Noir Lighting

The prolific Lloydville of has just posted a great article on film noir lighting: The Look of Noir.

It’s a commonplace of writing about film noir to see its dark, moody lighting as derived more or less directly from the German expressionist cinema of the 1920s and 1930s… There’s another, home-grown visual tradition that I think had a much clearer influence on the look of noir — the American tabloid crime photography of the 1930s and 1940s…

This closing frame from Jacques Tourneur’s Out of The Past (1947) illustrates Lloydville’s argument, with a natural flash-like highlighting of skin-tones:

Out Of The Past (1947)

While Lloydville mounts a very strong case, and knows more about the topic than me, I wonder whether the development was simply a result of using a new technology to film night scenes, rather than there being a conscious or even unconscious tabloid or other influence on directors or cameramen. A factor also is the extent to which the placement of lighting is used to light a scene. A tabloid photographer has control only over his flash and his camera’s perspective. Consider this frame, again from Out of The Past, where the only available light is deliberately placed at a back angle to the scene.

Out Of The Past (1947)

2 thoughts on “Noir Lighting”

  1. Interesting that you decided to re-post this Tony. It seems to be very much a topic that’s en vogue at the moment. I co-admin a German Expressionist Facebook group, and am surprised by the rate at which we get new member requests. However, the same applies to Film Noir. It’s great to see these old cinematic traditions re-emerging and gaining popularity, especially within younger circles.
    I totally agree with Lloydville’s comments. In fact they pretty much reflect my own thoughts expressed in my piece Uncovering The Origins of Film Noir. But Lloydville brings too light the connection with police photos, which, although pretty obvious when you come to think of it, no one else has picked up on…as far as I’m aware.


  2. Alan, I am recycling older posts to my other feeds at G+, Twitter, and Facebook.

    There is an interesting connection here that has surfaced since this article was posted. A police photograph museum in my hometown of Sydney has opened and there is an uncanny element of noir in the crime scene photos on display. Visit the web site at

    Also have a look at this gem of a book from a Japanese photographer of a 1958 crime investigation


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