Brief Encounters with the Leica M & Noctilux By John Tuckey

Brief Encounters with the Leica M & Noctilux

By John Tuckey – See his website HERE

Nothing provides dramatic effect quite like a classic train scene. The half-empty carriage loaded with intrigue is a key Hitchcock device. Steam-wreathed platforms give Brief Encounter emotional tension on a grand scale. And where else, but the ridiculously romantic Gare du Nord, could Anouk Aimee have finally thrown off her angst and thrown herself into Jean-Louis Trintignant’s arms in the closing scene of A Man and a Woman? Unfortunately they don’t make rail travel like they used to.

My goal was to create a set of deeply atmospheric noir shots, intimate yet grand and tapping into a rich seam of old school Hollywood drama and elegance. As it turns out it’s not something you ‘just find’ and it needs more than a little planning – with a couple of false starts thrown in, it took me a total of 8 months to get access to the perfect location and an appropriate model aligned.



For a model, I was after more Ingrid Bergman than Grace Kelly, and I wanted styling to evoke the very feminine masculinity of Orry-Kelly’s women’s tailoring c. 1945. After some searching, I found the perfect coat and hat on ebay – an endless source for vintage clothing and less time-consuming than dealers and flea markets – the luggage, I already had.

Surprisingly, finding a period railway location in the UK was the easy part. Thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts all over the country there are still several beautifully preserved working railways, charming stations and impeccably restored trains.


I didn’t need a quaint station platform or too much intricate background detail. But I wanted steam-wreathed shots and authentic steam wasn’t an option – too time-consuming and unrealistic to expect a real train all stoked up on demand. So I knew I’d need a smoke machine and a partially enclosed set that would fill quickly and realistically with the smoke.

Recceing a location in advance is always good. You then get at least an idea of what lights to bring, what available light you have and what your limitations are in terms of space. Setting up and lighting is much easier and you’re aware of any potential issues beforehand. It turns out a carriage shed in Didcot was just what I needed: semi-enclosed, full of lovely old rolling stock, very fillable with fake steam.


The Shoot:

After months of planning and delays, finally the big day: Location? Check! Model? Check! Hair and makeup? Check! Smoke machine? Check! Camera, batteries, cards, lights? Check! Shot list? Check!

Working on location, it’s essential to know exactly what you want for each shot in advance so you have everything on site. You can’t plan for the unexpected, but if you have set parameters, you know what you want to achieve and you can work efficiently within your timeframe.



Actual shooting time? it took less than 2 hours, to pace, check, rehearse, shoot, trigger the smoke machine and shoot again. The rest of the day? 1 hour travel each way, 2 hours in hair and makeup, 30mins lugging kit and props across site to the location, setting up and breaking down.

The smoke machine was worth its weight in gold, It took less than 10 minutes to fill the shed with ‘steam’, radically altering the contrast of the scene and the nature of the images as it did so. Well worth it.


If there is a single piece of advice you take from my experience … I hope it’s to forget ‘f/8 and be there’, because sometimes ‘Preparation is everything’.

Best regards

John Tuckey


  1. I love the concept and the attention to detail and all the work that went into this shoot. Really impressive! My only reservation is that the model is clearly posing for your camera, looking directly at us. In movies, they never look directly at the camera. Even in still portraits of that era they nearly always looked slightly off camera. It gives it a different feel from the movie experience where we’re looking in on the world from the outside.

  2. Fantastic stuff. Love the b&w, the mood, etc. 🙂 If you had more time (and patience and money!) I’d have liked to see a story. No captions, just photos. I kind of like that idea for some reason, though I think most people would not. It’s basically like taking frames from a noir film and making a book out of them.

  3. There is still a modern look to the pictures, maybe too much lighting on the models face thats stops it being a true Noir sinister look.

  4. Wonderfully conceived and executed. These images provide inspiration for us all and show what can be done with the right skills and imagination. Great stuff!

  5. great shots, indeed! I love the thick clouds, the beautiful light contrasts in the scenes. only the shoes don’t match the timing 🙂

  6. Great shots and effort – especially the first two ones. They look like you wanted them.

    I think the 5th could use more contrast because there’s no visible steam and it just has different contrast to the others and falls off a little bit. Furthermore, it seams the model looks a little bit dull and out of place. She doesn’t convince me like someone arriving on a platform after a exhausting ride, looking for a beloved one, waiting for a train, excitement about an upcoming event … She looks like one of those modern, pretend bored fashion models.

    However, may I ask why you did all the effort? Was it an assignment or personal portfolio addition or just fun of shooting setups?

    • Soso, naturally I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun, but primarily shots like this are done to compile a set of twenty images for submission to the Royal Photographic Society ( With approval from their panel of judges, I’ll become a ‘Fellow’ of the society. It’s a high bar, and the highest accolade they can give, so worth a bit of effort.

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