What do I need to make a photo in French Noir style?

Maybe I am not naming the style correctly, but the examples should give an idea of what I mean. Can somebody explain what technique and attributes I need to create photos in the mentioned style?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you maybe add a link to photos showing the styles you want? This makes it easier for the answerer to understand what you are trying to achieve. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2013 at 14:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sure, question was updated \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2013 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm ok, i've separated them \$\endgroup\$ Feb 24, 2013 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


The style is typified by low-key, dramatic lighting - lots of shadow and contrast, even silhouette.

I would pick a fairly dark setting, and start with side lighting to maximize the contrast on my subject. Would make use of subtractive lighting (e.g. use a flag or black reflector) to further increase contrast. Would use barn doors to keep too much light from spilling.

I would light the background with some form of gobo. For example, I might shine a light through a houseplant or some window blinds, to create patterns on the background. Could experiment doing this with the main light, creating light and shadow patterns on the subject.

A fog machine could be used to add some mood to the scene.

An example of the background I'm talking about:



The single biggest factor in shooting noir is imagination and some flair for the dramatic, that's not something we can supply a formula for. Still, search "film noir" on Flickr or Google Images and you'll get an huge numbers of samples for inspiration. One thing to consider, though, is the use of cookies in the shots, it adds a lot to the feel of the image and is very common in these type of shots. A common example of that is the use of window blinds.

For the most part, after that, the images tend to be black and white (not always though) with some level of grain in the shot and, maybe, a vignette. It varies a little with the image and there's not really a hard and fast rule, so experiment with your shots. In terms of doing that, though, it depends on your software. I use Photoshop and I have plugins such as Nik's Silver Efex Pro that simplifies the process, but it can be done in other ways as well with Photoshop or GIMP (the grain tutorial I linked to should be do-able in GIMP even though it's a Photoshop tutorial). Ideally, you're able to work with raw images, rather than JPEG, and so have some flexibility in your work.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.