Forget the cheesy fedoras and femme fatales for a moment. Film noir was, at its heart, about light and shadow, hope and despair, good and evil...and the difficulty of distinguishing everything in between. For this week's Shooting Challenge, rediscover noir.

The Challenge

Capture a photo in the film noir style. That means black and white with low-key lighting. Does it mean detectives and dames? Not necessarily. Go for the feeling and the tone, first and foremost.


The Technique

If film noir is known for anything, it's low-key lighting. All this term means is, rather than evenly light a scene with a number of bulbs, one light fires from one angle only. This creates deep shadows where traditional wisdom would advise you fill the dark pools with another light.

Of course, you don't need to light your scene with a single light in a literal sense. Just go for strong whites and deep blacks - high contrast.


For this sort of lighting, I really dug this simple tutorial that shows how a single light can work with a figure.

The Example

Our lead photo is from one of the earliest and most iconic examples of film noir, 1955's The Big Combo. Note its lack of texture, even within the smoke in this case. This frame is all about shape and contrast, figures and a disquieting frame within the frame.


The Rules

1. Submissions need to be your own.
2. Photos must be taken since this contest was announced (read more on that above).
3. Explain, briefly, the equipment, settings, technique and story behind shot.
4. Email submissions to, not me.
5. Include 970px wide image (200KB or less) AND a 2560x1600 sized in email. I know that your photo may not fall into those exact high rez dimensions, so whatever native resolution you're using is fine.
6. One submission per person.
7. Use the proper SUBJECT line in your email (more info on that below)
8. You agree to the Standard Contest Rules - though we DO accept non-US resident submissions.
9. If the image contains any material or elements that are not owned by you and/or which are subject to the rights of third parties, and/or if any persons appear in the image, you are responsible for obtaining, prior to submission of the photograph, any and all releases and consents necessary to permit the exhibition and use of the image in the manner set forth in these rules without additional compensation. If any person appearing in any image is under the age of majority in their state/province/territory of residence the signature of a parent or legal guardian is required on each release.

Send your best photo by Monday, August 15th at 8AM Eastern to with "Noir" in the subject line. Save your files as JPGs, and use a FirstnameLastnameNoir.jpg (970px wide) and FirstnameLastnameNoirWallpaper.jpg (2560px wide) naming conventions. Include your shooting summary (camera, lens, ISO, etc) in the body of the email along with a story of the shot in a few sentences. And don't skip this story part because it's often the most enjoyable part for us all beyond the shot itself!

Mark Wilson is the founder of Philanthroper, a daily deal site for nonprofits.