Tutorial - Chiaroscuro and Rembrandt Lighting

May 09, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

In college, way back before "cool" existed, I was a Theater Production Arts Major. I built sets and designed lighting and sound. I took the obligatory costume classes, and our Theater Production Major afforded us enough classes to come out with an Art History Minor. I took quite a few Art History classes. I started because we were "forced to" After a bit, I realized, these classes were great: Dark room, sit in the back and nod off while the slide projectors hummed along. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the rich colours and oils of the Masters. Rembrandt and Michelangelo Caravaggio.

It appealed to the lighting designer in me. I learned to create drama onstage with light, and the absence of light.  I learned that texture comes with different degrees of shadow. Today, I find myself drawn to making images with my camera and using Chiaroscuro Lighting. That powerful use of strong light and dark combinations, to create drama and texture is what draws me in. It gives images their Emotion. It helps people to connect.

Chiaroscuro Lighting

Some call this Rembrandt lighting. while similar, it's not the same. Chiaroscuro is Italian that essentially translates as light into dark. It's the strong solitary stark light and big contrast between light and dark shadow. It's high drama! It gives big dimension and texture to otherwise flat subjects. Many create this with strong daylight. Some, with one studio light or flash. this works great on round surfaces. Fruits. Some Vegetables. And of course, the human face and body.

This lighting can be great for moody looks, drama, and serious expressions. A brick or concrete background. Or best: falling off into darkness can be great with this.

Control your light. Get rid of any spill, or window light. Shut all other sources down.

Looking Down on the Setup:

 

 

As above, the light is from off to one side. Use a steep angle. Straight on produces a flat look. Off to the side gives a nice sharp source. High angle above or below also works, with the same drama but a different feeling. Use a reflector to angle only a Very Small amount back onto your subject.

Rembrandt Lighting

True Rembrandt lighting has a signature triangle of light under the eye on your subject. The same basic setup, with one light, but use a reflector to put a bit of light back onto your subject. the rim light, or hair light, for instance. Perhaps some soft fill on the far side of the main light source.

Note the small triangle of light on the right cheek of this girl. This is a signature of Rembrandt Lighting.

Practice different lighting setups, and experiment. Capture different moods. Find your voice when making images. 

More on Lighting with Flags, Diffusers and Reflectors: http://www.bluefinstudios.com/blog/2013/4/tutorial---reflectors-diffusers-and-flags

Backlighting and Silhouettes: http://www.bluefinstudios.com/blog/2013/4/tutorial---backlighting-and-silhouettes

 


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