How to achieve this type of portrait lighting?

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by michaelchang, Feb 23, 2014.

  1. Michael, Note the pattern of the nose shadow. Light source likely a single skylight. (could be duplicated with a carefully placed small soft-box. Best, LM.
  2. I agree, I would use a small softbox close up on the right side of the picture. What is most curious about this lighting is that the face is brighter on the right side (of picture) but the catchlights are on the left side.
  3. "Rembrandt lighting" is commonly discussed and cussed, often including excessively complicated setups, and too-emphatic insistence on the cheek triangle (which is only suggested in Rembrandt's own paintings). This tutorial is about as straightforward as any. While the primary how-to illustration isn't particularly representative of what most folks think of as Rembrandt lighting, the "how-not-to" photo is a very good example of a common mistake - note the elongated nose shadow. (I'm not sure why the author chose to use creative commons photos from other photographers to illustrate her article rather than her own, but the concept is still the same.)
    As simple as it seems, I often forget the nose shadow placement myself. If I don't practice occasionally I tend to lose the habit of watching for that particular problem when I do casual portraits using whatever available light there is. I tend to look at the person's eyes and forget the rest.
  4. And here's an even better quick tutorial with good photo illustrations using the same model for each: "6 Portrait Lighting Patterns Every Photographer Should Know".
    I'm gonna commit that article to memory. Looking back at my casual but posed portraits from last year at various theater locations, I'm pretty satisfied with most but I can see some room for improvement if I'd watched the lighting and studied the persons' faces a bit more carefully. Usually I'm so intent on the eyes and capturing that perfect nuance of expression that I tend to overlook the lighting details.
  5. Several weeks ago tried to do a DIY Rembrandt lighting selfie on the cheap using just one Philips 60w LED bulb and got pretty close to the same effect with a little help in ACR.
    Experimented getting closer and farther away from the light which changes the flood ratio and light fall off from upper mids (150RGB green channel in forehead=actual Rembrandt portrait numbers) to slightly darker shadows around the chin (50RGB green channel). Just don't clip the forehead, bridge of the nose and cheek area. No fill light was used. Got the same highlight dot position in the eyes as in the Rembrandt portrait.
    It's really easier than you think if you just do a little fixing in post as I've shown below applying a gently sloping S-curve instead of brightening using ONLY Exposure/Brightness sliders.
  6. Here's the simple setup. I just sat on the floor and positioned myself and camera to the light until I got what I wanted.
    Wonder of Rembrandt had it just as easy with no strobes, soft boxes or flash of any kind.
  7. Rembrandt did numerous self portraits and they seemed to be more exercises in expression than lighting. Note the sadness in his eyes and the blemishes included. I dont know the date of this but I wonder if this was after he lost what little fortune he had. This painting is not an example of "Rembrandt lighting" ie the nose shadow connecting with the cheek shadow leaving an upside down triangle of light on the shadow side cheek and eye. Here we have butterfly lighting. See it under the nose? Not what I would consider flattering light on a heavy face. To produce this, have the light at 0-45, on nose axis up about 45 degrees getting the thickness of the butterfly desired yet low enough to get light into the eyes. Remember, this is a painting, and like in photoshop, the catchlights can be moved to where they would not be if they were consistent with the nose shadow. Seems like at least the one on the right isnt at 12 o'clock. Not that I have ever removed lower catchlights or repositioned or reshaped upper ones. And remember, they aren't rules, they are just guidelines. For what appears to be darker cheek at camera L, pull in a black subtractive reflector. If this was in his studio, he had a huge I believe north facing window with adjustable drapes.
  8. Bob, have any idea how Rembrandt lit that scene?
    Did he have a sky light in his ceiling? Or did he use a large dark or black cloth to cover tall windows to act as a scrim with a hole cut out to allow a beam of light overhead. Where is he getting overhead light since it can't be from a candle? If it's from a window he must be facing it to get the shadow somewhat small and symmetrical under his nose.
    I've seen photos showing similar character of light posted on PN of tourists spot lit from above inside old stone monasteries with high ceilings from what looks like some sort of sky light hole in the ceiling.
    Do you have a visual to show results from your outlined instructions? Not to diminish Lex's helpful efforts but none of his linked tuts delivered the same character of light as in the painting.
  9. Thanks for the input, guys.
    My mistake for lacking clarity - indeed what I'm asking is how to achieve the character of the painting through modern or medieval lighting.
    The painting is dark; presumably painted over days without natural light. I found a page documenting medieval and renaissance lamps and indeed hanging lamps were common in the 15th century:
    I'm planning a portrait shoot in which I'd like to replicate the feel and look of the Rembrandt portrait. My previous attempt years ago was an impromptu event; I had 10 minutes to think about the setup and it was done in under a minute. It was the only shot. I tweaked the tone of the photo to roughly resemble the painting, and now that I'm switching between the two, it's clear to me that I should brighten the skin tones on the next try and grossly underexpose the surrounding. Thinking out loud, maybe a long exposure from a distant overhead candle, or revert to light painting again.
  10. Michael, this is an interesting subject in reverse engineering Rembrandt's lighting in sorting out all possible variables affecting the look you see in that linked painting some of which involve the very light used to photograph the painting.
    Halogens spots or floods that deliver the spectral reflectance and "Pop" of the chiaroscuro glow seen in the linked image weren't around back then. And so I wouldn't think the painting looked as it does now under candle light or lamps when they were originally viewed. The painting indicates the scene has a lot more focused lighting a candle or gas lamp couldn't possibly produce.
