Still Life Flower Photography and a Classic Film Noir


This latest photograph, ‘Pure’, a flower photography Still Life, reminds me of the classic and brilliant filmThe Night of the Hunter’. Directed in 1955 by Charles Laughton and starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish, ‘The Night of the Hunter’ is about a Serial Killer, named Reverend Harry Powell, who marries a widow, Willa Hunter, who has two children.  Without giving too much away, it is set in West Virginia; in prison Powell learns about $10,000 that has been stashed away by the children’s Father, (who is executed).  He then marries the widow and he pursues and intimidates the children in order to find the hidden cash.

The cinematography by Stanley Cortez, is both beautiful and startling in its Black and White, film noir, distinctive style. Influenced by German Expressionism, there are many shots where there are sharp contrasts, where interiors look like theatrical sets with strong angles in the structures, surrounded by darkness. The rural exterior shots have a dreamy, fairytale like quality, yet this is juxtaposed by the dark foreboding and menacing appearance and personality of the Preacher.

The performances of the entire cast are excellent and Mitchum’s performance is second to none as the powerful and horrific Preacher.

The flower photograph, to me stands out as beautifully shaped and textured, yet the stigma (centre) is slightly darker than the rest, with a rough, (for want of a better description) nutty look to it.  The edges of the flower are very dark, with shadows, as well as having dark specks on the petals. After many considered alterations, I chose to keep the stem a darker tone too. The dark gradient surrounding the flower is in direct contrast to the highlights on the flower.

Initially I wanted to work this Still Life as a colour image, but when I created the B&W conversion and adjusted the Split Toning to a near Sepia in Lightroom, I knew that this was the perfect fit.

The photo was taken with a full power Elinchrom D-Lite RX One, with a 12 degree, 18cm Grid spot to the left, another RX One with vertical Strip Box behind the flower on the right, at a quarter power and a white bounce card front right to bounce back excess shadows.

The most difficult part was centring the 12 degree Grid Spot on the translum background, behind, as the light had to be exactly centred behind the flower in it’s position. The first photo that I took, and spent ages manipulating, was with the centring slightly off, which was not rectifiable. (FYI Translum is a plastic material which is akin to frosted plastic and creates a soft, diffused glow when a flash is shone through it).

For extra effect, I added a few droplets to the flower, with a mixture of Glycerin and water, with a teat pipette.  I did sharpening and increased the Clarity on the flower in Lightroom with the Adjustment Brush as I did not want to sharpen the gradient.

This image brings to mind ‘The Night of the Hunter’, because of its stark contrast and slightly unreal quality of the flower (the flower is fake) and the image as a whole. If you view the beauty of the flowers petals together with the highlights and the light spot behind it and compare that to the darker textures and and the darkness of the gradient, you may find that there is something rather surreal and skewed about this Still Life photograph.  This is what Charles Laughton and Production designer Hilyard Brown created in the set design in the film.

Here is an excellent review of ‘The Night of the Hunter’ on Deep Focus Review. Beware there are some spoilers.