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How I created a Film Noir theme
For someone who loves colour so much, Film Noir seemed like a strange theme for me to take on. However, it’s probably one of my favourite themes to date because it pushed and challenged me.
I think, for me, Film Noir stands for a lot. It seems to be the first real role reversal for women in films, a genre where women were more likely to shoot you than iron for you. These femme fatales knew who they were and were not afraid to let you know.
My Film Noir photography theme let me play around with different aspects of myself, different types of editing, and different ways of posing and I love a theme that allows me to grow and learn.
And I loved being a Femme Fatale.
What is Film Noir
Film Noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasise cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. – Wikipedia
A style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. – Dictionary
In essence, Film Noir is the French word for ‘Dark film’ and these films were dark not only in the way they looked but also in their storylines.
I personally love this quote to describe film noir
‘The world of Noir is, at its core, a nightmare world. It is filled with odd synchronicities, unexplained events, and chance encounters, creating a chain of events that ultimate drags its unlucky protagonists to their foreshadowed end’ .
Rule One of Film Noir: ‘choose a woman with a past and a man with no future’. The second: ‘Make it any colour as long as it’s black’. ⠀⠀
Film Noir Movies
When I started to research this theme I got two books, Into the Dark and Film Noir that I found really interesting. These books had a lot of stills in from Film Noir films and helped me think about how I wanted my pictures to look.
The Films I turned to for most of my inspiration was The Dark Corner, Moonrise and Dead Reckoning.
While I’m sure everyone has a certain opinion about which Film Noir movies are best, these were the ones stylistically that I preferred. There still seems to be lots of debate about what is and isn’t a Film Noir outside of the classics, with some even claiming films like Pulp Fiction are modern noir themes.
One thing is for sure though, Film Noir films seems to break all the rules. They confused the viewer; harsh lighting and shadows often making it difficult to see what was happening, the camera angles are often extreme. And I think there are lots of films/shows today that take some of these ideas and mix them in. American Horror Story and Hannibal come to mind. I often think if I’m confused by a film, it probably has some Noir elements.
Some will describe Film Noir as a genre others a mood or style. I’m more in the mood and style camp and I think that comes out in the film noir photography I created.
Film Noir Posters
Film Noir photography
For those that know me, you will know I like to make my photos as easy to take as possible. Often preferring to add atmosphere in the editing. It’s just easier for me and means I don’t need loads of expensive equipment to produce something.
Most photographers when producing Film Noir will concentrate more on lighting, ambiance, etc: before the photo. I did not. All the photos were taken as I would normally and then edited. This will add a bit of a different feel than it would if creating light and shadows were done naturally, but I like to see how far I can push editing.
So if you want you can buy fancy lights and smoke machines, but you don’t have to.
The photos are mostly black and white, but I don’t necessarily think they have to be.
Sticking to black and white does make the photos easier though. The photos are often dark and of high contrast though and I think this is what sets them apart.
When you are taking them, think about the composition, lighting, and angle. Film Noir photos generally don’t have the background blurred out. They tend to be from close, high, or low angles that we don’t often see and the lighting is generally coming from the side to cause shadows. Standing with a window to the side can help to create this effect. Also having the model put a hand up to their face, or the clever use of hats can also help. Film Noir is all about what you see and what you don’t see.
You can also use backlight to create amazing pictures. I’m not the best at this but I had a go and was pleased with how it came out.
Film Noir Photos
Most of the photos I created were portraits, but honestly, the world is your oyster here and what I love about this style you can really play with extreme angles to see what works best.
I’ve created a Pinterest board here to give you some ideas.
Film Noir Portraits
I found posing for these types of photos actually quite natural. It’s good to follow the rule of creating triangles when posing for Film Noir, so much use of your arms and legs. For the full-length photos that I did, I drew attention to my hips, and for portraits, I often put my hands around my face to draw attention to my lips. This creates a more seductive look to the photos.
Film Noir is all about mystery, so to create this in the photo I would refrain from looking at the camera. This can be created by looking off to the side as if you are looking at something out of frame, covering your eyes with a hat, or taking the photo from the side or behind you. For Film Noir, it’s all about how to photo makes you feel. If there isn’t an air of mystery of the story behind the photo, then it won’t work. Oh, and don’t forget that red lipstick!
Editing for Film Noir
I really enjoyed editing these pictures as it meant I could exaggerate my editing if I wanted to. Lightroom has a handy tool where you can automatically turn the photo black and white, which I did, and I edited from there.
I often edited on the darker side and really exaggerated my shadows. I also brought down my highlights and my whites. By modern editing standards, this will make the photo look flat, but it gives it a nice vintage feel when the photo is black and white.
I would also vignette all of the photos and add some amount of grain to make them look old. This is a great thing to do if you want your photos to look vintage even in colour.
I also made use of the Graduated Filter (the rectangular icon in Lightroom) to add more shadows to a photo. This is particularly effective when you’re taking photos on a plain background as it adds more interest to the photo.
I love Film Noir because it allows you to not only break all the rules of photography but also the societal rules put on women. Things that might look overtly sexual look more seductive and subtle, poses that might look too harsh take on an air of mystery.
It’s really a fun theme to play around with, and I loved Creating Film Noir Looks