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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.

Classic Lighthing

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

Film Noir, the “black film”, is a movie style influenced by expressionism, utilising a certain low key lighting to convey the theme and mood of the movie.

Your typical Film Noir usually is a crime drama with a set of roles like the “femme fatale” and a cynical private eye or policeman as the underdog hero.

The action is set in the dark parts of a big city, it’s dark and dangerous side supported by the use of dark scenes with intense shadows.

This effect is not the result of an elaborated psychological planning, but enforced by financial matters: most of today’s classics were set up as B-movies with a very sparse budget and very little technical equipment. Thus the director of photography was forced to concentrate his lights on just the parts he really needed to light.


Film Noir Blog Posts

Perfect Photo Suite editing for Film Noir

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Noir with Rogue Flashbenders Model: Dia Dence @ Faces of Vegas

Noir with Rogue Flashbenders

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Still from "The Big Combo" (1955) © Taschen

Film Noir - Book recommendation

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Video for photography

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Film Noir photography plans for the weekend

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The best book about light

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Book recommendations

Painting with Light

Painting with Light

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.

Film Noir

Film Noir

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.

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