Due for: 02/10/16

For this assignment, I chose to research Film Noir, and the history, equipment, lighting aspects and techniques that surround it. To do this, I looked up exactly where and how Film Noir started and what inspired the themes and moods that frame films, giving it it’s name of ‘Black Film’. Furthermore, the history of the lighting techniques used was also researched. I wanted to find out  why  Film Noir Directors chose that particular lighting style, what inspired it and how it was set up to achieve the desired look. In addition, I looked up the physical lighting equipment that was used and available in the era of Film Noir.

Primary research of the Lighting in Film Noir included taking pictures inspired by the low lit scenes in Film Noir. Also, I watched film Noir movies and scenes and analysed and took note of lighting techniques used and how they impacted on the scene and added to the Mise-en-Scene of the movie.

Secondary Research involved examining pictures already taken from Film Noir movies and reading articles and books on the subject.




Pictures taken to experiment with shadowing



This picture is also an example of the lighting used. The key light was more intense in this image while the shadows were eliminated more than they usually were in Film Noir. They did this mainly for the female characters, in order to draw attention to their features. Taken from Double Indemnity (1944) (http://www.rssing.com 2016)
A screenshot taken from the movie A Gun For Hire (1942) showing the 3 point lighting system used. It emphasises the contrast between the key light reflected onto his face versus the shadowing created by it. (Screenshot taken from my viewing of the film)
Taken from ‘A Gun For Hire’ (1944), this picture shows the high contrast between the light and dark elements in the scene, a common feature in Film Noir. (Susan Liston 2016)
This screenshot was taken from A Gun For Hire (1944)  and shows the Venetian Blinds technique. (Screenshot taken from my viewing of the film)


A visual demonstration of what Barn Doors look like. (http://www.rssing.com 2016)

http://www.rssing.com (2016)

A visual demonstration of ‘Flags’ (http://www.rssing.com 2016)
Demonstration of Cucocolis (Freya Rudd 2015)
Demonstration of the ‘Go Before Optics’. (Freya Rudd 2015)



When researching anything, it is vital to know where it stemmed from. Film Noir originated in France, in the 1950’s. It was inspired largely by both previous films and literature.One of the inspirations came from  German Expressionism in film in the 1930’s. These films were well known for it’s exaggeration and distortion . Furthermore, during the 1930’s in America, ‘hard boiled’ novels were extremely popular, and were centered around crime and detective stories. They were very different to the traditional English Detective ones, which were more about upper class investigators. Instead, the hard boiled novels involved tough men, violence and a lot of law breaking. This is what many Film Noir Films were based on. Above all of this, the most prominent factor which inspired this famous genre was the environment it was created in. The post World War II atmosphere was very dark, full of pessimism and uncertainty, and this was heavily portrayed in the films, especially through the way lighting was used.

Film Noir is most known for it’s lighting techniques. The harsh contrast between the light and dark parts in many of it’s scenes is why it is called ‘Black Film’. It can also be identified as Chiaroscuro Lighting, which was deried from a painting style in the same era, including the same kind of contrast exhibited in Film Noir. Patrick Keating, author of ‘Hollywood Lighting from the Silent Era to Film Noir’ (2009) commented that Film Noir is completely nontraditional, and was always reversing the established stylistic norms of the classical cinema. While typical films admired the high key images and shallow focus, Film Noir took the opposite root and got it’s fame from the low lighting techniques and intimate focus on the subject. Andrew Spicer commented in  Historical Dictionary of Film Noir that the director Krasher’s work in his  film The Criminal (1960) ‘was radically different, his harsh unforgiving lighting and cold grey location shooting created the brutal and alienating world’. As mentioned before, it is also frequently noticed that the distortion created from these lighting techniques are very close to that of German Expressionism.

The low lighting techniques that were used to portray the dark side of American life after World War II came out of pure necessity. It was simply because there was a limited amount of money that could be spent on lighting systems, yet such a high demand for films. To achieve this look, most Film Noir directors used a three point lighting set up. This involves the key light (main light source), the fill light (to fill in the shadows created by the key light) and the back light (to add highlight to the subject in the scene). In Film Noir however, this lighting system was altered to make the key light extremely bright and close to the scene, and the fill light quite dim, creating more shadows, particularly on the faces of the subject. Nicolas Serhan pointed out another lighting technique in his article, called the eye light. It is evident in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1944) as shown in the picture above. It’s purpose is to add a dramatic effect and  show emotion in the subjects eye. This technique was often achieved by using barn doors- external laves that are attached to the outside of the camera lens to block out all light, except that which is to be shone on the eye of the subject. A picture demonstration of this is also show above.

