February 17th, 2013
The pictures in this post were shot on my recent ‘Film Noir’ workshop in Northampton. I’ve been researching the genre for some 4 months and I was generally unimpressed by the lack of great reference images on Google. It was upon this discovery that I knew I was onto something.
The Wikipedia entry for Film noir is “…a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasise cynical attitudes and sexual motivations.” Hollywood’s classical Film Noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1940s to the late 1950s however it often depicted scenes from just after the great depression of 1929 – 1933.
I’ve been shooting with a classic Hollywood style since I completed my lighting director training at the BBC way back in 1992. But is has only been since 2008 that I’ve integrated this style of photography into my lighting and portraiture workshops. The vintage style has been the trigger for this resurgence of interest. I’m not a fan of vintage with Instagram looks or altered colours, however I do predict that pure monochrome Hollywood style portraits like those crafted by Studio Harcourt in Paris will be a future product genre to line the pockets of professional studio based photographers.
I’m often asked what makes a portrait ‘Hollywood’ in style? My answer is the light sources and lighting in general. Vintage Hollywood also needs appropriate hair, make up and fashion styling to complete the look. There is a new genre opportunity that takes classic Hollywood lighting and fuses it with modern fashion styles like the exciting emerging SteamPunk movement. What makes this Hollywood lighting special is the use of traditional spotlights with fresnel lenses and barn doors. These luminaries produce crisp hard light that is controllable using a flood/ spot system and by shaping of the barn doors. That sums up pretty much everything you can’t do with studio flash without expensive fresnel adaptors.
The great news with fresnel lensed lighting is it has come of age and is now more convenient and better value than ever before. Arri, 150, 300 and 650 fresnel spotlights cost less than Nikon or Canon Speedlights and even the powerful daylight balanced units from Lupolux are a comparable price, pound for Lumen. The Lupolux spotlights use HMI or LED sources, are cool running, can work off batteries or inverters and produce enough light to use sensible shutter speeds for hand held shooting. This innovation is exciting for stills photographers because we can tap into the kind of lighting that was the reserve of film crews with mega budgets.
The numbers in the Lupolux range of lights refer to their equivalent power when compared to tungsten spotlights. All the Lupolux units emit a cool pure daylight balanced light of between 5200k and 5600k depending upon the light. The Lowel and the Arris are warm tungsten balanced lights of 2950k and 3100k respectively and are used primarily after dark when tungsten room lighting becomes the principal light source of the set.
Model/ actress: Chloe-Jasmine Whichello
Makeup and hair: Claudia Lucia Spoto
Styling: Chloe-Jasmine Whichello, Lisa Keating and Damien Lovegrove
Location: Pipwell Hall, Northamptonshire
Camera kit: Fujifilm X-Pro1 with 18-55mm OIS f/2.8-4 zoom and 35mm f/1.4 lenses.
Filters: Tiffen Black Pro Mist ¼ on all pictures.
Lights: Arri 150 and Arri 300 junior spotlights. A Lowel iD battery light with lithium power supply. Lupolux DayLED 650 and 1000 spotlights. Lupolux HMI 800 and 1200 Spotlights.
A note about cameras: I rarely use DSLRs any more because the latest crop of mirrorless cameras are more convenient, lighter and have amazing image quality. I get a far higher sharpness success rate with my Fuji X-Pro1 than I do with my Canon 5D mk2 and the lenses are better too. Even the Olympus OMD with it’s smaller micro four thirds sensor is knocking on the door of the latest DSLRs. I’d have no issue for any of these pictures to be printed to 40″ x 30″ and they were all shot at ISO 1600 on the Fuji. How times change. A few years ago I owned a Hasselblad H2 with a Phase One P25 back to get a similar quality of image but with a maximum of ISO 400. I’m not old skool, I’m embracing the latest generation of technology and I suggest it’s the way to go. In fact the Fuji lenses are so sharp and the system resolution so high that I’m using Tiffen Black Pro Mist diffusion filters as standard to give me the filmic look. I love getting the look in camera using glass filters than relying on digital algorithms to attempt a similar look in Photoshop. Using glass is quick and consistent.
I chose to loosely base my interpretation of Film Noir on the 1930s through to the 60s but I styled each shot in isolation. I therefore had the opportunity to neglect any degree of continuity. I gathered props using Ebay and other sources. I bought a 1932 Remington typewriter, a Bakelite phone, a Zorki 5 camera in Russian guise, fake money, and various fashion accessories including pairs of glasses. I borrowed a genuine Italian Police issue Walther PPK hand gun for the shoot too.
What commercial value is there in ‘Film Noir’? I hear you ask. Well, I think every country house hotel murder mystery event should have a Film Noir event photographer with three or four pre rigged set ups. With a careful choice of props the images taken will make beautiful portraits perhaps replacing the now fading pin up genre. Continuous light is the future and photographers and videographers alike are in heaven with fresnel spotlights at the heart of their systems.
If you would like to learn how to shoot Hollywood style or Film Noir portraits like this then come on the next series of Lovegrove Film Noir workshops. They are fun, information rich, well run events with just six delegates. I’d like to run a two day workshop covering Hollywood ‘Glamour of the Gods’ style portraiture on day one and Film Noir on day two. If you want to take part in this email Laura right away. Just say ‘Interested in Hollywood event” Click here for more information about this Film Noir workshop.
Hollywood style lighting floats my boat. Please feel free to comment below if it floats your boat too. If you were a delegate on this workshop I’d love to hear your comments and see links to your images too.