Film Noir ~ A Hollywood style reborn

01. Chloe-Jasmine Whichello armed and dangerous.

01. Chloe-Jasmine Whichello armed and dangerous. Film Noir calls for some dramatic acting and there is no better actress for this role than Chloe-Jasmine. Let the drama begin. I lit this scene with two Lupolux DayLED fresnel spotlights. There is no mains power in the cellar at Pipwell Hall so I used  lithium Inverters to power the lights. I used a prototype printed gel on the key light to break it into a pattern. These pattern printed gels will soon be available here and are equably suitable for hot lights and cold running spot lights.

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.

02. Frank the co star made a shadowy appearance.

02. Frank my co star made a shadowy appearance. I wanted to include a male figure in some of my pictures so I decided we should make one. Luke, my graphic designer and web guru sketched a man wearing a hat and holding a gun on A4 paper. He scanned the sketch into the computer and tidied the image in illustrator. It was then projected onto an A0 sheet of foam core attached to the wall of my studio with gaffa tape and our man was re outlined at life size. Luke cut out and trimmed Frank and I attached him to a lighting spigot using a magic arm. The whole job took a couple of hours. This scene was lit with a Lupolux 800 HMI spotlight on Chloe-Jasmine and a Lupolux 1200 HMI spotlight on Frank.

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.

03. The cellar at Pipwell made a great location to light with the classic techniques of dappled key light and well controlled backlight.

03. The cellar at Pipwell made a great location to light with the classic techniques of dappled key light and well controlled back light. It’s important for Film Noir images to have depth and the back light in this picture delivers just that. Notice how it kicks off the tips of the stair treads to define the set.

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.

04. Strong use of back light is a characteristic trait of the genre.

04. Strong use of back light is a characteristic trait of the genre and here it was used to extreme.

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.

05. I lit the piano interior with a Lowel iD light, C-J with an Arri 150 and I used an Arri 300 as a backlight.

05. I lit the piano interior with a Lowel iD light. I lit C-J with an Arri 150 and I used an Arri 300 rigged in the next room as her backlight. Careful control of contrast and the ambient light level is needed. What may look like black holes in the images are indeed zone 1 0r 2 and will print as beautiful deep shadow detail. The dress falling off Chloe’s shoulder references the ‘Sexual motivations’ of the Film Noir genre.

Shoot essentials

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.

06. Crisp hard spotlights make wonderful portrait lighting set ups.

06. Crisp hard spotlights make wonderful portrait lighting set ups. I like my pictures to be true to the moment and I therefore avoid Photoshop where possible. This philosophy goes against the current trend of erasing blemishes. I love my subjects to be real in all their quirky gorgeousness. My favourite pictures of all time by other photographers are mostly taken on film and the resulting prints show reality in a refreshing way.

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.

07. Chloe played her part with a convincing conviction. Let's hope this scene is never acted out for real.

07. Chloe-Jasmine soon got to grips with the Walther PPK and played her part with a convincing conviction. Let’s hope this scene is never acted out for real because there will only ever be one looser.

08.

08. The use of light fittings in the shot to provide a ‘lighting motivation’ is a trick of film making techniques that makes even the most dramatic lighting become believable. The carefully set barn doors on the key and back lights make the picture what it is. Owning a spotlight is not enough. Just like owning a great camera, knowing how to use it is vital. In workshops like this I unravel the intricate process of setting lights artistically rather than just illuminating the scene with spotlights. Once shown how, delegates are empowered to explore and make beautifully lit images. Nothing is quite as exciting to a photographer than being able to use light creatively.

09. Precariously positioned at the top of the ladder in high heals is our actress who embraces danger.

09. Our actress is precariously positioned at the top of the ladder in her high heels. Chloe-Jasmine is known for embracing danger. C-J is a tough gutsy girl just like the role she plays in our Film Noir workshops.

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.

10. The bedroom scene

10. The bedroom scene is lit with two small Arris. I used the Lovegrove Avenger boom arm extensively in order to keep the lighting stands out of shot.  Chloe-Jasmine wears a Black tulle shrug with collar by Lisa Keating. Lisa has been very influential in my latest round of picture styling. Her fun enthusiasm fuels my learning of fashion and the intricacies of making women look fabulous. In this shot I’ve keyed Chloe-Jasmine to create shadow under her cheek bone and to emphasise the gentle curve of her jaw line. Film Noir lighting has to be inch perfect to get the look.

