Over the last three months, I've shared several portraits and lighting diagrams, most of which use a Rembrandt-style lighting technique. For many of his portraits, Rembrandt painted the light inherent to his studio, which had a small window that acted as a soft single light source that shone on one side of his subject's face. This light spilled across the bridge of the nose and onto the side of the face in shadow, creating an inverted triangle of light below one eye.
This triangle is not evident in all the photographs I shared because I chose to pose people in different angles to the light. Still, I always used the method of using one key light as a dominant light in a low-key lighting ratio. Sometimes I introduced a fill light by bouncing the key light back with a reflector, or added a second flash as a fill light, but there was still a single dominant light source spilling onto one side of the face from a position above it. Even though this technique is known colloquially as "Rembrandt lighting" in contemporary photography, it was also a technique used by Caravaggio, known by its Italian name, chiaroscuro.
Most of the work I have shared here has been concerned with the geopolitics of war and protest. I use the Rembrandt technique because it takes the narrative out of the realist realm, positioning the stories I am telling within a canon of religious iconography and human drama. I want to depict war and conflict in a connected narrative of ongoing human plight and make this association through visual language.
Do you have a favorite lighting style? How do you use it?
My favourite “lit” portraits are often accidentally achieved. I opened a blind a sunlight hit a red sparring mat at a boxers feet . I turned my lights off!
Thanks Adam, all these emails have been a great learning curve for me. TIL about chiaroscuro.