Project Noir–Part One

_OHL5770-WebsiteSomeone once said something like “Cinematographers kick photographers’ asses, all day long”.  I can’t remember who this was, and the Intarweb doesn’t seem to know either.  However, even though these are two different art forms, I do find that things some photographers seem to think of as new and exciting developments , are not news to DP’s and movie lighting directors who’ve been creating mood and drama with light for decades.

I often look at movies for lighting inspiration, and the old classic film-noir movies have this in spades.  After a while you begin to notice common traits:  things like hard light with crisp shadows, a lot of backlighting, often completely blown out.  Long shadows, extreme angles for the light, and the camera, and “atmosphere”:  ie fog or haze.

These shoots are a product of the BTCR Photo Crew.  If you don’t know what that is, sorry I can’t tell you 🙂   It’s no big secret, but I’m not going to advertise it either.  It’s a creative group. What is relevant though is that we have access to an early 20th century manor house that has some great period features.  We also had an actor for the scenes: Caspar Braithwaite, with some great physical presence.

Film Noir IFirst up we set out to shoot something similar to scene from a relatively recent (2001) movie:  The Man Who Wasn’t There from the Coen brothers.  It’s a man leaving a building with his shadow cast way out in front of him by the lights in the building.   I modelled it in SetALight3D with a Speedlight, because it needed a hard light.  Hard light is produced by small light sources.  I full size studio strobe with a 7” reflector won’t be quite a crisp.   For the actual shot though, as it would be dark, I could get away with using a 650Watt Fresnel focused tungsten “hot light”.   This would allow us to set the light up and see the shadow in real time as we moved the light about.  It also meant everyone could shoot at once without any recycle problems, or burning batteries out.   We did add a Speedlight with a snoot (ie rolled up bit of black card 😛 ) off to the right and you can see it in the 3D model above.   This light was hand-held and aimed at Caspar’s face.  For the frames where we used this, I took the shot without the light in the frame as well, and painted that frame over the light and the VAL* in post.


I shot from on top of an 8 foot scaffold platform.   We had Caspar run out of the house, stand on the stairs and we also added in some fog from 2 fog machines behind the pillars either side of the steps.


_OHL5927-Edit-Edit-WebsiteI then shot the same light from down on the ground as a silhouette ..and added some radial blur selectively for even more drama.


IMG_5433We shot some inside too – I wanted some up close shots with some tension – perhaps the drama and suspense of our man stalking through the house looking for something… or someone.  Again I wanted a stylised hard light and we ended up using the Lightblaster (small spot projector) on the background to make a crisp circle of hard light on the oak panelling.  You can see the setup in this BTS shot with the Lightblaster in the back and the key light above it with a snoot attached giving more hard light from a high angle.  The light setup is completed with a separation light on the right aimed at the back of our actor’s head.  A FlashBender XL acts as another snoot on this light to contain it to just the area I wanted to light with it. 

The last thing you want when creating dramatic lighting, is for stray light to bounce about destroying the high contrast you’re worked so hard at.  Grids, snoots, flags, barn-doors and projected light are the tools to contain the light.


We also switched the background light out for a snooted light raking across the panels to really accentuate the details in the wood, and in this next shot I also added a cookie in front of the main light to give the shadows on Caspar’s face.


Most of the work in post on these involves controlling the tone curve in the B&W conversion to give high contrast, deep blacks and partially blown highlights.   I’ve also added tints to some of them to match the look of the old black and white film stock.  In part two – we use the Lightblaster and some fog to generate light beams and some highly stylised and dark images.

Actor:  Caspar Braithwaite
Crew:   Joe Foster, Bill Hartley, Brian Sanger, iain Nicol
BTS:  © 2017 Joe Foster

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