• josutherstphotography

Informing Contexts – Lighting Experiments – Moody, Dark and Dramatic

“It’s not about what you light, it’s about what you don’t light.”- Cinematographer John Alton

I am drawn to the low key lighting used in the Film Noir Hollywood crime dramas of the 1940s onwards .  Amongst others, The Third Man film from 1949 has influenced how I interpret and produce work to portray a range of images that appear as though they could be stills from a movie. By adding dramatic lighting, shadows and smoke to an image, tension, danger and mystery are embedded in the images.

The shots were lit from the side instead of the front of the subject. This makes the subject less flat and gives a sense of true size or depth in relation to the setting. I was able to vary the intensity of the light across the subject to get the effect I wanted. I made sure that there was little ambient light and closed all curtains to remove unwanted light sources. Flash was not used for these shots, just studio lights.

Figures 1-7: Sutherst 2017

The interrogation shots were influenced by shots that go right back to the early Film Noir films. The subject is lit more directly as well as the light being used to cast shadows.

Figure 8: Art Kavali

Figure 9: Sutherst 2017

Even though there is low light in the shots, I used a low ISO (100) and shot at f8, 1/250 for most of the images. This allowed me to have a high contrast between dark and light, keeping shadows and dark corners to enhance the feeling of suspense. The low ISO ensured that I reduced the level of noise in the images. I do however, need to increase the contrast and increase the amount of white in the images as they look too grey at the moment.

I have created images in both colour and black and white. Black and white pays tribute to the classic Film Noir genre, whilst colour adds a depth to the mood I am portraying.

Figures 10 and 11: Sutherst 2017

Figures 12 and 13: Sutherst 2017

The results of this experiment achieved the results that I was aiming for.  There is very little post production in Photoshop (in most cases there is none at all).  The images are characteristic of the Film Noir genre and could easily have been stills from a film.  I am pleased with the results so far.

I have more work to do with lighting experiments to arrive at a style that will portray the correct mood in my images.  I will be using different sources of inspiration to help me along this process.


Alton, J. From Screenhead. 2017. The cinematography of Film Noir. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.screenhead.com/the-cinematography-of-film-noir/. [Accessed 23 February 2017].

Figure 8: From Art Kavali. 2017. Art Kavali. [ONLINE] Available at: https://artkavali.wordpress.com/. [Accessed 23 February 2017].


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