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Stuck in a rut in your portrait lighting? Want a classic look that doesn’t go out of style but you keep ending up with bland, so-so images? Check out old movies for inspiration.

Black-and-white movies from the 1930s and ’40s are a great source of portrait techniques and now that a lot of them are coming out on DVD you can freeze frame them and study the lighting patterns at your leisure. When you start to watch old movies like Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart or The Third Man with Orson Welles you’ll notice that no matter what situation the characters are in the lighting fits the mood perfectly.

If it’s a sultry scene with a starlet, the lighting moves to an overhead butterfly pattern with some diffusion to give her a soft dreamy look. When you want a man to have a rugged chiseled look, use hard edged short lighting. For a funnyman an even broad light makes him look brighter. Sometimes one simple scene between two lovers can almost be a master class in lighting for your mood.
In addition to the movies mentioned above, check out the lighting in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
—Matthew Panzarino
Contributing Blogger