Photography – Underground Noir

Posted on October 6, 2008

Underground Noir

Seedy detectives, beautiful femme fatales, dark subplots…I happen to be a fan of film noir for all the right reasons, but what I love most is the cinematography – the foggy, soft-focused, phantasmagoric city full of mystery and danger. I decided to break in my new computer by dusting off one of my old images in Photoshop and seeing if I could achieve that same look. Keep reading to see the original, and a few of the techniques I used.

I started with this picture:

London Tube - Edgeware Road

And from there, creating the effect was pretty simple. It goes without saying that I did all of my operations on separate layers so I could tweak them layer.

1. B&W/Sepia Conversion – I used CS3’s Black and White conversion tool (Layer-> New Adjustment Layer -> Black and White…). From there, I toned down the saturation of the Reds and Blue, and darkened the platform a bit. I also ended up using the default tint (sepia-like), as seen above, and boosted the tint saturation a tiny bit.

2. Curves – Contrast – From there, I wanted to further bring out the shot’s contrast, so instead of using the built-in contrast control, I created a Curves adjustment layer (Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Curves), and pulled down the darker colors for a more striking effect.

3. Soft Focus – From here, I copied all the previous layers into a new layer which I called, appropriately enough, “Soft Focus”. On this layer, I applied a Gaussian Blur (Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur) of 50 pixels. Then I changed the layer blending mode to “Screen”, and lowered its opacity to 60%.

If it looks too bright, you can try duplicating the blurred layer, changing the new layer’s blending mode to “Multiply”, and adjusting its opacity until it looks just right.

4. Film Grain – This was simply done by using the Noise filter (Filter -> Noise -> Add Noise), setting the noise distribution to Gaussian, 3%. Anything higher than that, and the grain loses its pleasing subtlety and becomes a nuisance.

5. Vignetting – The darkened corners add a bit of character, as if the shot was taken with a Holga (or any lens that does not fully cover the film/sensor). Photoshop has a filter designed to remove these, but you can actually add them. Simply go to Filter -> Distort -> Lens Correction. Under “Vignette”, adjust the “Darken/Lighten” controls to darken/lighten the corners, and the “Midpoint” controls to increase or decrease the width of the image’s corners.

These are actually fairly simple changes in Photoshop that can breathe new life into old images (this one was taken last summer). The trick is knowing what each of the filters and image adjustment layers do so you can improvise, and figure out what needs to be done to match your imagination with what’s on the screen.

» Filed Under Everything and Nothing, Photography


One Response to “Photography – Underground Noir”

  1. Warning: parse_url(http://?) [function.parse-url]: Unable to parse URL in /home3/nigel/public_html/wp-content/plugins/wp-gravatar/gravatars.php on line 93
    chillingsNo Gravatar on October 6th, 2008 11:45 am


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