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Jared Bedrejo

Noir Lighting

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I'm shooting a short noir film fairly soon in which the whole short takes place in a living room between a spy and a femme fatale. I have an idea of how I'm going to light but was just curious how others would approach the lighting. I'll probably be working mostly with fresnels but getting other equipment shouldn't be a problem. We'll also be shooting at night, so that'll be a plus. Would love to hear from y'all!

 

 

IMG_4542_zps3d51c7c3.jpg

 

IMG_4530_zps1130be4c.jpg

 

 

Here's the floor plan of the blocking for more reference. Blue is the lady. Kinda confusing but hell, I'll add it anyway.

 

ScreenShot2014-10-18at100016PM_zpseb780b

Edited by Jared Bedrejo

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I'm shooting a short noir film fairly soon in which the whole short takes place in a living room between a spy and a femme fatale. I have an idea of how I'm going to light but was just curious how others would approach the lighting. I'll probably be working mostly with fresnels but getting other equipment shouldn't be a problem. We'll also be shooting at night, so that'll be a plus. Would love to hear from y'all!

 

If you look closely at classic noir lighting you will notice it is high contrast with deep shadows and hard light patterns thrown on the set. The quality (color temperature and hard/softness) and placement of a light is motivated by a source (practical or window) in the scene that is upstage of the talent. Which means, the talent is generally lit with reverse keys motivated by these practical sources. In this approach, the camera shoots into the shadowed side of the talent creating contrast and a low-key effect.

 

Noir lighting is hard to do on practical locations, especially on ones with white walls. Because the motivated sources of light in noir are generally upstage of the talent, it requires a lot of rigging of lights. On top of that, the lights have to be cut off the walls and large areas of the set to create the high contrast typical of noir which means even more upstage rigging. Classic noir was done on stage sets for these reason and scenics would at times actually paint the shadows onto the walls. Fortunately, the open framing and tensions cables of your locations ceiling will enable you to do a lot of the necessary rigging with just 2x4s, and inexpensive deck framing hardware. For example, while not a night interior per say, we created a low key dramatic lighting effect for a Bose spot, transforming a flatly illuminated wood shop into a scene with warmth and contrast, with nothing more than 2x4s and deck framing hardware.

 

bose_woodshp_sm_wspicframehor.jpg

Dramatic motivated reverse key lighting for a Bose spot.

bose_woodshp_sm_wsinteriorgridshor.jpg

A grid constructed of 2x4 lumber will enable you rig a light in the optimum position for motivated reverse key lighting

bose_woodshp_sm_grid_com_1_hor.jpg

A baby spud on a 2x4 joist bracket will enable you to inexpensively rig a light to lumber.

bose_woodshp_sm_grid_com_3_hor.jpg

2x4 joist brackets will enable you to quickly construct a lumber grid capable of rigging a light anywhere overhead.

In this approach to lighting, practicals must be treated to make them look realistic. I find that practical lamps never look convincing unless one treats the lampshade as well as boost the bulb wattage. That is because if you stop down to keep the shade from burning out, the output of the practical, on the table it sits on or the wall its on, looks rather anemic. I find you get a more realistic look if you boost the wattage of the bulb and line the inside of the shade with ND gel. It is a delicate balance to obtain.

 

You can obtain this delicate balance without a monitor, by using the old school method with incident and spot meters and a selection of practical bulbs including PH 211, 212, and 213 bulbs. Years ago Walter Lassaley, BSC, instructed me to balance practical’s such that an incident reading of the direct output one foot away from the bulb is one stop over exposure. I have found that rule of thumb gives a realistic output to the practical - the light emitted downward onto the table top and upward onto the wall or ceiling is realistic. After establishing the practical’s output using an incident meter, you then use a spot meter to determine how dense an ND gel is needed to line the inside of the shade so that the shade does not become too hot.

Millers_Crossing_Example.jpg

 

The scene above from “Millers Crossing” lit by Barry Sonnenfeld is a good example. The table practical appears to be the only source of light in the scene, but clearly it takes more than just the table practical to light the room realistically. For a good explanation see David Mullen’s analysis at http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?showtopic=55891

 

With the right equipment, time, and a little ingenuity there is nowhere that a good grip can’t put a light, or an electrician power it – so don’t let your mind’s eye be fettered by gravity or power.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston.

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Guy, that's all very interesting, but I'd personally be a bit cautious about rigging all that stuff. I could probably do it safely - I'd overengineer it terribly to account for my inexperience, I'm sure - but we should be clear that rigging arri fresnels over people's heads isn't something that should be taken lightly. Many of the people we get here can't afford to hire - well - you, and will be doing it themselves.

