Cinematic Photography: Exploring Neon Noir
Updated: May 16
What Does Cinematic Mean?
Cinematic photography is a style of photography which looks as though the image is a screenshot from a film. For some photographers, they focus their cinematic photography efforts into creating images which tell a story. Others focus more on the aesthetics. In particular elements such as the composition, colourisation, and lighting.
For me, as much as I adore images that tell a story, I enjoy focussing more on the latter. When I think about some of my favourite films, the things that spring to mind is the cinematography and how directors frame their shots. More importantly, the colours that they use to convey specific emotions and set the scene.
Photographing Cinematically- My Exploration of Neon Noir
For this shoot, I explored the film genre 'neon noir' which is closely inspired by 'film noir', a genre influenced by German Expressionism. It is known for commonly showing a cynical outlook on life, chiaroscuro lighting and expressionistic sets. However, neon noir moves out of these shadows and adds a new colourful spin on the genre. They still focus on the common story elements but now have slightly different elements:
Electronic music soundtrack
A gritty urban setting that almost acts as a character of the film
Expressionistic use of costume and setting
Noir lighting infused with neon colour
Although, I directly took inspiration from the film 'Drive', it was the setting and colour where I focussed most of my attention. Colour is one of my favourite things to play around with in photoshoots. I love experimenting with it and seeing how, just by altering them, you are able to create an entirely different image with different moods and aesthetics.
Make Movies With Photos: My Process
Whilst I was at university, I worked for Entity Magazine in Los Angeles for a short while. I had spare time to shoot, so I got in contact with Travis Grant, an actor and model. As soon as I saw his portfolio, I knew that he would be the perfect model to help me achieve my vision for this photoshoot.
'Drive' was set in Los Angeles, so what better location to emulate this film than Downtown Los Angeles itself. Downtown, its gritty nature, especially at night time, creates the perfect backdrop for cinematic photography. I knew that shooting at night would present a number of challenges but, by utilising the ambient light of store fronts and signs, we were able to create a brilliant, noir aesthetic.
In Lightroom, when editing the images, I was able to change the hues of these lights to get my desired look. Changing the colours of these allowed for exciting experimentation. As you can see from the stills from 'Drive', blue is a prominent colour. It's one of my favourite colours in general to work with, so I was keen to incoperate it into these images.
When experimenting, I discovered that I also loved the mood that was provided by magenta hues. Alongside the orangey yellows, these purples complemented the cinematic visuals. These colours provided a mysterious, enigmatic look. Paired with Travis's amazing modelling skills, the neon noir cinematic look was achieved.
Music And It's Influence
So, if you have seen 'Drive' you will know what an amazing soundtrack it has. Its a beautiful mixture of electronic and dream pop. Not only is the soundtrack amazing, as a stand alone piece of work, it also perfectly complements the film and it's visuals. For me, I adore mixing music and visuals. I love how music can complement what's on screen and how it looks how it is sounds- if that makes any sense?
This is closely related to something that I experience called synesthesia. It is when one of our senses involuntarily triggers another; a fancy way of saying what happens when you experience one of your senses through another. So, for example, you may see a colour and associate it with a taste. My personal experience of synesthesia is hearing music and seeing colour.
I remember watching the film and getting so excited by how the music triggered visions of colour which exactly matched what I saw on screen. If you experience synesthesia you will know how utterly satisfying it is to experience these feelings. So, after watching the film I listened to the soundtrack over and over. I would make a note of all of the colours that would come into mind. I would scribble mind maps of the settings that I saw and that were triggered by the music. I took these notes with me to the shoot and throughout shooting, I always thought of the music in my head. Having these songs constantly playing in my mind helped me create the exact visuals I was imagining. I did the exact same thing whilst editing and I'm so happy with how my experimentation of photographing cinematically turned out.