First Time in the US: Gulf Photo Plus is Coming to Seattle.

Lighting 102: 4.2 -- Ultra-Hard Light / Film Noir

Results form last week's exercise, in which you were asked to experiment with restricted light.

Also this week, an easy way to create a unique light source and a new assignment, all after the jump.

Looking at the photos that came in from last lesson's exercise, we start off with none other than a self-portrait by Eke, who is also the guy in Yesterday's On Assignment post. (Apparently, it's Eke Week here at Strobist.)

This is a classic film noir look, shooting a strobe through a gobo to throw some patterned tones on the background wall of a hard-lit portrait. It is especially appropriate to this week's discussion, but we will get to that in a few minutes.

Swilton's chess shot is also a nice example of using restricted light to zone-light a small subject. Without the grid spot he would have had to deal with flash spill on the backdrop.

This way, he could leave it black, as he chose to do, or light it with a second flash knowing that the first flash would not have contaminated it. This multi-plane lighting technique can give you total control over various sections of the photo, and is one thing for which grids are especially well-suited.

Next, we have a nekkid self portrait by Jonathan Roberts, after seeing which I will never look at one of those tiny racing saddles the same way again.

He used three strobes, and explains the process in his caption. (Can't wait to see the comments on this one.)

Jonathan, if you are confident enough to stick that photo up in the Strobist Flickr Pool, the least we can do is Full Monte you right up to the main blog. May I be the first to stick a folded dollar bill into your brake cable.

Seriously Hard Light

Back to this week, Eke's photo got me to thinking about something I have yet to talk about in the 800+ posts on this site: Further restricting a bare speedlight to create an even harder light source.

You may think of a bare speedlight as being a pretty hard source already. But that depends entirely on what you are trying to do with it. A typical speedlight is actually a focused light source (via the fresnel on front) that is about 1"x2" in size, give or take.

This is, granted, a very hard light. But if you think about it, it is harder in one direction than the other, by a factor of 2x. In practical application, this does not matter very often. But it can come into play of you are trying to throw a hard shadow from something like, say, a set of Venetian blinds.

Assuming you are shooting through a horizontal set of blinds and will be throwing a horizontal pattern of light onto a wall, you would get a sharper pattern if you oriented your flash horizontally than if you shot it rotated 90 degrees to create a vertical light source. Reason being, the horizontally-oriented light is harder in the direction that matters when hitting the blinds.

If you experiment, you'll see that this does make a difference.

For an even sharper shadow, then, you might choose to use an even smaller light source than the horizontal dimension of your speedlight. Here's how you do it.

As you can see, we have just slipped a little box head with a slit cut out over a flash. But what we have made is a light source that has the same width, and about half the height, of the bare speedlight. If you are trying to create an edge on some sort of shadow, paying attention to the orientation of your light and further restricting its size in the chosen dimension can make a big difference -- especially when you are working in close.

Also, if you are trying to skim a light past a gobo in a very precise way, a restricted light size can give you the ability to better control what a light sees and what it doesn't.

Doesn't cost anything, money-wise. Just come cardboard and some tape. But this model, for instance, does cost you about one stop of light from the flash's output. That's because we are covering up about half the surface area of the flash head.

You can make a light source very tiny this way, but it will cost you more output. If you are working in close -- where even a speedlight can look more light a soft light source -- you can create a darn-near point source light.

If you are shooting past an object - blinds, ficus tree, whatever -- a tiny light source will give you control not possible with a bare flash.


We have Eke to thank for this week's photo assignment inspiration. It's a simple photo assignment, really, with a lot of potential.

I will leave you to decide how you interpret "film noir," and I am sure there will be a lively discussion in the Flickr thread with lots of linked examples. I would think most of you will be shooting in black and white, and I would suggest it if your camera and/or image editor gives you that capability.

We all have a lot of schedule to contend with in this holiday season, so I am going to be long on the deadline, too -- January 2nd. I hope you'll have some fun with this one. It certainly goes well with the restricted light theme.

Here are the specifics:

Tag your assignment as:

filmnoir (note -- one word)

You can view the completed exercises of others, here. There is a discussion thread set up for this post here.

NEXT: Film Noir Assignment Discussion


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Blogger kurt said...

Noooo, why was this just posted.
I already did this assignment with a great girl a month or so ago.
Ack, back to the drawing board.

