Project Noir part II

_OHL4540-WebsiteThis time we concentrated on one shot – a backlit interior concept with volumetric light (i.e. light given volume by some medium – in this case, an even fog).  Caspar reprised his previous outfit, now complete with a nice black Fedora.   I found some 20 year-old Gauloise Caporal white cigarettes when we moved house last year that really looked the part in a soft blue case.    We also had a crystal decanter, glass, and the airgun we used on the last shoot. All of these went onto a nice period desk from another room in the old manor house.

So, here’s the plan, modelled in SetALight3D – which I highly recommend.  SetaLight doesn’t have any spot projectors in it so I just used a regular head with a snoot.  This gives pretty much the same effect, apart from the crisp circle of light on the floor.  It couldn’t be simpler on the surface – one light up high behind the model, however, the angle of that light would determine what was lit on our subject and on the table.  In SetAlight, changing the angle is easy!  You just pull the light about and see the change in real time.  On-set, with the light on top of a 3m stand?  Not so much 🙂

Film Noir II

Here’s the set.   Fantastic panelling and velvet curtains…that we’re not going to see in the final image.  But hey, I’m sure we’ll shoot here again!  



Here’s the LightBlaster with the YN565 in the back, a Yongnuo EOS fit 50mm f/1.8 lens on the front, and a YN622N radio receiver on the flash.   The flash is set to manual 1/1 – full power (so can’t receive power instructions from the receiver) so there is no TTL pre-flash which uses a fraction of the power.   Shooting through the LightBlaster, and some haze, was going to be a tough job for a small flash, so every Joule counts 🙂    Also in this shot you can see the ancient but stylish looking Gauloise Caporal cigarettes that we’d put on the table for some added interest.

Here’s the set below, almost ready to go.  We added some more props – a decanter and glasses, ash tray etc.  The C-Stand is a great tool for this sort of thing.  Rock solid and very tall.  Even though the Speedlight and LightBlaster combo isn’t that heavy, I added a 5kg weight to the base of the stand.

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Jo made some tea (which does a good job of looking like brandy) and filled the decanter and one glass with it, and we added a mysterious document to the table.   This all adds to the story, and motivation for the things you see in the shot – maybe he’s broken in to find the evidence in the document (and is having a drink while reading it – which tells us something about the character –  how assured do you have to be to do that ?)

IMG_9236Now we’re ready to start making shots, the next thing to do is work out the exposure.   Now, a bare Speedlight like the YN565 would easily blow away the lights in the room – that is, to get a proper exposure with a Speedlight on full power from that distance I’d likely need f/11 or f/16 which, at say 1/200th of  a second and with the flash off, would underexpose the ambient and result in a black frame.   However!  I know the Light-blaster eats a *lot* of light, so I would need wider apertures and higher ISO settings.  This might let in some of the ambient light so we closed all of the curtains in the room, and turned out the lights.   I ended up at f/5.6 ISO 400 and a shutter speed of 1/200th.   The shutter speed won’t affect the flash exposure (as long as it’s below the X-Sync limit for my camera of 1/250th of second ) so setting that high helps block out ambient light without affecting our flash.  f/5.6 would give me reasonable depth of field, and ISO 400 is no problem to modern sensors.

Once the exposure was sorted I played around with the shooting distance and angles.   I settled on a low angle – just a bit higher than the table so we can see what’s on it, but still low enough to give our subject a sense of stature, and include a decent amount of the light beam that was central to this lighting design.

Now we just needed to add that last ingredient – some haze.  I don’t have a haze machine, but I do have a couple of fog machines.   Haze is more of a general and even “atmosphere”  (in fact they often call it “atmosphere” in stage and film productions).  I know that fog in the studio ends up like this after it loses its structure and marinates for a while – and normally this is when I open the doors and blow it out with a fan to get some fresh stuff 🙂   Here, we wanted that even haze and we sped up the process by mixing up the fog by wafting big pop-up reflectors around in it until it looked even.

In the first shots, the fog was still a bit too structured:-



So we mixed it up some more :–




Tried a side angle:-



and we then decided to add to the story a little bit by introducing a second character for Rick to confront.   Iain sat in the chair and threw up his hands – which produced some great shadows on the floor.  I switched to a vertical format to include these.  Now we couldn’t really see the table top anyway, I could also get a bit lower to emphasise the dramatic nature of the light.  Now the decanter was not that prominent in the shot, there’s was also not much to be gained from the colours in the shot, so for full classic film-noir, I’ve produced these next ones in black and white.  Apart from some specialised Leicas almost all digital cameras shoot colour.  You can’t shoot in black and white.  You can set the “picture mode” to monochrome which will give you a black and white preview on the back of the camera, but for raw files this will not affect what the camera records  (in fact none of those settings like white balance, colour space, landscape, neutral, vivid etc affect what the camera records – you’ll get the same raw file regardless).


I also wanted to capture the nice crisp circle of light we’d made on the floor (the LightBlaster had a circular “gobo” in it), so went wide for this one.   It’s a nice enough graphical and more stylised look, but in the end, we didn’t do too much with this – deciding that the subject and the light shaft were more important.


I also had with me some retro incandescent bulbs, and I’d made up some vintage bulb holders and cable.   We ran the cable up and over a monopod and Brian dangled this into shot.   This allowed us to see Caspar’s face in the shot.

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Now we had some continuous light in the shot, (the bulb) I could control the brightness of that independently of the flash with the shutter speed.  After some test shots, I ended up slowing the shutter down by one stop to 1/100th of a second to get enough light from the bulb onto Caspar’s face.




In post – not a lot to do apart from the black and white conversion – adding contrast and setting the black and white points.   Some of the shots required a bit of minor tidying in Photoshop to remove modern items such as the WiFi access point on the wall under the window, and power sockets etc.   I also needed to remove Brian from one of the last shots with the bulb a there was enough light from it to cause him to show up in the shot.  This is easily done in Photoshop these days – with the content aware fill and patch tools.  Even easier here as Brian was in an area of near black in the image  (in fact I could probably have removed him in Lightroom by just dialling the exposure down there with a brush).

All done in 2 hours and focusing on one look here was key to our progress.   Once the main ingredients of the shots are set up and dialled in, we can play around with variants and add other elements such as the bulb.  If they don’t work we’ve lost nothing but a few minutes, and move on to the next thing.

Thanks to the BTCR photo crew  (who also shot their own images on this set – and we found the Nikon version of the YN622 transceivers work just fine as triggers on Canon bodies, so all the Canon users could trigger the flash too).   We used 2 sets of 7DayShop “GoodToGo” batteries (Eneloop type) in the flash.  Thanks to Joe for taking the behind the scenes shots in this post.


Rick Dangerous:   Caspar Braithwaite
Crime boss:  Iain Nicol

Crew:  Iain Nicol, Brian Sanger, Joe Foster, Jo Sellars

Behind the scenes shots:   © 2017 Joe Foster

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