September 18, 2014 at 9:53PM


Film Noir Lighting

I have this homage project I'm working on and one thing i was thinking about was the lighting since I plan on making it black and white. My question is if I should even set up any type of lighting for scenes since its going to be in black and white or should just rely on the natural light would it make a difference visually on the video.


Black and white requires more attention to lighting, you can use any colour temperature of light and mix them but you need to create more contrast and difference in tones on screen when there is no colour to separate things. I would bring just as much lighting as you normally would and treat it the same making sure you get great contrast and great range of black to whites through your images.

September 19, 2014 at 10:03AM

Chase Axton

Film noir is all about contrasts and how light is used to tell a story -- i.e. a character moving from a shadow into light.

It should be shot in B&W from the get go.

Consider the characters in the original '64 Fail Safe:

and the 2000 Fail Safe:

The difference speaks for itself. The original noir -- the highlights are actully burned and the shadows are unrecoverrable. Anything else and it will look like the cheesy 2000 home video conversion ;)

Good luck!

September 22, 2014 at 5:21PM


One must always be able to create what one wants to see in the final product on-set. Film Noir is all about creating a feeling through lighting. Without lighting equipment, not only are you unable to get that particular look, but you will generally be unable to get a decent image of any kind.

The FN genre evolved out of the expressionist movement. They had no reservations about blocking out part of the frame with black paint on glass in front of the camera, flagging off light to deepen shadows or even paint shadows onto the set to represent objects out of frame. Some other things to keep in mind are: 100 ISO film was considered high speed, so it's beneficial to stay close to that. Pan-chromatic black and white film is still more sensitive to blue than red, so set your white balance to "tungsten" even when shooting outdoors. You can use a yellow filter on the lens to darken the sky. On that note, don't use LED or fluorescent lighting. It was carbon arcs or tungsten in those days and you can see the difference even in black and white. Long DoF was popular, not the razor thin DoF like today. They used A LOT of intense, hard light to make highlights bright while using fairly little fill and often shot at F8 even indoors. Some scenes could be lit by a single 10K Fresnel way out of frame, a few bounce cards to fill in the subjects a bit and silks to soften the light where it's TOO intense. Finally, video doesn't clip well; it's ugly, so you won't be able to blow out the highlights as much as they did in the films.

In addition to reading Alton's "Painting with Light", I worked on several Film Noir productions including a fairly authentic Noir Sci-Fi picture a few years ago, right down to the Mitchell 35mm camera loaded with Double-X (200 ISO) and all practical, on-set effects including front projection. It was a lot of work but was really eye-opening and fun. I was on audio for that production, but I think they used a 28mm or 50mm lens most of the time.

I hope that helps.

October 24, 2016 at 5:18AM, Edited October 24, 5:22AM


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