Facebook Linkedin Twitter Flickr RSS

Lighting is Easy Blog

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

Lighting styles part one: Rembrandt Lighting

Chuck 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


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!

Have anything to add? Tell us in the comments:

Lighting a glass object

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Artwork: Duncan McClellan Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

Here's a real challenge: For this image, we needed a good representation of this piece of art. The challenge was to show it's semi-opaque nature and also show the raised details in the glass. Here's the setup:
A bare bulb directly behind the object
A large soft box directly to the right of the object at about 90° at the same height as the object
Another large soft box behind and to the left at about 45° at the same height as the object
White paper seamless as the background which gave an easy way to cut a slit to put the cord through for the bulb behind the object.

I decided to leave a few reflections of the soft box on the black parts of the object to show the difference between the gloss and matte parts. Even though they could be eliminated, a little bit of reflection and discrete hot spots visually indicates high gloss.

An easy, quick 2-light setup that works

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Getting good predictable results is key to doing professional portraits. Usually, professional people don't have a lot of time to wait for us to get everything perfect, so here's a good, simple plan to get great results every time:

The setup is simple; two soft boxes, one large and one small. You'll also need a reflector to open up the shadows. That's it. If your subject has dark hair, you can either add a hair light with a snoot or grid, or just move the small soft box in the back up to get some light on the hair. Here's the setup:

All the lights are set to the same power and the light to the rear with a small soft box is twice the distance from the subject as the large soft box in the front to produce a nice ratio of light.

Here is the camera and lens info:

Classic portrait lighting technique

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Model: Chainsaw Chuck Majewski Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

My buddy Chainsaw Chuck stopped by my Studio Lighting Class at The Arts Center for a few portraits. Chuck is a very talented illustrator and photographer and was more than happy to try anything we could think of.

For this image, I wanted to have a 30's kind of look and give him the look of great stature. So, in the spirit of old school lighting, I used a single bare bulb with a snoot on it. That's it.

You don't need a lot of equipment to get good results. I've noticed that most of the old pros don't use a lot of equipment on their shoots, and I've found as I've grown as a photographer, I'm using less and less equipment. I guess it's just human nature to want to complicate things, and I think there's a lesson there.

Here are the technical specs:

Window Light Style Portraits

Chuck Vosburgh - Tuesday, November 02, 2010

An examle of a Window Light style of lighting for a portrait. Model: Gamze, Photographer: Chuck Vosburgh

The window light style of portrait lighting is a classic style that works well with both males and females. The hallmarks of this style is the shape of the shadow on the near side of the nose and the highlight on the side of the face away from the camera. For this piece, a snoot was used as a hair light at about 45º and to the rear. Two large soft boxes were positioned as shown in the drawing and a reflector was used to open up the shadows a bit more and to block the rear soft box from casting a glare on the lens. here's how it was done: