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Drama, Danger, Mystery—and Photoshop

By Alyssa Coppelman

Photographer Robert Moran’s series Noir is an eye-catching throwback to film noir, with all the drama and mystery of the classic genre, as well as a modernity gained from elements that could only be present-day. That effective combination pulls you into the images. Even though there isn’t a lot of action in the photographs, the tension of light and shadow creates an energetic atmosphere.  

The concept of the series was born when Moran noticed that some of his images shared qualities with  1940s and 1950s film noir: They were “somber, dark, gritty, and mysterious; some with a subtle hint of danger,” Moran says. In general, though, Moran created the images anew. “As the series progressed, I relied more on scouting for images and less on finding them in my files,” he says. “In the process of creating this series, I’ve learned to rely more heavily on intuition. It has become an essential part of getting the effect I’m trying to achieve. Intuition has always played a role in my photography, but never as much as in this body of work.”

The editing process for Noir is laborious. Moran begins with color digital files that he converts to black and white. “After that,” he says, “the real work begins.”

Almost every image in Noir is a composite of elements taken from his other photographs, as well as elements he shoots specifically to add to a scene. He usually makes at least three versions of each composite—sometimes as many as ten versions—and picks the best to use as the final image. 

Moran does most of his editing and compositing in Adobe Photoshop CC. “For the most part,” he says, “I use basics like the Crop and Clone Stamp tools, image adjustments like Brightness/Contrast, Shadows/Highlights, etc. It’s really not complicated; doing several versions of each image is what makes it time consuming.”

Moran’s influences are plentiful, including several Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini films. “Persona and The Seventh Seal come to mind,” he says. “A more recent film that that has had a profound effect on me is the Polish drama Ida, with its stunningly composed frames. I believe it’s the most beautiful example of cinematography that I’ve ever seen.”