Check out this No-Budget Film Noir Lighting Tutorial from Tom Antos, created exclusively for No Film School. The tutorial shows aspiring film noir directors how to create the famous and distinctive lighting style on a budget.
Antos, a regular contributor at No Film School, has posted other cinematography tutorials to the site, including “Beginner’s Guide to Shooting a Dialogue Scene: Camera Angles, Framing, and Rule of Thirds” and “Learn How to Build a Good DIY Rain Machine for $15 (& a Great One for $60).” Here are some of his tips:
You can get professional looking shots with materials you have around the house.
Antos used work lights from the hardware store and aluminum foil to create a spotlight for his actress, Carolyn. “What I end up doing is just taking some regular kitchen tin foil that you use in your everyday baking, (…) and I wrap it around the light and create this little cone that’s going to tighten and direct the light. This is (…) similar to what you could do (…) when you’re using professional movie lights and you have barn doors on them,” says Antos. “Basically, it stops the light from spilling around the edges.”
He also created makeshift “Venetian Blinds” by using strips of duct tape on a rectangular frame. “You could use actual blinds if you have them, it’s just using tape, I think, is quicker and also allows you to adjust the size of the blinds if you want them.” He then adjusted the blinds between the spotlight and Carolyn so that hit Carolyn’s eyes, nose, and cheeks perfectly. “That’s also going to really bring attention to her eyes.”
The “Hollywood Starlet” look is your friend, so use it.
“I placed that [light] line above Carolyn’s eye line and almost full frontal hitting her face, so that it creates the typical film noir shadows under the nose and then under the chin. This is also what’s referred to as a ‘Hollywood Starlet’ look,” says Antos. “If you look at, for example, old photos of Marilyn Monroe or any of these ’50s and ’60s movie stars you’ll notice a lot of that kind of lighting. It adds a slight shadow on the cheekbones, makes the face look a little bit longer, it’s just basically more pleasing to the eye.”
Post-Production tricks can fix things you may have forgotten during production.
“One effect that I like that Colorista [in Adobe Premiere Pro] allows you to do (…) is a softening filter. If you know anything about film noir, or just your ’50s, ’60s cinema, a lot of times when you have female actresses the DP’s would put a piece of silk on the lens to kind of soften the look and create this little glow in the image without making the shot look out of focus,” explains Antos. He turns the Pop filter in Colorista to -20.0 to add a “light glowing effect” to his shot.
It’s absolutely possible to do this on a budget.
“If you can afford to get nice movie lights, sure go for them, but if you can’t, just stick for now to cheap do-it-yourself techniques using these sort of hardware lights,” says Antos.
You can check out all of Antos’ tutorials here.