Shooting Film Noir Portraits Inside the Studio Space

Moody, dark, and dramatic — the term "film noir" immediately invokes cinematic scenes of crime-solving detectives and notorious mobsters in our minds. Film noir is interesting as a genre in photography too. In this article, we take a look at how to shoot film noir style portraits inside a studio.

This video comes from Adorama TV as Gavin Hoey takes us through his experience in shooting film noir portraits inside his home studio setup. I love the way he keeps it simple, both the technique he practices and the way he delivers it across to the audience. In this video, he uses a three light set up to create the mood in the frame. Here are three key points to note when making film noir portraits.

1. Styling

Styling plays a major role in making film noir portraits for it is the way you make it look which will give that final touch. In this video, Gavin uses simple Venetian blinds to create a boundary between the outside and inside world. The model is dressed up apt with a hat. He goes on with a few props too in the later stages once he has the lighting set perfectly. These little things will establish the film noir effect and it is important you pay attention to detail from the beginning.

2. Lighting

Light is the key for it sets the mood in the picture ultimately. In this video, Gavin uses a key light to illuminate the model from the outside, a separation light, and a motivated light to illuminate the inside world of the model. It is interesting how he places these lights at different precise positions. For instance, the key light on the outside of the Venetian blinds is placed low and faces the model. This gives a dramatic effect that a straight facing light wouldn’t. If you take the separation light on the inside, he places it on the top above the model’s shoulder (just like a light in a room would be) just to illuminate the model’s shoulder part. Likewise, it is important that you place your lights according to the mood you intend to create.

3. Post processing

Once you have the perfect shots lined up, it is time to sit down on the computer and work to get that shady look. You can choose to set the images to black and white for it adds more drama to the moment. In post-processing, it is all about playing with contrast and bringing out the detail with enhanced clarity.

On the whole, it is all about practicing and improvising until you get that effect you envision. So with a little imagination and technique, you can create dramatic film noir portraits in your studio set up. Watch the full video to take a run through the process in detail. 

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Gabrielle Colton's picture

I love seeing light tricks like this, but I get lucky and find locations with natural effects like these, I have watched other photographers take hours to get this stuff right in the studio, I just go find a perfect place because that's easier for me lol

Sandrigo Zoilo's picture

Been there, done that, a year ago: or #ZoiloNOIR on Instagram ;)

All shot in my living room, partially fake backrounds with "comicesque" look (think "Sin City"), GIF Experiments and i started to make some kind of a story out of it, around damsels, killers, beaten wifes, old lovers and so on.. and also include some teaser/interlude videos i shot on my own :D

Was really fun to do so, before i started the project i watched 50+ hours Film Noir movies to get into the mood and get to know the look of it.

greets Sandrigo