Film Noir Lighting


Film Noir Lighting

20:32 20 July in Photography Blog

I bet most of you can recognize film noir style – deep dark shadows with hard edges, bright highlights, high contrast, shooting through go-bos or cucoloris – all that creates dramatic lighting. This style has been used by filmmakers for ages. George Hurrell is the one who mastered film noir technique in glamor Hollywood photography. He used tungsten lights and played different tricks to achieve nice soft skin, like putting a mesh in front of the lens or manipulating negatives, but you can easily achieve the same (or very close) results with studio strobes and Photoshop.

tungsten light

First of all, decide on the model, outfit and the make up. If you decide to shoot in black and white, it’s better to use brownish tones for the eyes, eyebrows and deep red for a lipstick (then make up will stand out and you will get nice contrast). Just try shooting different colors in black and white and see what works for you!

film_noir_makeup_1 film_noir_makeup_2

Second, decide on the lighting. You can easily do it with two or three lights, but of course always can go up to infinity. I would suggest to use 7” reflectors and/or beauty dishes (no soft boxes, umbrellas or any other diffusion materials, maybe just for a little fill, but not for the main light source.

One of the most popular lighting patterns on the face is called ‘butterfly’ or  ‘paramount’. It creates a little butterfly-looking shadow under the nose and the position of this light ‘smoothes’ the pores and the face look just drop dead gorgeous!


So let’s set up the lights! Here is one of the basic set ups. One light on the face, one light on the background and the third light is a ‘kicker’ or accent or call it however you want.


You can put a grid on the background light to create a spot shape of it. What is more, you can put something (‘go-between’, ‘go-b0’, or cucoloris) between this light and the background to create a patterned shadow or any kind of shadow. You can also narrow the light for just the model’s face by putting a grid in the reflector.

lighting-diagram film_noir_with_gobo

You can cut your own pattern in a piece of foam core or any other material, you can cut a profile of a person and cast a shadow of it on the background. Come over to our studio and try it out! Here are some more photos for your inspiration.

film_noir_1 film_noir_2 film_noir_3

Rent our Studio starting at $24.99, including Lightning & Grip Equipment