Tales from the Studio - Part 1 - Film Noir

The brief was a series of publicity pictures for an actor who was doing a one woman show. The visual style was 1940's / Film Noir / Femme Fatale and the images were to be shot to reflect that. After hair styling and the application of copious amounts of makeup there were problems since the lady in question was no longer in the first flush of youth.

However, the first thing to take care of was the lighting. I chose to use one 500W tungsten light to the side very close to the subject and another some distance away to provide some fill-in. To get it as dramatic as possible I placed the light very close to the subject, which resulted in her hair catching fire on one occasion!! However this was quickly dealt with and we continued the shoot. The poses were inspired by some images of Marlene Dietrich and Lisa Minnelli which we put our own spin on. A great many of the Hollywood star portraits were shot in the film studios using the movie lights, something I obviously didn't have access to, but my tungsten lamps were up to the task and I had more than enough light to work with.

The real work started afterwards however when I had to spend hours in Photoshop turning an image like the one above into the one below.

While there was no requirement to keep the images looking "natural" and a certain amount of soft focus was part of the "look" there were certain elements that had to remain sharp, hair, eyes etc. It literally took me days to come up results I was happy with, and it took going back to the originals and starting again quite a few times to get it right. What was eventually required were prints which could be bulk copied and sent out to magazines, newspapers etc. to publicise the show. The shot above and the two below were chosen, though my personal favourites (and those of the actor), the top and bottom shots of the post, weren't used.

Its always been one of my favourite shoots and I'm still pleased with the images. Black and White is not something I'm especially fond of, but it obviously works well for this subject matter. Also thank goodness for Photoshop. The movie studio photographers used to have to do this with spotting inks and brushes and apparently some of the movie portraits at that time were actually closer to paintings than photographs, because so much retouching work was done, so Photoshop was very useful.

An interesting experience working on a re-creation of a photographic style and trying to get digital files to produce a film look has always been something I enjoy. Though it has to be said that most times its a good deal easier than this.

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