 

P

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How about this noirish gangster picture from my student days.

A blonde, redhead and a couple of practicals.

Shot off the Steenbeck so not too hi-res but you get the idea.

Minimal fill, just a northlight behind the camera IIRC, enough to light the slate.

DSC07831.jpg

DSC07817.jpg

 

DSC07828.jpg

Edited by Mark Dunn

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I'm shooting a short noir film fairly soon in which the whole short takes place in a living room between a spy and a femme fatale. I have an idea of how I'm going to light but was just curious how others would approach the lighting. I'll probably be working mostly with fresnels but getting other equipment shouldn't be a problem. We'll also be shooting at night, so that'll be a plus. Would love to hear from y'all!

 

 

IMG_4542_zps3d51c7c3.jpg

 

IMG_4530_zps1130be4c.jpg

 

 

Here's the floor plan of the blocking for more reference. Blue is the lady. Kinda confusing but hell, I'll add it anyway.

 

ScreenShot2014-10-18at100016PM_zpseb780b

 

I too am shooting a short very soon, at night, with fresnels. I have two 650w and a 1K. Since the area I'm lighting is fairly small, that will do the trick.

 

Are you shooting film or digital? If you truly want a noir look, the key is deep black shadows - not murky shadows. So I would go with a minimalist approach. Don't over-light. And that staircase is screaming out to be lit from above!

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I like to look at images to gain some understanding of how to light. So, here is a 'living room' scene from a classic noir film... "Double Indemnity"(1944). Note the 'low' key, with some top light, and a few 'through the blinds' type effects.

 

DoubleIndemnity2.jpg

A more modern 'noir'...

 

tumblr_m99tp5hNpV1rof04v.jpg

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I think one can call Chinatown's lighting... 'noir but not noir'... there are some homages but even if one accounts for the use of color vs. B&W often the lighting is much more flat than the 40's. But even then one would find scenes in a 40's 'noir' that were 'flat' relative to the classic looks...

 

One can sort of take 'noir' a couple of ways... one is the technical lighting, B&W, sets as mentioned being painted with shadow, etc. Or one can take 'subject matter' as the noir element, which is the "Chinatown" approach for the most part.

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I often think of "minority report" as a kind of ultra modern, sleek, interpretation of noir, though having not seen it in a few years it's hard for me to currently nail down the exact elements thereof.

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I often think of "minority report" as a kind of ultra modern, sleek, interpretation of noir, though having not seen it in a few years it's hard for me to currently nail down the exact elements thereof.

 

Yup...thematically, it definitely had the tone down.

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Well done Jared, I think most of that came up a treat. The dappled light across faces worked particularly well. The main suggestion I'd make would be to look out for shadow positioning when you have actors facing each other. At several points you have the backlight on one character casting a strong shadow across the face of the other whilst they're talking - in those situations I'd strongly suggest altering your blocking to keep those shadows off the character the camera's capturing (or adjust your lighting to compensate).

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I thought it turned out great, Jared.

 

A few moments were not quite in period style... when she is leaning over the laptop and he is standing behind her, he gets a bit dim and flat, at least an edge light of some kind would have helped. That other moment when they are both backlit with no light on their faces but some ambient glow, a film noir of the 1940's would have had some underexposed key light of some sort in the shadows to catch their eyes, or conversely, gone for a true silhouette, which would mean adding a spot glow to the wall behind their faces, but then, they would have also probably shot them in profile for a more interesting silhouette shape, not 3/4. In that moment, you were relying on the latitude to hold some dim detail in their unlit faces, something a 1940's cinematographer wouldn't have relied on, he would have added something weak to get that effect.

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Thanks everyone. I noticed what you guys pointed out after we finished shooting. Maybe with time travel I can fix the problems... Hehe. But thanks again!

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Hi Jared looks great. Have you got any more diagrams/ behind the scenes photos you could share?

Also what lighting equipment/camera did you use?

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Rob,

 

I don't have any more behind the scenes photos to show because I was heavily on the clock to take photos. I shot on a Red One MX with a Red 18-85 zoom lens. Equipment wise, I used one baby outside to silhouette the actress and another baby dappled with some cucoloris to serve as the the outside light when she walks in. The lamp turned on next to the actor was motivated with a tweenie. For the kiss scene, I used a clamp light with a 150w bulb hung from above to serve as their side light.

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