Rembrandt Light

June 03, 2020

Rembrandt Light

Or how to bring depth and drama to your studio portraits.

Whether you’ve heard the term or not, we’ve all seen it somewhere. Rembrandt lighting is a simple, single light source setup, which brings your subject out of the frame, creating a multi layered three dimensional effect.



How do you know someone is an artist and a master of his craft in its purest form? An art historian might give you a different answer than a modern artist, but I’m positive they would all agree a true artists work and influence spans decades after his existence, and fuses into other art forms without any resistence.

This statement absolutely applies to one of the most prominent names in the art saga - Rembrandt van Rijn. Before his time, standard portraits mostly looked evenly lit and subjects looked like cardboard cutouts, resembling a news channel broadcast. But the Dutch painter changed that stereotype and excellently improved the portrait and all of its little complexities. 


“Unlike their Gothic forefathers who relied on gold leaf backgrounds and figures that look like cardboard cut outs, Rembrandt mastered a style of lighting that gave the illusion of the third dimension to the subject’s faces and bodies. ”


But why bother with light at all?

Interpretation of light

As mentioned earlier, good art can always be translated into different art forms. Just as painters, photographers should strive to capture light as a subject on its own, use it as a medium to emphasize their motives, moods and arrest the pictures atmosphere. But light in Rembrandts pictures often has a deeper meaning than just adding drama - It contains numinous qualities, as if when it touches the subjects, it becomes a part of them. This is something that a good photographers should subconsciously always try to achieve.


Think of Rembrandt lighting as a right of passage, once you can capture it, you can do anything that you want. Plus, it’s really simple so anyone can try and succeed.


How to capture Rembrandt light

Rembrandt lighting is characterized by a triangle under the subject's eye. This iconic light configuration is created by your subject’s nose blocking some of the the light reaching the shadow side of their face. To achieve this light composition is pretty straightforward. All you need is: 

- A camera

- A single light source (strobe, window etc.)

And a reflector, which isn't necessary, but it can definitely improve your results.


You'll have to spend some time on adjusting the light source to achieve that perfect triangle. But what's most important is that you don't need much to do that. Try playing with the position of the light, your camera angle and attain your own version of Rembrandt light.