How To Use Rembrandt Lighting in Modern Photography

Rembrandt Lighting In Modern Photography

Light is the most important element of photography. In portraits, soft light is usually the best and most flattering. Sometimes a dramatic side-lighting is more suitable such as Rembrandt lighting. This is the lighting technique Rembrandt Van Rijn used in many of his great portrait paintings. Before cameras were invented people would have their portraits or pictures painted by artists.

Every painting requires good lighting and Rembrandt and his use of sidelighting with a three quarter face view was to his liking. This method is still used in portraits by photographers today, also known as 'Old Masters' lighting. The effect remains exciting and mysterious to the viewer's eye. To achieve Rembrandt lighting, set up your equipment in a dimly lit room and place your subject 45 degrees away from a window if you want to approach natural lighting. If direct sunlight is a problem, diffuse it with a curtain or white sheet. Or you may use a strobe or photo light at 45 degrees slightly higher than the subject. Remember that the side of your subject's face away from the light will be shadowed.This makes an illumination on the face. Have your subject rotate their head toward the camera until you see a flicker of light around the eye and the upper cheekbone on the shadow side of face.

Keep in mind that if the nose shadow does not connect with the cheekbone shadow, it is not Rembrandt lighting, but only short lighting. You should mount a white poster board on the opposite side of the window or studio light at an angle. Doing this will reflect remaining light on the subject's dark side of face to soften the effect. Move around the reflector/white poster board to get the correct amount of fill light needed.

How To Use Rembrandt Lighting in Photography - Rembrandt Van Rijn Self Portrait
How To Use Rembrandt Lighting in Photography - Rembrandt Van Rijn Self Portrait

Portrait Studio Lighting Techniques

You should always use normal lighting in your portrait sessions but by all means, do try this technique if you think it is appropriate to your subject.

If you are photographing someone with defects, basic or rembrandt lighting can be used to make the subject appear more attractive as well. Here are some tips-

Defect: Prominent Chin

Head Position: Lean Forward

Camera Height: Higher


Defect: Prominent Forehead

Head Postion: 3/4 Face Chin Up

Camera Height: Lower


Defect: Bulging Eyes

Head Position: 3/4 Face Looking Down

Camera Height: Eye Level


Defect: Defective Eye

Head Position: Profile or 3/4 In Shadow

Camera Height: Optional


Defect: Prominent Ears

Head Position: Profile or 3/4

Camera Height: Eye Level


Defect: Facial Blemishes

Head Position: Profile or 3/4

Camera Height: Optional

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Comments 8 comments

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I can tell that you are really proficient with these camera techniques. Not that all of us plan to become professionals, but it is still nice to know some of these tips for our everyday photography.

Nicky Page profile image

Nicky Page 6 years ago from Indiana Author

Peggy- Thanks for taking an interest to this article.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

Thanks much for sharing these tips. I need the info in "bites." Looking forward to your other photography hubs.

Nicky Page profile image

Nicky Page 5 years ago from Indiana Author

Thanks RTalloni for the positive feedback.

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DaynaMarie 4 years ago

Great informative Hub. I am going to try the white board.

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