Noir Night with Robyn

November 9, 2010 at 11:02 am (Edmonton, Photography, Strobist) (, , , , , )

I have always liked the light and shadow look of film noir movies. Traditionally these movies are shot in black and white, though this is not strictly necessary (have you seen Chinatown?). Trying to create a film noir look in photography is something I have wanted to do for a while, and after hooking up with Edmonton model Robyn Brown I had my chance.

The noir look requires very hard light. This is difficult (if not impossible) to achieve with a bare, unmodified speedlight, so a little creativity was in order. I am not a rich man, so I figured something DIY would be appropriate. For this shoot I used my SB-600, as well as a borrowed SB-800 speedlight, so I fashioned two snoots out of black posterboard and duct tape. Total cost: about $3 bucks or so. The snoot funnels light through a tube which controls the spread of light, concentrating it in a very small area. Exactly what you need for noir.

Exposure 0.04 sec (1/25) Aperture f/13.0 Focal Length 46 mm Strobist: SB-800 high camera right 1/8@105mm snooted Triggered with CLS

As you can see in the above photo, the snooted speedlight positioned camera-right produces very high contrast lighting, with half her face properly exposed and the other half completely obscured by shadows. A small amount of ambient light serves to add a bit of definition to the rest of the scene.

Noir is not all about lighting however, it is also about mood, style, and story. Inspired by a shot I saw by Joe McNally I decided to see if I could ‘tell a story’ with a single shot. The idea was to convey a ‘damsell in distress’, threatened by an off-camera knife wielding maniac. I am still not completely satisfied with my results, but I think it was a good first effort. See for yourself:

Exposure 0.005 sec (1/200) Aperture f/16.0 Focal Length 19 mm Strobist: SB-800 1/6@105mm high camera left SB-600 1/10@85mm camera right.

I had the SB-800 at camera left to light Robyn, and the SB-600 camera right shooting through an arm holding a knife to cast the shadow on the wall. As you can see, the shadow turned out quite well, though the placement could be better. The lighting on Robyn could certainly be better.

All in all, I learned some new stuff, and as always, had a great time. Many thanks to Robyn for being such a great model, and to Hugh Lee and Rory Mallett for assisting on this shoot.

One more for you:

Exposure 3 Aperture f/16.0 Focal Length 25 mm Strobist: SB-800 camera left 1/4@105mm SB-600 camera right 1/6@85mm through omnibounce Triggered with CLS

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Homebrew Sabbattier Effect

December 29, 2009 at 2:57 am (Computers, Howto, Photography, Software) (, , , , , )

In photography, the Sabbattier Effect is a technique originally described by H. de la Blanchere in 1859 whereby some of the images tones are reversed. It is also commonly called solarisation. The technique seems to have been ‘invented’ many times over by many different people, the common thread being that it was introduced by inadvertently turning on lights during darkroom processing. After many years, the effect can be created while processing negatives, while creating prints, or in our case, digitally using a computer.

In any event, the effect creates a high contrast look that is especially well suited to architecture and other man-made subjects. In my opinion, the effect does not work all that well and looks rather unpleasant on human subjects and scenes from nature. Of course, given the right picture to begin with, there are always exceptions. Your best bet is to experiment.

Many photo editing software titles include a solarisation filter, however, if yours does not, or if you want more control over the final look I will describe a method for creating the sabbattier effect using only the curves tool and a desaturation filter (ie: convert to black and white).

The first step is to choose your subject, and to convert it to black and white. I choose a picture of the Erickson Building in Penticton BC, that I had cropped square. Here is the original shot:

Now after converting to greyscale open up your curves dialogue. Basically what you want to do here is create a ‘sine wave’ shape. Hard to describe, but easy to show…here’s what it looks like in digikam, including a preview of the result:

This step is wide open to experimentation. Try different shapes and levels on your curves. The more ‘oscillations’ you use in your sine wave, the more pronounced the effect will be as you can see here:

You’ll notice that abusing the curves tool in this way has introduced some colour artifacts back into the picture. Not a problem, just convert to greyscale once again, and that’s about it. Again, experimentation is the key here. Twist those dials and see what you can come up with. Now here’s the final results, first the mild version, and then the more extreme version:

So there it is. Please leave a note if you found this useful or not, or have any other concerns, questions, or comments. Thanks!

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