    However, Rembrandt couldn't paint a portrait in the dark and so I'm surmising he had to use a large mirror propped up at a slight angle under a tall bay window as Rembrandt faced and adjusted the distance to this window in order to get the proper angle of shadow underneath the nose and brow line.
    I tried this concept with my own window creating a scrim with drawn curtains with an additional curtain to create a sort of spot flood. I had to get closer and lower my head to the spot window to get the same nose shadow. There's still too much dispersed light but then my curtains aren't that light blocking. I do have light blocking curtains but I didn't want to hassle with it.
  11. Reminds me of a shot I took of a friend back in the 70's. The only light was a bare light bulb in a dark foyer.
  12. Portrait paintings are idealized or stylized representations. When I dabbled in oil painting years ago I tried a few self portraits attempting to emulate old techniques - a mirror, single window light or overhead light. If I got the shadows right, a catchlight would be missing from the eye in shadow. Changing the position of my head or light to get catchlights in both eyes would alter the shadows. Chiaroscuro is an idealized representation of the light modeling the painter wanted.
    Also, most centuries-old paintings no longer look like they did when new. Centuries of atmospheric gunk accumulates, pigments shift and fade. Clever forgers use tricks to fake this patina.
    Some of the photographers I see who emulate the styles of Vermeer or Rembrandt do a lot of selective retouching. I've watched a couple of YouTube tutorials that show how much brushwork goes into those styles. It's not just a matter of lighting.
    I've been experimenting with Perfect Effects 8 and the texture and border effects would be useful for enhancing photographic portraits to subtly emulate paintings. What's often missing from photo portraits is visible texture in highlights. Even with what we call "highlight detail" in photography, it's nothing like highlight detail in paintings, which texture is still clearly visible due to the canvas or paper texture, brush work, impasto and palette knife scraping (a common technique in John Singer Sargent paintings). Adding a semi-transparent and selective texture overlay can help achieve an effect closer to painting. And with good editing tools you can confine the texture to only the desired areas, so the finished photo doesn't have a shake-and-bake, one size fits all insta-paint look. Like Photoshop, Elements, Paint Shop Pro and others, Perfect Effects 8 offers various blending modes - screen, multiply, difference, etc. - as well as global application only to lights, midtones, darker areas, specific colors, etc. And there's a brush tool to selectively control textures elsewhere. However, Perfect Effects 8 is a bit sluggish on my PC and an affordable pixel level editor like Elements or Paint Shop Pro might do as well or better.
    For relatively straightforward examples of classical portrait style lighting, study the work of cinematographers and set still photographers from a few movies (yeah, I mention these movies a lot in the context of photography, but they're really good studies): McCabe and Mrs. Miller (lots of examples of Rembrandt-style warmth and lighting); Barry Lyndon (ditto, wonderful use of lighting and color grading); Coppola's version of Dracula is an homage to classic filmmaking, with a pastiche of every lighting technique ranging from theatrical footlights (note how some scenes in Dracula are reminiscent of a Toulouse-Lautrec or Degas painting) to classic Hollywood glamour lighting.
    And while not an example of classic portrait lighting, the original Swedish version of Let the Right One In is a master class in using light and shadow modeling to alter a face. Director Tomas Alfredson (who later did Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) has talked extensively in interviews about having a limited budget but using lighting design extensively to create the desired mood. Watch how actress Lina Leandersson's face seems to continually morph throughout the movie. There are a few digital special effects - mostly to enhance her eyes - and a double in one or two scenes. And a little makeup (and some fake blood) and messing with her hair. But mostly it's light and shadow modeling. Her face eerily seems to change shapes, making her appearance alternate from ominous to puppy-dog cute, from well nourished to sickly and puffy, from looking like her then-age of 11 or 12 in some scenes to an older, wearier teenager or young adult in others. And it's mostly light and shadow. Note the facial change between semi-split-lighting and this broader lighting.
  13. I just made this image the other night, and this particular frame was an underexposed test shot that seemed well suited to this treatment. Made with a 54" white PLM (reflective) using the feathered edge of its light from an Einstein with a low powered grid spot on the black hand painted background... t
  14. Nice side lit shot, Tom. Nailed the character of light for sure. How would you set up the gear you mention for overhead as in Michael's linked portrait?
    Thinking it a through a bit on how Rembrandt actually lit his own portrait I think the candle or gas lamp as Michael concluded had to be used in order for him to both see the canvas and paint palette as well as his reflection in the mirror. The light source most likely was placed close and directly above his head seeing candle light doesn't put out that much light. The Barry Lyndon movie Lex mentions shows it's doable...
    Spent some time on YouTube and found it very difficult to find a tut that would illustrate exactly the types of lighting and setups to get the same results in the Michael's Rembrandt portrait but this one at least gives some direction on how it's done...
    This guy shows how much light output comes from a single candle and how close you have to get it to the subject so it appears more candles are going to be needed...
  15. Tim, like Vermeers studio, Rembrandt is believed to have had a couple of banks of smaller windows, say 2x2' or slightly larger each. The small catch light could be from only one of the higher windows not being blocked by black cloth. If he was seated and a distance from the window, it would produce a small catch light in this position and harder shadow edge transitions as under the butterfly nose shadow. It would be a relatively smaller source. Also, this is painting, so unlike raw capture, he could have altered what he was seeing to fit his vision for the painting. It doesn't have to be lit this way. Kinda like photo shop.
  16. yep, painters have no reason, motivation or constraints to maintain a faithful adherence to reality. It may take several exposures with different lighting, blended in Photoshop just to come close to that single portrait by one of the greatest painters of faces who ever lived. We should emulate, not imitate... t