11. When lit with a pool of softer light the Film Noir look is gone. This has overtones of 60s Hollywood when softer key lights became more prevelent.

11. When lit with a pool of softer light the Film Noir look is all but gone. This picture has overtones of 60s film making when softer key lights became more prevalent.

12. Money is at the root of all evil. Or so they say.

12. Money is at the root of all evil. Or so they say. I lit C-J with a Lupolux Quad 1500 with it’s optional honeycomb grid attachment fitted. Where the light doesn’t fall is ultimately more important than where it does fall. The fall off of light is at the heart of Film Noir.

13. Just two lights were used to illuminate this scene in the library.

13. Just two lights were used to illuminate this classic Film Noir scene in the library.

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.

14. This shot features my Remington typewriter the PPK hand gun and the Bakerlite phone

14. This shot features my Remington typewriter, the Walther PPK hand gun and the Bakerlite phone from Ebay. The exposure was set by the roaring fire. The lighting was then set to correctly expose Chloe-Jasmine in situ. I used an Arri 150 as her key light and the 100w Lowel iD light as her back light. You can see the halation from the Black Pro Mist filter on the sequins on Chloe-Jasmine’s dress. At a 100% view the Tiffen filter exhibits a real analogue look. Black Pro Mists maintain the absolute sharpness but scatter a tiny proportion of the image light in a similar way to the base layer on film emulsions.

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.

15. High key Hollywood lighting is just as beautiful as low key and might just prove more profitable for some professionals.

15. High key Hollywood lighting is just as beautiful as low key and might just prove more profitable for some professionals.

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.

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About Damien

Damien Lovegrove learned his trade as a cameraman and lighting director during 14 years at the BBC, working on programmes such as the Clothes Show, Top of the Pops and Casualty. Fifteen years on, Damien has become one of the foremost trainers of photography and entrepreneurial business strategies in our industry. A published writer and regular columnist, Damien has travelled the globe sharing his knowledge and expertise. “Photography fascinates me” declares Damien. "Much of my photography is inspired by a burning enthusiasm within me” explains Damien. “Picking up a camera gives me such a rush that I’m instantly driven to create pictures.”

32 thoughts on “Film Noir ~ A Hollywood style reborn

  1. Thank you Tracy,

    Never let your histogram get in the way of correctly exposing a picture. White is beautiful and should be allowed to live :)

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  2. These images just speak to me like no other current photographer — I would LOVE to learn how to light this way. I was inspired recently buy a cheap continuous light with barn doors to try and create more dramatic lighting.

  3. Hi Damien,

    For those of who can’t make a workshop is there any chance at all that you’ll be producing one of your instructional DVD’s / downloads?

    Cheers

    Jon.

  4. Hi Damien, I am loving experimenting with my lupo’s, havn’t perfected their use yet. This workshop missed my radar, if I had known you were working so close to me (I grew up 4miles from Pipewell Hall) I would have joined your group, never mind :(
    Oh, this is stunning work by the way. Every time I see your latest work it inspires me to WORK HARDER !!!

  5. Hi Andrew,

    Thank you for your kind words. The great news is we will be running this Film Noir workshop at Pipwell Hall again very soon :) I’ll let Laura know that you are interested and she will email you with dates as soon as they are decided.

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  6. Hi Jon, I’ll be running the workshops until workshop demand has been met then I’ll make the video. I’d love to take this Film Noir workshop and my upcoming Hollywood lighting workshop to various countries first.

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  7. That’s great…thanks Damien.

    I’m struggling with the basics so a workshop is not for me right now. But I’ll look forward to the video!

    Cheers

    Jon.

  8. Adore, adore, adore this work Chloe and Damien. Sparks were flying that day …. thank you for sharing and constantly creating …..

    PS I used to get an RSS feed – is this still available? thank you.

  9. When you bring your workshop to the US, I will definitely try to get to one. If I had the extra $$, I’d fly to the UK. I have the boudoir videos (which prompted my buying the continuous light).
    Thanks for such a great and inspiring site.

