  • That was really awesome that you got a chance to photograph Clooney. 🙂
    P.S. You made me wanna buy a studio light, because of the modelling light. It’s especially hard to aim speedlight with a snoot.

  • […] of 3. Overall, I love the look of the Sigma 35mm 1.4, however I think I’ll return to using a 3 shot pano brenizer method with the 50mm lens because I like that I can create both a crazy shallow depth of field and a wide 35mm focal length […]

  • Did you merge 3 vertical shots to have this one?

  • This is a phenomenal shot. Your photography is just amazing.

  • The expression in the eyes are perfect… awesome work!

  • […] astonishing! Although most of his work involves weddings he’s also photographed stars like George Clooney, Denzel Washington, and Alec Baldwin. He’s an insanely talented guy with an intense personal […]

  • elpo

    What is inversed lighting?

  • A portrait with real integrity. Love it.

  • Rory

    What’s Brexit and what would happen if Britain left the EU?It’ll
    not only be a historical triumph for Eurosceptics iF Brexit is voted for by the people of Britain but it will transform this country forever.
    But what would happen? –

  • Paul Gargagliano

    Inspirational! Such simplicity, but also such strength. You were working with a good subject, one of the best really. I’ve attempted to emulate the technique… but it is precise work. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, but I know I can push it a bit further.