Film Noir Cinematography on a Budget

This week we’re trying to get the classic
Film Noir look using just one light and some household objects. Let’s start with lighting – a clear theme
in Film Noir is the use of hard shadows. I’m going for this fairly neutral look,
which is very common in these films, just a small nose shadow slightly to one side.
Since the shadow is lower than their nose, we know we’ll need our light to be up fairly
high. And because the shadow is smaller, we know
that their light was more in front of the actors, rather than to the side, where there
would be a lot more shadow. So based on that, I set up my light almost
directly in front of my nose. I’m using the LED100D Mkii+ that Pixapro
sent me, since it has that single, small light source that will be great for those crisp
shadows. Now I started out with the Pixapro light on
full power, so for a decent exposure I had to set the lens to f/6.4.
Now we’re trying to convince the audience that the light in this scene is coming from
that lamp, so, I dimmed the Pixapro light way down, and then widened my aperture to
f/4. Now we’ve got the same exposure overall,
but we can actually see that light is coming from the practical lamp, it’s motivated.
But I think that whole desk is too bright now, I feel like my eyes don’t know where
to settle in the frame.. So let’s do some problem solving. We want
less light on that desk, so we’ll pan our main light to the right, so the beam is more
focused on our character. That sort of worked, but it’s introduced
another problem, this reflection back here… So let’s point our light back to the middle. Another option is to physically block the
light using black wrap. So we’ll attach the foil and mould it until
it’s blocking the desk, but this solution has created another new problem…
I think this frame just looks strange. If this lamp is where the light is supposed
to be coming from, then why is it so dark right behind it?
The light is no longer motivated, to me it looks a lot more like a film set, than an
immersive world that the audience is supposed to believe in.
So, I scrapped the blackwrap, and finally realised, wouldn’t it be easier to just
block the reflection directly? Let’s pan the light away from the desk again,
but this time we’ll stick a paper towel in front of the glass.
Now we can freely point the light away from the desk without any reflection problems. So the point is, three different solutions
I came up with just created more problems… And that’s how it goes for me when I’m
lighting, you change one thing and it ruins something else completely.
But, most of the time, we will find the real solution eventually, it just takes longer
than expected. And, you know that’s true for most aspects
of filmmaking. Now, the Noir look is about a lot more than
just lighting – let’s look at costume. Admittedly I’m not going full on with the
costume here, still wearing my jeans and a t-shirt, but you get the idea.
The typical protagonist in a classic Noir would never be caught wearing a flowery shirt,
he’s a hard-boiled working man. The hat naturally pairs with our hard shadows,
making for a cliche introduction to a stony detective who’s mysterious and morally questionable. Let’s clear the desk since our detective probably
wouldn’t have any of this stuff around, and let’s look up some reference photos, which
are always a great starting point. I couldn’t get hold of a typewriter without
spending any money, so let’s grab a magnifying glass, plenty of folders, even photo albums
to give the impression of a busy detective’s documents.
Finally, let’s switch out that lamp for something that’s office-like. After doing this, of course the new lamp is
even brighter, so once again we need to darken that desk.
Let’s try the black wrap again, completely blocking out the table and most of the background.
This time I think it actually worked, since that lamp is bright enough that it gives us
plenty of light to still look motivated. So there we go, using just one light, and some
things I found around the house, we have ourselves a fairly simple film noir style set up of
a detective. My name’s Simon Cade, this has been DSLRguide
and I’ll see you next week.

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