Film Noir Shoot

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/160s

The term film noir is French for “black film” or “dark film” and was applied to generally black and white mystery and crime drama films produced the in 1940 – 1950. The cinematography in these films was usually dark, gritty, and contained heavy shadows, which is very similar to a low-key photo. When a person says film noir thoughts atomically go to old black and white films such as “The Maltese Falcon”,  “Murder, My Sweet”, and the “Third Man”; however, there is no rule saying photos inspired by the genera need to be straight black and white.  Thus in this series of photos I tried to recreate that feeling of film noir of the 1940s and 1950s; but using a more modern take on the coloring of the photos.

My other inspiration for this set of photos was the femme fatale character found in several noir films. My goal in these photos was to capture the hidden strength and hidden “bad girl” streak as seen in characters played by Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth. I also used elements of the classic Hollywood glamour photo to create these images.  

This shoot contained both studio and outdoor/on-location shots. For the studio shots, I used a large grey backdrop, two light stands, two 430EX III-RT speedlights, 28-inch rectangular soft box with egg carton grid, a narrow honeycomb grid modifier, and a large gobo mounted on a C-stand with boom arm. I also used props to include a large brown couch, table, a martini bar set, martini glass, and a dark wood chair.  For the outdoor shots, I used one 430EX III-RT speedlight, painter’s pole, and an assistant (my husband). For both the studio and on-location shots, I used my Canon 70D, an 18 – 200mm lens, and a Canon radio trigger.  

I used a two light set up for the studio shoot, with the main light being the square soft box with egg crate and the other being a straight flash with a honeycomb grid modifier attached.  I started the shoot with the main light a little more than 90 degrees to the subject’s left, while the straight flash was a little less than negative 45 degrees to the subject’s right.  (Note directly behind the subject is 0 degrees.)  For the outdoor shoot, the light was placed above and in front the subject to match the light coming from the streetlights.

I took 296 photos and kept about 60% of them for editing purposes, but after the final edits only delivered 173 photos of which several were duplicates photos that were edited/styled differently (i.e. black & white verse color).  Below are a few of my favorites from the shoot while you can see all of them here.

The first two images I like because the eyes say it all. The shadows hit perfectly, and the light just crosses across her eyes with the intense stare. To me this says classic noir.  

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5,  Shutter 1/160s
ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/250s

The second photo I love in both black & white and color is this profile. This says classic Hollywood elegance to me. It captures the grace and beauty of the model.

ISO 400, Aperture f4.5, Shutter 1/100s
ISO 400, Aperture f4.5, Shutter 1/100s

This is the one of my favorite outdoor shots, which was taken on a staircase with one streetlight. To me this looks like a classic noir movie scene.  It begs the question is she walking away from something or waiting for something.

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/125s

This final image I actually struggled with, because in the color version the shadows overpower her face. However once I converted it to black & white with a sepia tint it brought the image to life. I also lighted the shadows on her face slightly so you could see her eyes more clearly. In the end, I think this photos works.

ISO 400, Aperture f/4.5, Shutter 1/160s

Overall, I am happy with how this photo session turned out.  The model Orisen Cosplay was wonderful to work with. I loved her long lines, gracefulness, and how she was able to portray the femme fatale character.  


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