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How to create Noir style portraits

Who has never come across some scene of movies Noir, one of the things I think most cool in this category is light, which brings a drama unique to the photography of these films, and in today’s tip I will talk about how to create portraits with Noir style.

How to create Noir style portraits

Noir style portraits


As for all photography work, it is always a good idea to do good research before, and look at works by other style photographers, or even other types of works that can bring you inspiration.

Equipment, camera and lenses

The choice of equipment is an important starting point. There is no rule, but equipment that facilitates your work has always been worthwhile.

In this case a Canon 5D III was used with a USM Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens.

Equipment, lighting

This type of image was usually illuminated with high-power incandescent lamps, and the direction of light and the quality of it was controlled by some grid spot.

In this image was used two Canon 600Ex-RT flashes, controlled by transmitter.

Which created a very simple light setup. One of the flashes used a gridspot pointed straight at the model to create strong lighting on her face, and the other with a large hive behind her to take off the model from the background.

Noir style portraits

Learn how to make a homemade grispot here


In pictures it is very important to choose the photo exposure based on which depth of field you want to create. So if you choose a lens with focal length close to 85mm a good start for aperture choice can be close to f/8.

Shutter speed is also a very important point, so as to block any interference from ambient light in your image, and that can record only the light that comes from your flashes.

The ISO 100 is enough for the available flash power, and will offer you a clean, noise-free image.

Lighting mounting

Every time you have any idea of lighting it’s good to put it on paper. This helps you visualize the configuration that the light, even if it comes from the environment, will create.

This sketch was produced for the situation of noir style pictures, and was used to guide the lighting mount in the photo shoot.

Noir style portraits

Measuring light

After setting the starting point values for the camera, it is time to calculate the position of the light and what the adjustments will be in the flashes, to create the desired effect.

With a white background about 2 meters from the model it is possible to create a lighting that makes it black, and will work much better for situations that the model has light hair.

The idea was to have light on one half of the face only and a little light on the other side, to create a mysterious air.

To reach the desired effect the light ratio was 2:1 for the main light, f/8, and the hair light was set to f/11.

Noir style portraits


Click, more than once if necessary, it is always good to test other settings, including the background color, to decide in post production which photo will look better.

Post production

There are many tools to convert the image to black and white, in case here was used Photoshop for such a procedure, but you can use direct in Lightroom for example.

Noir style portraits

A small adjustment on the red channel of the image will give you the nifty contrast on the skin, and also add a more dramatic mood throughout the photo.

It’s worth testing and experimenting even, you can work with the photo with more loaded black and white, in order to create even more drama.

Never forget also the theme of, like clothes and accessories, this will bring much more personality to your Noir style portraits.

Noir style portraits
Noir style portraits
Noir style portraits

Written by Rix Mascarenhas

Rix Mascarenhas is a photographer, videographer, and drone pilot at

Art lover, always involved with crafts, design, painting etc... As a photographer, I enjoy taking pictures and creating stories that have meaning and help people to thrive. My work is guided by the stories behind each scene that really represent the moment.


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