5 Film Noir Photography Tips


Frame and Focus the Scene to Match the Mood

Whether capturing still shots or video, film noir requires a distinct approach to camera settings. Even though film noir scenes qualify as low lighting conditions, the style relies on a high contrast between the darker and lighter parts of the scene. Thus, your goal should be to use the light and camera lens so that the shadows and dark corners enhance the dark mood of each shot.

To create this contrast, you'll want to capture as much detail as possible in the faces and objects on which your primary lighting falls. In both digital video and digital still photography, keep the ISO low for a higher film speed. This reduces noise, which can ruin the details in high contrast shots.

From there, select the aperture appropriate to the subject. High apertures (low f-stops) like f/2.8 and f/5.6 work best to capture subjects close to the camera. That leaves the background shadowy and out of focus. Lower apertures (higher f-stops) like f/11 and f/15 work best when you want to see details in the distance, as when shooting down a long hallway or city street.

Besides focusing your shot, you can frame your shot to reflect film noir style. This means upward and downward angles and tilting or moving the camera in ways that enhance the dark mood. The sidebar on this page describes one popular technique you might consider: the Dutch tilt.

Next, let's check out a tip that can add some color to your film noir experience.