What is Rembrandt Lighting?


If you want to reproduce the lighting from the painting on the left, the studio setup for it is explained on the right.

It is named after the Dutch painter Rembrandt who used this technique to light the subjects for his paintings. Here, half of the subject’s face is lit and the other half is covered in shadow. Rembrandt lighting is characterised by the triangular shape that is formed below the eye, in the shadowed portion of the subject’s face.

Setting it Up

In comparison to other lighting setups, Rembrandt lighting is the simplest and fastest. The lighting effect can be achieved with the help of a single light source and a reflector.

The key light source is placed in a manner where it illuminates one side of the person’s face and is placed at a 45° angle. Then a reflector is placed at half the height of the key light source, on the opposite side. Alternatively, a fill light can also be used to diffuse and soften the harsh shadow created on the other half of the face.

The characteristic triangular shape of light underneath the eye, is created with the interaction of the main light source with the reflector. This creates an effect called ‘chiaroscuro’ which leads to the formation of the geometric shape.

Getting it Right
The key to this technique is getting the size and the position of the triangle right. It should be no longer than the nose and no wider than the eye.