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This post was most recently updated on Feb 13th, 2022

Photography lighting techniques are important as they can create images with great visual impact. The right lighting can make or break a photograph, whether you want to create dramatic images with lots of contrast, or softer ones with a smooth finish.

One of these techniques is called Rembrandt Lighting. This technique creates a striking effect without the need for lots of photography supplies. This explains why it is a very popular approach used often in studio portraits.

We’ll cover what Rembrandt lighting is in this article, as well as how you can recreate the technique yourself at home.

Rembrandt Lighting Background

Rembrandt lighting is a photography technique named after the Dutch painter, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn.

Rembrandt was active in the 17th century and was known for his particular painting style. He used earthy colors and illuminating highlights in his portraits. This helped to emphasize the subject’s face, bringing out their unique features in a striking, yet beautiful manner.

It’s easy to recognize a Rembrandt portrait. One half of a subject’s face would be in a slight shadow, while the other half would have light cast upon it. You can also spot an upside-down triangle of light placed under the person’s eye.

To mimic this lighting setup correctly, the triangle of light shouldn’t be longer than the width of the eye or the length of the nose.

This Rembrandt lighting method creates portraits that are dramatic and brooding. The technique often uses a black or darker background to further highlight the subject.

Why Is Rembrandt Lighting Important?

Rembrandt lighting is one of the most popular photography lighting setups as it creates a vibrant effect without the need for multiple lighting tools. If they wish, photographers can add to the technique by using more tools, like a reflector, to mirror light back onto the subject.

Nevertheless, this setup still requires few photography devices or costly materials. The Rembrandt method is an affordable, easily performed, lighting technique that creates professional photographs.

Another reason why experienced photographers like Rembrandt lighting is because it creates an interesting effect called chiaroscuro. The chiaroscuro effect is when shadows on the subject interact with areas of bright light.

This is often seen in still life, as well as landscape and street photography. When used in a portrait, the darker side of the face is enhanced against the light, while the illuminated half is sharp, distinct against the dark.

When light and dark come into contact with each other, they produce a bold, tense effect. This is what exemplifies chiaroscuro and Rembrandt lighting. They can simultaneously create an emotional atmosphere and draw attention to a person in an enthralling manner.

How To Recreate Rembrandt Lighting

What Is Rembrandt Lighting In Photography? (And How To Use It)

Beginners can recreate Rembrandt lighting with little equipment, but it will take a little work to set up at first. You can mimic Rembrandt lighting in two ways. The first is with using a single light source, and the other is with using a reflector.

If you’re using the single light method, you will need two things:

  • An indoor studio setting
  • Light source with a stand (must be off-camera)

If you have them, you can also use a reflector or split light source, but this isn’t necessary for beginners.

Rembrandt lighting just needs a light source directed at a 45° angle from the subject. The best position is around 5 feet away, around two feet above eye level.

The light should be pointing downwards so it touches half of the subject’s face. Make sure that the lit half is furthest away from the camera.

Before you begin taking pictures, be sure that your camera flash doesn’t affect the lighting. You can turn off the flash to do this, but some cameras will have a ‘flash compensation’ setting that won’t affect the lighting.

If you choose this setting, take some practice shots to get to grips with the setting. Check the light and shadow balance on the subject’s face. The light and dark should have a lot of contrast, creating a bold and striking look.

Creating Rembrandt Lighting With A Reflector

If you prefer softer lighting, but still like the Rembrandt effect, a reflector is a good solution.

Begin by setting up your lighting as shown above, then position your reflector.

The best place for one is opposite the light at a 45° angle. Keep the reflector at eye level, around 3-4 feet away from the subject.

Make sure that the light bouncing from the reflector highlights the subject’s face.

Where To Use Rembrandt Lighting

As achieving Rembrandt lighting needs strong artificial lighting, it’s best to shoot your subjects in an indoor studio. Outdoor settings can have a lot of natural light which reduces the contrast in your photos.

If you have your studio, it’s a good idea to mark where your key tools will be placed (subject, lighting, camera, reflector). This will save you time in the future so you can recreate the lighting setup easily. You can use tape or a marker to do this.

Best Models & Occasions For Rembrandt Lighting

Some lighting techniques will be better for some subjects than others. Rembrandt lighting is great for round faces as it adds sharpness and contrast. It’s also good for people with longer faces as it highlights strong cheekbones.

Despite this, the lighting may not be the best for people with flatter or smaller noses. These features can make it tricky to achieve the right amount of contrast.

As Rembrandt lighting is so dramatic, it’s a good technique to use on actors or authors. However, as it can create a moody or somber effect, it may not be best to use it on politicians or certain public speakers.

The Bottom Line

Rembrandt lighting is a classic technique. As light and dark collide, the features of one’s face stand out strikingly. Rembrandt lighting is perfect for beginners and professionals alike, as it requires minimal lighting tools at a low cost.

If you do want to practice Rembrandt lighting, do so in an indoor studio, as outdoor lighting can make it difficult to achieve contrast. Markdown where you place each tool, like the camera, model, and lighting, as this will make it easier to set up next time.

Rembrandt lighting is very bold, but this can create a brooding atmosphere. Be aware of this as you shoot, as it may not be the best technique to shoot children, pets, or couples.