Rembrandt lighting is a style that was created and named after a Dutch artist thousands of years ago. Starting as a painting technique, it has since become a modern photography technique.
Rembrandt lighting is created in a studio; a light, a camera, and an optional reflector create a triangle of light on the second half of the subject’s face.
To start out, position your equipment as seen below:
With this setup, the key light is focused on one side of the subject’s face. The reflector softens the harsh edge on the shadowed side while still leaving most of the face in shadow.
According to improvephotography.com, “To be a true Rembrandt lighting setup, the triangle of illuminated light should be no wider than the eye, and no longer than the nose. Another key feature of Rembrandt lighting is the triangular catch lights that can be found in the eyes of the model.”
Even with these rules to get a true Rembrandt, there are many ways to experiment with lighting and still achieving the Rembrandt style. One way is to play with harsh and soft light. An example of harsh light is a naked flash bulb pointed at the subject with no diffuser. This creates a lot of light with harsh shadows.
Soft light is diffused light; light that appears as softer and more natural. There are many ways to diffuse the light. One way is to use the reflector to bounce light onto the shadows, evening out the harsh edge. Another way is to put a sheet over the original light, breaking up the light before it reaches the subject.
For those with a studio or room dedicated to portraits, it would be a good idea to place tape or other markers where your camera, light, and subject are positioned. This way, if you need to use Rembrandt lighting again, you will save setup time.
Rembrandt lighting is a key lighting style to know. Images created in this easily created style will give your portraits a polished look.