Furthermore, there are so many different lighting setups used in Film Noir, a very popular one being ‘shadowy figures’. This was noticed in many films and clips that I watched, such as  Frank Tuttle’s A Gun For Hire (1942) It added to the mood of uncertainty and mystery not only because of the narrative that follows a detective, but also proving the theory that the lighting techniques did portray the post World War II atmosphere and American mindset. This shadow technique was achieved by setting up a series of intense lights behind the actor and outside of the frame , so that the shadow was projected onto the wall behind. I attempted this technique myself, by shining a high intensity light onto the face of my subject at a slight angle in an otherwise dark room, so that her facial profile was projected onto the wall behind her.

In addition, the Venetian blinds set up was also frequently used in Film Noir, such as  in Double Indemnity (1944). It involved the streaky effect of the blinds being projected onto the subject, with high contrast between this projection and the subject itself. It was achieved by shining a highly intense light through the blinds at a slight angle, so that it reflected through these blinds onto the subject.

Moreover, although the three point lighting system is used in Film Noir, the Key light together with the back light are main ones used, in order to provide as much contrast between the bright light and the dark shadows as possible. Equipment used to create this shadowy look include the cucocolus (cookies) and the ‘Gobo’ (go before optics). The cucocolus are cutouts which are made out of either wood, plastic, metal and cast a patterned shadow. They are positioned between the light source and the subject, so that that the pattern, is cast onto the subject. In A Gun for Hire (1942), there is a great shot where the shadow of a crow is projected onto the the shoulder of the subject, this is a great example of a cutout used and gives a tremendous dramatic effect to the scene. Furthermore, Gobo’s are extremely similar to the Cucocolus. It is a glass or metal cutout that fits between the light and its lens, creating a very precise projection of a particular shape. This one is ideal for the Venetian Blind.



Spicer, A.( 2010) Historical Dictionary of Film Noir, Scarecrow Press.

Keating, P. (2009) Hollywood Lighting From the Silent Era to Film Noir, Columbia University Press.

(Unknown author) The Basics of Lighting for Film Noir. Available at:  http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/the-basics-of-lighting-for-film-noir/ Accessed: 01/10/2016

PremiumHeat.com, 2015-2016. Lighting Tips For Film Noir  Available at:  http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/the-basics-of-lighting-for-film-noir/ Accessed: 30/09/2016

Film Noir And the American Tradition, 2016. Lighting in the Maltese Falcon. Available at: https://sites.tufts.edu/nicserhanfilmnoir/2015/02/01/hello-world/ Accessed: 01/10/2016

Storify, 2016.The Use of Chiaraco Lighting in Film. Available at: Noir. https://storify.com/YvonneNjuguna/the-use-of-chiaroscuro-in-film Accessed 01/10/2016

Nonetwork, 2016. A Peek Through the Venetian Blinds: What is Film Noir? No Film School Available at: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/10/peek-through-venetian-blinds-what-film-noir Accessed 30/09/2016

Camberwell Studios Ltd, 2009. Camberwell studios. Available at: http://www.camberwellstudios.co.uk/film-production-guides/film-making-tips/76-film-noir-lighting.html

Encyclopaedia Brittania, 2016. Film Noir. Available at:  https://www.britannica.com/art/film-noir. Accessed 26/09/2016.

joebutterworth (2013) flags Available at: http://miproduction13.blogspot.co.uk/ (Accessed 25/10/16)

joebutterworth (2013) Barn-doors-600×316 Available at: http://miproduction13.blogspot.co.uk/ (Accessed 25/10/16)


http://www.rssing.com (2016) mary-astor-3. Available at: http://waldina895.rssing.com/chan-38303256/latest.php. (Accessed 25/10/16)

Freya Rudd (2015) cucocolis Available at: http://freyaruddasmediaproductionschs2016.blogspot.co.uk/2015_10_01_archive.html (Accessed 25/10/16)

Freya Rudd (2015) gobo 3. Available at: http://freyaruddasmediaproductionschs2016.blogspot.co.uk/2015_10_01_archive.html (Accessed 25/10/16)

Susan Liston (2016) alan-ladd-in-this-gun-for-hire-1942-1363664343_org. Available at: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/411229/alan-ladd-in-this-gun-for-hire-1942 (Accessed 25/10/16)