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Lighting is Easy Blog

Free resource for learning how to use off-camera flash and studio lighting.

Lighting styles part one: Rembrandt Lighting

Charles Vosburgh - Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Model: Jake Castella Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Rembrandt lighting is named for the Dutch painter Rembrandt, who often used this type of lighting and is frequently used in studio portrait photography. It’s popular because it produces natural and dramatic lighting with minimal equipment. It can be done very easily using one light and a reflector, or two lights. Rembrandt lighting is characterized by an illuminated triangle under the eye of the subject, on the less illuminated side of the face. 

How to set it up

Put the key light high and to one side at the front, and the reflector half-height and on the other side at the front, or you can use a second light set to about half the power of the key light.

The key in Rembrandt lighting is creating the triangular shape of light underneath the eye on the shadow side of the face. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face is darker except for the triangular shape of light cast by the key light.

The triangle should be no longer than the nose and no wider than the eye. This technique can be subtle or dramatic by altering the distance between subject and lights and relative strengths of key light and light from the reflector or fill light.

Here's a very subtle effect:


Model: Liz Calver Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Trivia

The first use of the term “Rembrandt Lighting” is credited to the movie director Cecil B. DeMille.

DeMille said that in 1915, while shooting THE WARRENS OF VIRGINIA, he used portable spotlights “to make shadows where shadows would appear in nature.” When his business partner Sam Goldwyn saw the film with only half an actor’s face illuminated, he feared the exhibitors would pay only half the price for the picture. After DeMille told him it was Rembrandt lighting, “Sam’s reply was jubilant with relief: for Rembrandt lighting the exhibitors would pay double!”

Give Rembrandt Lighting a try on your next subject!

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