A few weeks ago I watched The House on Haunted Hill with Vincent Price. I always get a kick out of the old movies, especially the horror ones, because of the over acting and exaggerated action scenes (that’s not to say that current movies are not sometimes overacted and don’t have exaggerated action scenes). I also enjoy the lighting they used in the old black and white films. Today if a movie wants to portray a mood they can adjust the color of the scene to be everything from warm and cozy to cold and creepy green. Just watch the Harry Potter series and watch how the colors of the world change as the story gets darker. However in the black and white era they had to rely on music, acting, and lighting portray the feelings of danger or suspense.
After watching the movie I decided to go and shoot my own version of a black and white suspense film. So first off I contacted local model, Nikki Ready. Nikki is beautiful and just has that glamour look that I tend to associate with old Hollywood movies. I told Nikki to just select some things from her wardrobe that had that mid to late 1950’s feel. She brought an assortment of clothes and I selected a white blouse and black pencil skirt. We offset it with a large black overcoat, which she appreciated since it was a very cold morning.
One advantage I had in this was living in the south. Our rural downtown town area has lots of old buildings that date back to that period or at least close to it. I selected three locations that included a narrow alley, the outside of an abandoned hardware store, and under a bridge crossing over a railroad track. When I set up shoots with a theme I like to have a short story in mind, sort of a guide as to how the pictures will progress. I told Nikki to imagine she was the heroine in an old black and white film running from the bad guys. For Nikki’s poses my goal was for the images to look like stills from an old movie so I told her to avoid anything that look like a glamour style pose.
For lighting I knew I needed a contrasty light. I looked up some reference images for some old black and white horror/thriller films. I noticed the actors faces where often lit with one light and that lights in the background often times where aimed at a wall behind the actor giving separation and depth to the frame. I decided for my lighting to go with a simple two light set up. To get my contrasting light I choose a white beauty dish without a sock to be my key light. I placed this further away from Nikki than I normally would with the light being an average of 5 to 6 feet away. Beauty dishes have a fast falloff but being this far back allowed me to light her full figure. The distance caused the light to be more contrasty than if I placed like my normal 1 to 2 feet from my subject. My second light was just a speed light on a stand. I fired it as a slave to the beauty dish always aiming it at a wall behind Nikki. I tried to keep it an average of one to two stops less than my key light so it lit the wall without being so bright as to cause distractions.
It was a very overcast day which really helped to produce the images I wanted, it also allowed me to do one image with the key light behind Nikki and her face lit just by ambient light (see the picture at the top). I used this basic light set for all the images except under the bridge. Here I went with just the beauty dish to give a stronger contrast and to enforce the idea that a train was coming towards her. We worked for a little over an hour total which included going to different locations and setting up lights. In post everything was very simple. Minor retouching to Nikki then converting to black and white. I did use some of the new color lookup filters in Photoshop CC to give the images for of a film look.
I enjoy large productions where there are tons of things going on and you have lots of things to keep up with, but nothing is quite as enjoyable as working small and fast to create some fun images. I will be working on some more one day projects towards the end of February including a look-a-like shoot and a shoot based on the character Van Helsing from the Dracula novel.