A Centuries Old Portrait Lighting Technique Is Still One Of The Most Useful Skills To Learn

by Bret Hoy1 Comment

Your prior experience is what defines how you initially approach any shoot you work.

Unless you’re able to control everything and spend plenty of time doing pre-production planning for every set up, you’re going to fall back onto your go-to setups. If you have a variety of options in your back pocket, ready to go, it’ll take a lot of the stress out of making those snap decisions about lighting and camera angle.

Centuries ago, the Dutch Painter Rembrandt perfected a style of lighting with his chiaroscuro portraits. The style is instantly recognizable. Forty-five degree angle soft light, with bold shadows. It’s professional, and the use of shadows actually accentuates the natural sharpness captured by your camera.

Andreas Jorns, in his article for Popular Photography, discusses how he uses this technique and what he considers the best practices.

What I find to be really useful about this technique is that often, you don’t even need a light on site to get good looks. As Jorns explains, window is one of the best ways to get the soft, large source you need for the correct shadows. If you bring a decent amount of negative fill, you can usually create whatever you might want.

If you haven’t implemented Rembrandt lighting into your workflow, now is absolutely a great time to start.

How To: Create Dramatic Portraits With Rembrandt Lighting

Dramatic Portraits With Rembrandt Lighting

Jorns likes the simplicity of Rembrandt lighting. “This shot took all of five minutes to set up and shoot,” he recalls. His exposure was 1/350 sec at f/4, ISO 400. | Photo Credit: Andreas Jorns, Ajorns.com via Popular Photography

Via Popular Photography:

When it comes to portrait lighting, here’s a sure bet: Merge the power of two classic formulas, Rembrandt and window lighting, as the German portrait and fine-art photographer Andreas Jorns did here. Rembrandt lighting (named after the Dutch master whose portraits epitomize the style) is prized for its ability to bring out facial modeling. See how its adjacent shadow pops the model’s nose forward? Also note how well shadow sculpts the line of the left cheek. Add to that the flatteringly soft quality of diffuse window light—so forgiving of complexion issues—and you’ve got a successful portrait.

Jorns, who is based in a suburb of Duesseldorf, describes Rembrandt lighting as “a style that illuminates only one side of the face, but with some detail remaining in the shadowed side. Its signature is a triangular highlight under the eye on the shadowed side that emphasizes the face’s plasticity.”

For Rembrandt lighting, place your main source to the left or right side of the subject and aim it down at the face at about a 45-degree angle. Keep adjusting its position until you see the telltale triangle and the shadow to the side of and slightly below the nose.

As his main source, Jorns prefers window light because it’s soft and flattering to most skin types. He describes it as one of the most people-friendly light sources. “I do like flash photography, but in my experience people are more comfortable with available light than artificial. They act more naturally in front of the camera,” he says.

Read full article at Popular Photography “How To: Create Dramatic Portraits With Rembrandt Lighting”

Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from Popular Photography)


  1. Thanks for those great tips!!!
    I love the lighting when it comes to indoor photography. And the most difficult thing is indoor lighting. I am not a real fan of flashes. I love to play with natural window lighting.

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