Film Noir Photography - ImproNoir by YesFinland

At the YesFinland Improv Studio in Tampere, Finland we have been working with a talented cast of local improvisers to produce and perform a film noir inspired improv show during the fall of 2018 and spring of 2019. We wanted to bring the show alive in the social media channels by introducing some Film Noir inspired photo and video elements to promote the shows. This sparked the idea to do a themed photoshoot around the topic and to film a few short promotional videos. In this post I’ll show a quick run through of how the photoshoot was done by using just basic equipment and simple post-production.


The choice of equipment wasn’t difficult. In this particular case I used my trusty Canon 70D body with a Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8. Flash Lights were a basic Falcon Eyes Photo Studio Kit, any similar will do. Additionally you need a Hotshoe Adapter to connect the DSLR with the lights. The backdrop was a black curtain borrowed from the sound studio of YesFinland. The performers wore their stage costumes spiced up with some noir elements like cigarettes and whiskey glasses that are not normally used on stage.

To light a film noir photo, it goes a lot deeper than using flash guns on the subject. The lights are suppose to create hard shadows on the subject to add a sense of mystery and danger to the picture. This is mainly done by pointing the lights from the sides of the subject instead of the front. Setting the lights correctly for each subject will take the most amount of time and using the modeling lights in the flash guns will help adjusting them properly. To save some time in the studio it’s suggested to have an assistant help adjust the lights. Remember that lighting from the front makes the subject completely visible and flat and that’s what you want to avoid. For the camera settings I used ISO 100, f/10 and 1/200 sec.

The portrait before any post-production

Post Production in Adobe Photoshop CC

First it was time to get rid of the actual colors so I added a Black & White filter and adjusted the Brightness/Contrast to get more contrast between dark colors and white parts of the photo. This enhances the shadows and brings more mystery to the photo. Additionally I added a burning cigarette head to the photo to make it look like it’s burning, we’ll add some smoke later. You can find pictures of burning cigarettes on Google and cut and paste the burning part to your picture, easy and effective.

Black & White, Brightness & Contrast Adjustments.

The final element is to add is some smoke to generate that feeling of a chain smoking hard-boiled detective. This is easiest done by using Smoke Brushes in Photoshop, start by adding one or multiple of many custom smoke brushes one can find for free online. After you have installed your smoke brush of choice you can add smoke around the subject and a more direct fume coming from the cigarette. For my portrait the opacity for most of the smoke was around 40%, but this is completely dependent on the image, so it’s best to play around for the best effect.

And there we go, with just a quick post-production we got a great basic film noir look done!

I enjoyed immensely working with this style of photography with a talented cast of improvisers! 

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And check out YesFinland for the latest news on Tampere area improv events!

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