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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

The Rembrandt lighting pattern for portrait photography.

Episode 12 of 1 minute 101's v2

What is... the Rembrandt lighting pattern for portrait photography?

Rembrandt!? Wasn't he a painter? So as mentioned in the last blog, a photographer's job in the studio is to paint their subject with light, so what better way than to learn and steal from the predecessor masters of light; portrait artists! I'm relying on memory here, but if that serves me correctly, Rembrandt used to use the technique we've come to know and love as his namesake, simply because that's where the window (a skylight of sorts I think) was in relation to his subjects in his studio.

A Rembrandt painting where the trademark triangle lighting patterns is clearly visible on the subject's left cheek.

It's kinda scary to think that his style, that is so renowned and heavily leaned on today, could have just been a happy accident! And given many artists didn't find fame before their deaths, I guess nor should we be surprised, however, leaning on Google for this one, "he had a little fame from his sketches during his lifetime, but a myth that evolved after his death was that he died poor and misunderstood". Nevertheless, it does what you need a lighting pattern to do, it highlights those plains of the face while creating an implied third dimension, and it gives us a familiarity to what has gone before us, so therefore psychologically (or possibly academically) we're informed as to what we should consider to be good lighting.

As I mention in the video, looking through my images, I'm not a massive fan of the Rembrandt lighting pattern it would seem, as I struggled to find many images I'd consider to be cold cut Rembrandt patterns. I suppose you can achieve if in far more subtle ways with fill lights, and then I guess you could then quantify those images where the transition shadow from the nose to the cheek is evident, as a Rembrandt pattern, even if it has a more obvious and harder loop light with in it too. Anyway, while on this somewhat blasé attitude towards it, and despite how I emphasised the importance of lighting patterns at the start, ultimately they can be taken for granted once you know them. There's no huge need to obsess over achieving them when you can just apply your eye, aka, does it add a satisfactory 3rd dimension, and are there any shadows that I can fix that I currently find a distraction? Instead of lighting patterns, you'll now obsess over the smallest shadows.. mwhahah. Hey we all do it! If you want to improve your eye and your understanding of what you like, which will ultimately become your style, you will end up caring far 'too much' - it's not a bad thing!

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