  10. Thank you Cheryl,

    I’m excited by the response to these pictures and I hope to bring it to Chicago and San Fran.

    Stay inspired,

    Damien.

  11. Thank you Michaela,

    Sparks were definitely flying. The energy on set was fabulous. We are going to do more of this genre and take it on tour. Our RSS feed is still in place at /feed There is a link in the right hand sidebar.

    Thank you for your compliments.

    Best regards,

    Damien Lovegrove

  12. I understand Jon.

    Sometimes the best way to overcome the basics is to see the bigger picture. There really is no major technical barrier to producing these kind of images. What you see is what you get with continuous light. The work covered here is in the artistic field with visualising the image and setting lights. Empowering photographers with the ability to use light creatively is what this workshop is about.

    Be creative and enjoy your photography learning experience.

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  13. Ok, I feel kind of like a stalker as i keep coming back but I had a shoot today and used the continuous light with barn doors and I am now a convert — I see the light — literally, ha. I have some images that I’m thinking, wow, I took that!

  14. Haha, stalk away Cheryl,

    It’s amazing how straightforward working with fresnel lens continuous lighting is. What you see is what you get. Practice setting your light in different scenes and you will soon become an expert.

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  15. Inspiring and motivating! Really, really fabulous work. And you comment about Fuji X series cameras and lenses mirrors my own experience, just haven’t picked up the courage to sell the 5D M3 just yet. I will try to get over to the UK and learn your lighting style. Any plans to teach in Australia?

  16. Hi Jeff, I was in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane a few years ago. I think I’ll be going back and this time I’ll go to Adelaide too. Thank you for the compliments. Kind regards, Damien.

  17. Great stuff. I’ve been trying to create this look using natural light, on the streets (also using the Fuji ATM). Which is why I clicked through to read this article, from the Fuji Scoop-it page. It’s really given me something to think about, thanks for this article.

  18. This is a great series of images Damien with CJ looking beautiful as ever. Number 14 is my fav. I am early awaiting my copy of CJW in the next few days.
    I look forward to being in a position in the near future to attend some of your workshops.
    Kind regards
    Derrick

  19. Thanks Phil. It took some planning and I’m not sure where to take ‘Film Noir’ to next. Chicago perhaps :)

    Kindest regards,

    Damien.

  20. Thank you for your kind words Derrick.

    I happen to think that Chloe-Jasmine is getting more beautiful and becoming a better actress with each shoot we do. I’d love to have you on a workshop soon.

    Warmest regards,

    Damien.

  21. Thank you Thorsten. We are on this creative journey that climbs ever higher mountains.

    Thanks for your continued support and encouragement.

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  22. Thank you for a really inspirational piece. I have just been looking into getting my own lighting set up and am absolutely fascinated by light. However I’ve never really “fallen in love” with strobes and have always been drawn to continuous lighting. I’ve always poured over photos from this era and have been fascinated by film lighting, which basically has so much mood and atmosphere. I would love to learn more about film noir lighting. I agree about getting it right in camera and was very interested in what you had to say about the Fuji x pro1 and how crisp the lenses are. I also have a 5d Mkii and was looking at getting a second camera. Your article has changed how I’ve been looking at cameras too. So thank you once again, for a very interesting and inspiring piece.

  23. Thank you Helen,

    Cinematic lighting is my background from my BBC days.It seems Hollywood lighting is the new big craze :)

    Kind regards,

    Damien.

  24. Hi Michele,

    Thank you for taking the time to write your comments. The two main influences in this kind of image are the lighting design and costume/ hair/ makeup styling. The main equipment elements are the continuous lights with Fresnel lenses and the camera lenses. The lighting adjustments are so subtle and fine that it is impossible to be as accurate with flash. The modelling light in flash units is a completely different shape to the flash tube and therefore it is guess work all the way. Continuous lighting gives a feel that you can work with rather than a look to react to.

    I wish you all the success with your photography. Stay inspired,

    Kind regards, Damien.

    PS: I’m holding a one off Hollywood portraits masterclass incorporating the best shots from this set as well as more conventional continuously lit images. Info is here: http://www.passionphotographyexperience.com/hollywood_portraits_remastered.aspx

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