Moody light – An exercise in Film-Noir

Alfie and Irwin take time out with Sayaka – with some interesting results…

Sez Sayaka: ‘I want a film-noir retro look, like that movie ‘In The Mood For Love”.

Nothing else to do but to bust out my lights and take her up a backalley.

And no, nothing rude was involved.

film-noir, In The Mood For Love, Japanorama

This would be an exercise in creating ‘moody’ light – in other words, hard, directed light.  How does one do that?

Remember, the smaller the light-source is in relation to the subject, the harder it looks. It packs more of a punch over a smaller area and tends to throw hard shadows.  This is important to keep in mind when aiming for hard light.

For a *really* good explanation of what that all means check out David Hobby’s post here if you haven’t already. Better still, read all of Lighting 101 and 102.

Now with that in mind, let’s take a look at what we shot in the dark alley that night.

Sayaka - Japanorama

Exhibit No. 1 by Alfie, lights by me.

This is what you would call a hero shot – one of the shots running double-truck inside a glossy movie booklet introducing the characters.  The backdrop?  Some backstreet in Shimbashi.  You see the red splashing off the steel cabinet over there?  That’s from a yakitori shop-front behind us.  Found backdrops like these are always awesome.  The lighting? 1 SB-900 zoomed to 200mm to camera right.  1 SB-800 to camera left pointed at the background to bring up the background a little.

Couldn’t be simpler, and with the right exposure the results are pretty damn nice.

One thing to watch though – spill. Check it out:


Here’s another photo without its makeup on.  Do you see the blue highlight just by Sayaka’s elbow?  That’s spill from the SB-900 on the right reflecting off the very shiny metal casing.  The way to fix that?  Use a flag to hide the side of the flash so the steel casing can’t see it.  Wanna learn more?  Look up specular highlights on I ain’t gonna explain it when it’s already been done so well :)  Or come to a strobist class with Japanorama. We’ll learn ya.


Film noir - Japanorama

Exhibit No 2 by Alfie, lights by me.

Once again, Alfie’s approach to this shot is to create a heroic character which he certainly has. Had some issues with the big neon sign to the right of her waist, but that’s another article for another time, and I’ll let Alfie deal with that one.

Same backalley, different angle.  Check out the light on her face, because there are two things to note about it.  Notice how none of it has gotten on her shoulder or jacket?  That’s because I was using a tight gridspot positioned to target only her face (and hand – she had it in just the right position to catch the beam, bless her). Restricted light = Dramatic light. The other thing is the warm colour tone of her skin. Strobe light is balanced to white, and can look a little vampirish against a dark scene. For a close-up shot like this I banged a CTO (that’s Colour Temperature Orange) gel over the strobe head to give her a bit more colour.  The devil’s in the details.

Wanna learn how to shoot like this? Japanorama has a strobist workshop planned for the 31st of May – if you want to join up, contact us! Spaces are pretty much filled but..we’ll see what we can do.

About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

We also welcome submissions of photos and articles for this site, so please get in touch via our contact page. Thanks. © 2015 All Rights Reserved

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