Lighting 102: 4.2 -- Film Noir Discussion

It was only 8:00 in the evening, but it was already dark outside. Real dark. As in too-underexposed-to-be-saved-in-Photoshop dark -- even if you were shooting raw.

But I was well-lit, thanks to the off-camera flask in my hip pocket. Not that the victim I was presently staring at cared.

She had apparently been hit from two different directions with a well-aimed '25. An Nikon SB-25, to be exact. And it was up to me to figure out exactly how it had been pulled off.

(See the Film Noir Assignment results after the jump.)

If you haven't already guessed, today we are looking at photos from the post of December 4th in which you were asked to use hard, restricted light to create a "film noir"-type of shot. Film noir lighting is about a subtle as a ball peen hammer, and it's a good way to experiment with restricted light.

Subtlety and nuance took the week off in favor of edgy and contrasty light, window blinds as gobos, and lots of knives, guns and liquor.

As always, click the pic to get to the Flickr page. This gets you to a bigger version of the photo, along with lighting info (hopefully...) and an easy way to comment on individual photos.

Leading off is this study in subtle symbolism from TheBauerGallery. Check me if I am wrong here, but I think the shadow you can just make out on the back wall represents the person who may be causing the tense expression in the subject.

I could be way off base, as I never was one for picking up obscure hidden messages in art. But that's my guess. Can you find the photog in the photo? Click through to learn about his setup.

Next up is a shot by Richard Melanson. He uses a very tight snoot, balanced several stops over the ambient, to draw attention to the the subject's eyes and away from the gun in his hand. Let alone the bottle of courage the subject has apparently loaded himself with.

Snoots and flash/ambient balance are a match made in heaven, and that's what we'll be playing with in our next exercise.

The whole effect is governed by two variables: Where the snoot is allowing the light to fall, and how far the exposure falls off in the area which is not being lit by the tight beam of light.

There is no right and wrong in the lighting ratio, either. You figure out the look you want and adjust the balance to create it.

Quick: Where is the snooted light coming from? Try your hand at reverse engineering before clicking on the pic to find out.

Liquor is again the scene setter in the third photo, by John Leonard. I like the way John is using snoots to highlight the two areas of interest in the photo. But let's look at the balance thing again.

Assuming John is on a plain background (or could shift the setup of the shot to where he was against a wall a few feet away) I would love to see him tweak it for just a tad bit of separation between the shadow side of his head and the background. Be nice to hold that shoulder, too.

He is shooting at 1/200th at f/11. I would open the shutter up (1/125, 1/60, 1/30, etc.) until I brought the wall to a very dark grey, barely separating the black elements on camera right.

I just noticed that he appears to be wearing a white shirt, which could be a problem. (Shirt comes up as the wall does.) But you could solve that by bring the wall up to a higher ambient level than the shirt.

How? Just stick a lamp between the subject and the wall.

You can't have a selection of film noir photos without a set of blinds, and itsjustanalias doesn't disappoint. And here is a great example of the "no correct exposure concept, in which being able to place various areas of your photo at different tonal levels gives you total control.

The inside is "too dark" according to just about any continuous light camera meter. The outside light is "too bright" by the same measure.

But the whole bowl of porridge is just right, connoting a dark room at night lit by streetlights below. That's what I am talkin' 'bout. All that's missing is the flashing "HOTEL" sign, with the last two letters burned out.

Last but certainly not least is one of those gratuitous female shots that tends to pop up in our 95% male-dominated site. (We gotta balance that out a little.) I send you guys out for film noir and you use the assignment to do a chicks-and-stockings-and-knives shot.

I say all that because this one is by ambienteye, AKA Katherine Gaines. Katy is busting some really cool stuff lately and one of her other photos will be featured in the next L102 installment, which is coming next week.

This is just pure, elegant light on an extreme budget. The grid is made with straws. The cookie is made of foam, as is the "ND filter" on the third speedlight to knock it down to a usable range.

Katy gives you the strobe placement info on the photo's Flickr page, but think it through before you go and look.

Without giving away the light positions, I would say that the SB-600 sets the whole tone of the photo, with the first 383 calling attention to the knife and filling the face. The second 383 pulls the whole thing into range (tonally) and provides light for the first 383 to push against.


You guys obviously had some fun with this one. To look at the whole take as a slideshow, click here. Or join in on the discussion thread, here.

And if you think about it, leave a comment or two on the stuff you really like.

NEXT: Assignment: Cross-Balance and Sculpt


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Anonymous Eddy said...

Cool stuff.
Play it again Sam.

January 10, 2008 1:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just guessing, but I would think in the first one, the shadow knows who the photog is:)

January 10, 2008 3:05 AM  
Blogger J. Beckley said...

Although I didn't get a chance to do this assignment in time it's definitely something I have planned to do and will upload later. I love the 30's to 50's era! I'm going to do a lot more too than just for this assignment.

January 10, 2008 4:19 AM  
Anonymous Gavin said...

non specific post related feedback...

I have been reading Strobist for a while now - great site!

One thing as a non US resident (I'm in the UK) a lot of the advice especially on where to buy gear is very US centric. Completely understandable but it would be great to foster the communities even further in other countries by collating informatoin for other countries. Especially on the gear topic - perhaps places to buy etc etc.

Perhaps there could be a country subsections with these sort of details rather than trawling through the forum posts?

Just a thought


January 10, 2008 6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gavin: Check the Strobist gear: Stores in Europe? thread. Or Rui M. Leal's collection of links from that thread at his Lighting Mods blog (dropdown menu up in the right corner, under the "Learn how to light at" image)

January 10, 2008 11:05 AM  
Blogger John Leonard Photography said...

Good idea on bringing up the back light in my image. I will have to tweak it some. The kitchen was very cluttered so I really wanted to hide the junk that was all around me!

Here was the set-up shot for it.

January 10, 2008 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many times I have been saved by that 'ol off-camera flask!!!

January 10, 2008 3:37 PM  
Blogger Kolonay said...

As an aside, and I apologize if this has been mentioned previously:

I noticed that JPG Magazine has a contest theme going on right now for Noir Images. Might be a good chance for some lucky Strobists to get published!

January 10, 2008 4:32 PM  
Anonymous 0 W8ing said...

Although I cannot vouch for it, the "off camera flask" has a long tradition in every photo-genre.

At least one winds up Feeling "enlightened" even if the resulting work isn't Raw Recoverable.

January 10, 2008 5:23 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

DH -
That intro is brilliant. Thanks.

January 11, 2008 12:13 PM  

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