The classic area of „Film Noir“ from the 1940s / 50s is pretty much marked by the timeless attraction of the well know iconic b&w images of C. S. Bull, George Hurrell and other photographers. Here’s a collection of posts about Film Noir style, book recommendations and photo tipps.
Light is key when you aim fort he typical Film Noir look or its shinier relative, the Hollywood glamour shot. The Film Noir shot usually is dominated by darkness and the use of angles, the so called “dutch angle shots”. In terms of lighting this means a lot of contrast and dramatic shadows. We all know the classic shadows from some venetian blind on the background or even in the face of the model.
The photographers from Hollywoodd’s hayday used constant light provided by fresnel spots like the ones being used by the movie studios in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Their b&w images show strong contrast up to burned whites in hair and faces. This not only brought a lot of drama in the image but also could deliver some instant retouching by erasing little flaws and wrinkles.
The shallow depth of field blurred out the background, allowing a pretty easy set with just some props.
The camera position usually is failry low in this kind of shots, enhancing the drama and literally lifting up the star in the image. The pose also matches this intention: mostly there’s no eye contact. Instead the model looks somewhere into the far distance, giving the image a more ethereal or dreamy look. Hands are used to frame the face and to enhance the emotion.
The setup itself is more or less classic with one main light above the models eyeline, a fill giving a spill of light on the hair and an occassional third light bringing a spot on the background.
Film Noir Blog Posts
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John Alton is one of the most influential creators of what is known today as film noir. His book is a huge source of information about classic cinema technique and lighting for different scenes and moods.
The authors visit classic noir movies of the 1940s-50s and have a closer look at e.g. Double Indemnity, Gun Crazy, Detour and Touch of Evil. There are some great images, including some behind the scenes shots.