Portrait Photography Masterclass Part 2: One Flash Rembrandt Lighting

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Watch the video: Rembrandt’s Lighting

One of the things I love about studio portraits is the variety of lighting styles you can use to add impact and drama to the image. In part two of my series on studio lighting for portraits, I’ll show you Rembrandt lighting – a classic technique named after the famous 17th century Dutch painter, Rembrandt Harmenszoon.

Rembrandt lighting is commonly recognized by the triangle of light under one eye and the contrasting shadows around the face, adding depth and mood to the image. This method has remained a popular style of lighting used in cinematography, among professional photographers, and in studio portraiture.

It’s wonderfully easy to achieve this striking look, even in a basic home studio setup, because all you need is one light and one reflector. I’ll help you create your own Rembrandt lighting for a dramatic and engaging portrait.

01 See the light

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

While you can get good results with an off-camera flash, a dedicated flash head makes setup easier as many have a modeling light that helps you see where the light from the flash will fall when fired. Turn on your modeling lamp, then turn off the lights in the room and close all the curtains to reduce ambient light.

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

You will now be able to see where the light is falling on the model’s face from your flash head, and you can move the flash around until you see a triangle of light appear below one of the model’s eyes. Here, the goal is to create an inverted triangle no wider than the eye and no lower than the nose. We also raised our flash on a light stand so that it was pointing slightly towards our model.

02 Position the light perfectly

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Set up your camera on a tripod and frame your subject. A locked tripod helps free your hands when you need to move the light. Natasha used manual mode with a shutter speed of 1/125 sec, an aperture of f/11 and ISO100, and used radio triggers to trigger the flash remotely.

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Set your model still on a stool and place your flash on one side of the model at a 45º angle above eye level. The triangle of light is created when the light source passes just far enough in front of the nose to highlight under the opposite eye. With the light aimed at one side of the model’s face, place a reflector at the same height on the opposite side to lift shadows and add subtle flair.

03 Film in mono

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Set your camera to shoot in monochrome so you can focus on light and shadow without the distraction of color. This will depend on your camera make and model, but to set your Canon EOS camera to mono, go to the menu and find Picture Style, select and scroll to Monochrome, press Set, and your images will now appear on the LCD screen in black. and white.

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

You can also customize your mono preset by pressing the Info button to change the Sharpness, Contrast, Filter and Toning effect. Although your images will appear in black and white on your rear LCD screen and in Live View, by shooting in raw image format the color information will still be retained – so you can always create a color version later if you prefer.

04 Make your final adjustments

(Image credit: future)

As Rembrandt lighting is a specific style of lighting, you need to keep a close eye on your shots as certain movements of the model will affect the placement of the triangle of light under their eye. Experiment with the angle of the model’s head or pose and see how it affects the triangle of light. Try moving your flash up or down on its light stand and different angles or experiment with other flash modifiers like a softbox, umbrella or beauty bowl to give shadows a softness or hardness different.

(Image credit: Natasha J Bella)

Moving the flash closer or farther from your model and changing the power of the flash output will also directly affect the intensity of the light, so take some time to play around with all of these and take lots of pictures until your Rembrandt lighting looks perfect.

Read more:

The best cameras for portraits
Top tips for portrait photography
The best flash or strobe
The best Canon flashes
The best flash triggers for your camera
10 Best Online Photography Courses – From Beginner’s Guides to Masterclasses


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