Rembrandt Lighting

Today's post comes from the book Portrait Photographer's Handbook, 3rd Edition by Bill Hurter. This book is available from and other fine retailers.

There are five basic portrait lighting setups (Paramount, Rembrandt, Loop, Profile and Split). As you progress through them from Paramount to split lighting, each progressively makes the face slimmer. Each also progressively brings out more texture in the face because the light is more to one side. Here, we discuss Rembrandt lighting.

Rembrandt lighting (also called 45-degree lighting) is characterized by a small, triangular highlight on the shadowed cheek of the subject. The lighting takes its name from the famous Dutch painter who popularized this dramatic style of lighting. This type of lighting is often considered a masculine style and is commonly used with a weak fill light to accentuate the shadow-side highlight.

The key light is moved lower and farther to the side than in loop and Paramount lighting. In fact, the key light almost comes from the subject’s side, depending on how far the head is turned away from the camera.

To create the beautiful Rembrandt lighting pattern seen here, the photographer simply positioned his senior model in the light to create the dramatic shadow. Most of today’s portrait photographers seem to favor a strong natural light.

The fill light is used in the same manner as it is for loop lighting. The hair light, however, is often used a little closer to the subject for more brilliant highlights in the hair. The background light is in the standard position.

In Rembrandt lighting, kickers are often used to delineate the sides of the subject’s face and to add brilliant highlights. Be careful when setting such lights not to allow them to shine directly into the camera lens; this will cause flare. The best way to check is to place your hand between the subject and the camera on the axis of the kicker. If your hand casts a shadow when it is placed in front of the lens, the kicker is shining directly into the lens and should be adjusted.

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