rembrandt lighting Photo by Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash

How to Use Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography?

As a photographer, to create a shadow on your subject's face, you need to place your light source in front of your subject and sometimes even at an angle. In portrait photography, there are many different lighting techniques that you can use to create different looks.

One lighting technique that is commonly used is the Rembrandt lighting technique. This article will discuss what Rembrandt lighting is in portrait photography, why to use it, the steps to follow to create it, and several tips for using this lighting technique.

What Is Rembrandt Lighting in Portrait Photography?

In portrait photography, Rembrandt lighting is a lighting technique that is used to create a chiaroscuro effect. It is named after the Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, who used this type of lighting in many of his paintings.

This lighting technique is achieved using a single light source, a reflector, or even two light sources. If you choose to use one light source, all you need to do is place it to the side of your subject at a 45-degree angle and position your reflector on the other side.

rembrandt lighting male portrait

Photo by Sazzad Aryan on Unsplash 

However, if you choose to use two light sources, you will still place one light source to the side of your subject at a 45-degree angle, and in the place of a reflector on the other side of your subject, you will position your second light source.

One side of your subject's face will be lit up by the light, while the other side will use the interaction of shadows, also called chiaroscuro, to create more depth and interest. This results in the formation of an illuminated triangle, also referred to as the "Rembrandt Patch," under the subject's eye on the less illuminated side.

Why Use Rembrandt Lighting?

Rembrandt's lighting creates shadows on the subject's face, specifically on the less illuminated side of the face, making it an excellent choice to consider if you want to add drama to a portrait.

There are many reasons why you might want to use this type of lighting when taking portraits. Some of the main reasons are:

Makes Photos Not to Appear Dated 

Using Rembrandt lighting in your photos will help make them appear stunning and exciting for a long time. This is because the lighting creates a sense of mystery and depth in the photo, which can be very alluring. If you look at portraits from the past that were taken with this lighting, they still look great today.

Shadows Created Slim Down the Face

rembrandt lighting Photo of two girls

Photo by Gustavo Lanes on Unsplash

While the shadows created by this lighting can be used to add drama to a photo, they can also be used to slim down the face. Rembrandt lighting is a good choice for those who want to add drama to their photos and those who want to create a more flattering portrait.

If you are photographing someone self-conscious about their weight, this lighting can be very helpful in making them look slimmer. The shadows cast by the light on the less illuminated side of the face add depth and definition and make a face appear thinner.

Helps Draw Attention to the Eyes of the Viewer

Since the viewer's eyes are naturally drawn to the lighter areas of the photo, using Rembrandt lighting can help you control where the viewer's eyes will go in the photo. This can be very helpful if you want to ensure that the viewer's eyes are drawn to the subject's eyes.

Using this lighting, you can create a powerful photo that grabs the viewer's attention.

Tutorial for Rembrandt Lighting

1. Find a Subject

Since Rembrandt's lighting is about creating a triangle of light under the subject's eye, you'll need to find a subject willing to sit still for a bit.

2. Get a Camera

The camera should be positioned directly in front of the subject, about four feet away.

rembrandt lighting Photo of female portrait

Photo by Gustavo Lanes on Unsplash

3. Set Up Your Key Light

Your key light should be placed at 45 degrees to the subject's face and positioned so that it's about four feet away from the subject. 

4. Position Your Reflector

Your reflector and fill light should be on the opposite side of the key light and possess half the power of your key light to help soften the light hitting your subject's face.

Please note that both lights should be about the same height as the subject's head.

6 Tips for Using Rembrandt Lighting

1. Experiment With Different Light Sources

Introducing multiple light sources into your portrait session will help you to create a more flattering light on your subject's face. One of the most popular ways to create Rembrandt lighting is to use a main light source, such as a window, with a reflector placed opposite the light source to fill in any shadows. Another option is to use two side-by-side light sources to create a more balanced light.

2. Shoot in Raw Format

Shooting in raw format allows you to retain all of the information captured by the sensor, giving you more flexibility when editing the photo. This format also allows you to produce higher quality images, as it is not compressed like JPEG.

3. Use a Meter

rembrandt lighting Photo of female portrait

Photo by Kirill Balobanov on Unsplash

A light meter will help you determine the correct exposure for your image. This is especially important when using Rembrandt lighting, as you want to ensure that the main light is not too bright or dim. Measuring the light will also help you to ensure that the other lights in the scene are balanced correctly.

4. Size of the Shadow

Ensure that the size of your shadow falls within the area of the light triangle – this will create a more defined and flattering look. Conversely, if your shadow is too large, it will make your features appear harsher. Always aim to keep the shadows soft for a more natural look.

5. Use a Grid or Snoot

A grid or snoot is a great way to focus the light on a specific area. This can be helpful if you want to create more depth or dimension in your image. It can also help to reduce the overall amount of light in the image.

6. Play With the Distance of the Light Source

One way to create different lighting effects is to play with the distance of the light source from the subject. Moving the light source closer or further away allows you to create different levels of shadows and highlights on the subject. This can be used to create a more dramatic or subtle effect, depending on what you are trying to achieve. So have fun and experiment with the distance of the light source to see what kind of effect you can create.


This type of lighting can create some beautiful and dramatic effects, so don't be afraid to experiment with it. And remember, have fun and experiment to see what you can make.

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