  17. Lovely portrait, Tom. Yes, we can learn from painters and also from the history of photography. The work of the masters is evident in Tom's work. If you haven't seen his website, take a look. One stunning image after another. A real home run hitter.
  18. aw shucks. (thanks)

    Look at my FB page to see tons more.
  19. Finally tracked it down once I remembered who took this shot but I think this is the closest to Michael's posted painting I've seen reproduced in a photograph.
    Harry Joseph includes the lighting he used under the "Details" tab.
  20. This is actually pretty basic. Single light, straight to the face and slightly above. IMO, barebulb is the best for this kind of look. Rembrandt's selife has the light higher than mine here, but the idea's the same.
    (By the way, the "Rembrandt lighting setup" is not so common on Rembrandt's portraits as you might think judging by the name...)
  21. I've noticed that it's easier to follow along if you have an idea about the different lighting arrangements and why you might be getting different results.

    A lot of tutorials only encourage you to use a single light source, which is actually totally doable, but in my case I like to add a secondary light to bring out the backdrop and separate the subject a bit more (it makes it "pop") and to then add a reflector or hair light to really fill in the shadow that gets brought out by a strong key light.

    That will depend on what look you're actually trying to achieve.

    I have actually done a blog post that highlights some of the common ones, which is available over here:

    But if you're just looking for the nitty gritty to get started; especially with the Rembrandt and other positions, check out this cheat-sheet which will show you the setup that I did:

    Apologies for the length!
  22. Missed Tom's question. Here is a site with Rembrandt's studio. Check the 6th photo inside looking at the double level of windows and the last photo showing closed shutters on the lower windows. It gives him a 2x2 softbox up about 5 feet and seated facing and tilting the head appropriately would give the butterfly pattern under the nose. Remember, he was painting and didn't have to reproduce exactly what he was seeing in terms of ratio, background illumination, catch light position as our camera captures. How would I do it. 3' egg crated octa high front, no fill.

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