It’s unlikely that you can talk about film noir-style portraits without mentioning the lighting setup. The dramatic shadows and highlights that define the subjects play a key role in the signature style, and it’s not always clear from looking at a portrait how the photographer pulled off the setup to capture the dramatic look. We’ve broken down plenty of lighting setups before that emphasize drama in portraits and wedding photos—including Linsday Adler’s striking fashion photography, Seth and Beth Kerechanin’s innovative approaches to lighting wedding portraits, and even offered some tips for achieving the film noir look.
Here, New York City-based lifestyle portrait photographer Erik Valind gives you hands-on dramatic lighting tips with a video that teaches you how to capture a low-key, high-contrast, film noir portrait for your clients using accessible gear and realistic setups. Valind uses only two flashes: a Rogue FlashBender 2 XL Pro Lighting System and a Rogue 3-in-1 Flash Grid in his set—no large lights or heavy modifiers needed!
For the main light, Valind says the Rogue 3-in-1 Flash Grid creates a directional spot light that gives a crisp edge to the subject’s shadows. Using the 45° spot allows him to create a circular shape to the light with nice fall-off. He uses a strip bank (which he says is like a soft box, but slimmer) that gives a narrow strip of soft light. Valind also forms the FlashBender 2 XL Pro into a gridded strip, which makes the flash source larger in size, and in turn, the light is softer but also directional. “This gives us surgical precision, highlighting what we want, hiding what we don’t,” he says. All in all, Valind says, “[this process] creates a stunning high-contrast portrait that is great for models, seniors and boudoir!”