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Five Classic Lighting Recipes

Five tried-and-true lighting styles for effective portraits

2. Rembrandt Lighting

Say you only have one simple light and no big softbox. What kind of portrait can you create with a single edgy light? Try using Rembrandt lighting for a dramatic look.

Classic Lighting 1
Rembrandt Lighting.

Rembrandt lighting got its name after the famous Dutch painter whose natural studio lighting produced a unique style of illumination on his models. Rembrandt lighting typically has one side of the face illuminated, and the other side cast in shadow except for a small, triangle-shaped area at the eye. Once you know what this lighting looks like, you will see it everywhere from magazines to movie posters to fine art prints.

Rembrandt lighting is easy to set up. Have your subject sit in front of a nice background, and place your light almost directly to their side, aimed down on their face. Take a test shot and see where the shadows fall. By slightly moving your flash, you will get the perfect angle, so your light hits one side of the face, and just a small patch of light hits the opposite side of the face. Ideally, this small patch of light illuminates the eye.

Classic Lighting 2
Rembrandt lighting setup.

You can use a bare flash head to create this kind of lighting, or use a larger softer source if you prefer. My favorite style of Rembrandt lighting uses a black background and a beauty dish for the light. The beauty dish softens the light, but it’s still edgy. The subject just floats on the black background, a very moody shot.

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