December 04, 2007 2:06 AM  
Anonymous Eke said...

Haha, my 15 minutes of fame :-)

December 04, 2007 2:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like an awesome assignment, thanks to Eke for the inspiration! DH as always for the fantastic site and community.

December 04, 2007 4:20 AM  
Blogger chadw said...

Did I miss where you specify the deadline?

December 04, 2007 6:32 AM  
Anonymous Pinecreekboy said...

What is the due date?

December 04, 2007 7:08 AM  
Anonymous Jeffrey Friedl said...

If you line the inside front of the flash cover with the shiny side of some tinfoil, do you regain your lost stop because the light that would have been blocked is just reflected around until it comes out the slot?

December 04, 2007 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how is the slot different than a snoot with a paper clip restricting the opening? not only would the shape be the same but the light would be concentrated and therefore you would increase the output as opposed to the decreased output by blocking your light source, right?

December 04, 2007 9:35 AM  
Blogger rodbot said...

hey anonymous. the snoot is still coming from a wide source.approx 2x1 inches. with a snoot you are just preventing light leakage. or narrowing the beam.

with this setup(gobo?) you are restricting the light to come from a tiny area, 2x.25". much smaller.

I have worked on some 3d scanners that project grids, or lines upon a subject that a camera would see.
and a small light source is ideal to get crisp edges.

with a wider area (of light source) the edges are quit softer.

but then again you could move your light source further away and zoom in. and get probably the same effect.

December 04, 2007 11:59 AM  
Blogger jimmyd said...

I understand that strobist purists prefer to work with DIY modifiers and controllers and usually don't use things more complex than umbrellas but if someone really wants to nail the filmnoir look, they might scrounge up and old Mole 1K baby or something similar, gut it, put a speedlite inside, and take advantage of the groovy light a fresnel lens produces... especially with it narrowly focused. (which produces a hard, very noir-ish, light.) Heck, you can even find fresnel lenses on Ebay (without the lighting instrument) and MacGuyver it in front of the strobe. I've done this with a monolight and really liked the results.


December 04, 2007 5:45 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

The difference between this setup and the snoot restrictor is that age old distance ratio thing. Since this is as close as possible to the source, it changes the edge of the shadow you'll receive from the flash. The farther away from the flash (read: closer to the subject) your lighting restriction is, the harder your edge will be on the shadow.

Thus, the smaller source, placed farther away from, say, some horizontal blinds, which are close to the subject will create a sharper edge on the blind's shadow. If the blinds were removed, the edge of the light would be similar to the flash's normal output without the size reducer.


December 04, 2007 9:26 PM  
Anonymous Blackey Cole said...

Hey fellow Strobists,

I just received two 16x16 softboxes that I paid .99 plus shipping on eBay. I got them through 2Dreammaker (DMK Photo). Shipping was aroudn $15. I figure I woudl take the chance since I had dealth with them before and had good results. I also got two of their Hot Shoe Umbrella adapters also, it came with and adapter so you could use a tripod or Super clamp or anay thing with a 1/4-20 thread. These are as good as or better than my Speedotron Larger softbox.

I Plan to do an whole article one these for Strobist if someone will tell me where and how to submit it that way when the photo are submitted they are correct size and resolution. But these lights are worth the money I paid and more. Iput one together and found an area where the stictching was not good and one of the metal rod went through the tab so I broke out the sewing kit and 165 minutes late it is all good. The are of a fabbric with a shear front diff and another defusser inside to help with the difussion.

It comes with a universial speedring and I backed out the adjustment screws and the 285 when in barely clearing them. I tighten them down on the 285. Put the 285 on the new lightstand adapter. It has a plactic cover over the center so you do not need the electic tape fix.

Next I hooked up a trigger to it and fired it off looking at teh diffusion panel it to my surpise it was evently lite reduced the power down to 1/16 and is was still was ;ite evenly. So for what we do it appears to be a great softbox for us. It does come equiped with tabs for grids ot other attachment but the DYIers wouldn't want it unless they could modify it.

December 10, 2007 9:56 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

Bump. What next?

January 09, 2008 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Daveblog said...

I just watched four hours worth of the T.V. show The X-Files. That show is LOADED with Noir lighting. (and it still runs on the Sci-Fi Channel if your looking for inspiration)

January 15, 2008 5:20 PM  

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