How to get Perfect Rembrandt Lighting: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey

In this video I’ll cover Rembrandt lighting, what it is, how to set it up, and why occasionally failing isn’t such a bad thing. Hello I’m Gavin Hoey and you’re watching AdoramaTV, brought to you by Adorama, the camera store that’s got everything for us photographers. Now when it comes to studio lighting, there are no absolute rules, but what there are are building blocks, and one of the most fundamental is the Rembrandt lighting pattern, now this is all about the shadow that’s cast by your models nose, and it extends down in Rembrandt lighting and meets the shadow on their cheek, this forms an inverted triangle of light on your models face, and that’s Rembrandt lighting now many photographers say they use Rembrandt lighting, but when you look at the results occasionally it’s not actually Rembrandt lighting. So in this video, I’ll show you exactly how to set it up, and at the end of the video, I’ll show you why getting it wrong really doesn’t matter, but for now let’s get some lights set, let’s get a model in, let’s get a heater on, because it’s really cold in here, and let’s get shooting. So to help me out today I’ve got the amazing Beth. Beth is going to be the model for this shoot, but before I take any pictures, I’m going to go through the technical aspects of what Rembrandt lighting is. Now to make this a lot easier to see. I’ve done a couple of things, the first one is I’ve got a hard light source, remember this is all about shadows cast by the nose. So a hard light source will make that shadow much easier to see, and the other thing that will help is… that this flash has a modeling light, and that is definitely going to help, but it really helps if we turn the room lights off. So we’ll turn the video lights out, so you can see what’s going on a lot clearer now. At the moment I’ve got the lights set to split lighting so half of Beth’s face is lit, and half of her face is in shadow. That’s fine, but that’s not Rembrandt lighting, to see that, all I have to do is take my light and move it towards the camera position. Now as I pick it up and move it towards the camera position, you’ll start to see a small amount of light just cross over and we end up with that perfect Rembrandt triangle on cheek. Now the position is absolutely vital, because if I keep moving the light towards the camera position, eventually we end up somewhere like that, and that isn’t Rembrandt lighting, that is loop lighting, where the shadow doesn’t reach the cheek. Move it back away from the camera, and that will extend across until the nose shadow and the cheek shadow join up, and make the classic Rembrandt position. The height of the light is going to make a difference as well. If I elevate the light up, then the triangle becomes much deeper, and now it goes too far down. That’s not what we’re looking for. If I bring the light down, then I’ll make the shadow much shallower, and eventually we lose the entire effect completely. So getting this just right, is absolutely critical, and somewhere around about there looks pretty good. Okay I’m going to take a test shot and see how this comes out with the flash. So, this looks great, we’ve got that Rembrandt triangle, and I could put a separation light in, or a reflector, but in fact what I’m gonna do is add a second light as a background. So I’m gonna have a nice white background, because this sort of Rembrandt lighting is very dramatic, especially if you’re going to use hard lighting to create it. So I think maybe a contrasting black and white shot could work really well. Let’s try a few pictures, okay, Beth are you ready? Okay here we go, let’s take test shots, and then, it’s worth saying there isn’t a formula for Rembrandt lighting, because the exact position and height of the light varies from person to person, because we’ve all got different facial characteristics. So that worked well, but there is a bit of a problem, if you happen to be the model because you actually get very little room to move before you lose the entire Rembrandt effect, let me demonstrate. So best if you can lean in towards my camera. Now when Beth does that I have a little bit of light on her cheek, but it’s not really that Rembrandt triangle anymore, and it’s even worse when she moves backwards. If you want to go back the other way, now we have loop lighting, where the shadows don’t connect at all. So although there is a bit of flexibility, and if you use soft lighting it’s a little bit more flexible, we’ll get to that in a bit. It’s not that flexible, and it gets even worse. If I ask Beth to look towards the light, so when she brings herself around that’s not Rembrandt lighting at all. so if I want to do a profile picture with Rembrandt lighting, and it does look great when you do it, all I have to do is move the light as Beth moves, so if I move my light around, there we go, I’m back to Rembrandt lighting once again. Okay we do a quick little test shot like that, here we go, now what you’ll see in this picture is, that it works really well, we have that Rembrandt triangle in a profile picture, but the unlit side of Beth is really dark. Now I could live with that, or I could get a second light or a reflector and actually just fill in the shadows with a little bit of a reflector, and that’s what I’m going to do, just to put a little bit of separation on that side of Beth’s head. Okay let’s test this one, and that works really well, okay let’s do a few shots like this. The modeling light is incredibly useful for helping me guide Beth’s look in the right direction, but it’s worth remembering the modeling light and the flash aren’t exactly the same thing, and the results can vary ever so slightly. Not everybody looks as amazing as Beth in the hard light, for most of us soft light is the way to go, and you can do Rembrandt lighting with a soft light source, it’s a little bit more tricky to see but the basic principle remains exactly the same. so the first thing I’m going to do is, start with the light here, where it’s in split light on Beth. I’ll turn the room lights off so we can see sort of what’s going on a little bit clearer, and once again I’m going to move the lights to the side, so Beth you keep looking at the lens for me. I’m looking at the little bright spot arriving on Beth’s cheek, it is a little harder to see because now we have a much softer shadow, but the same thing applies if I go too far. I’m going to end up with Luke lighting I go back a little bit, and I’ll get back into Rembrandt lighting. Now obviously, the other side is still in deep deep shadow, so I’m gonna add a reflector to fill that side. Soften the light effect, but keep that Rembrandt triangle. Now I could use a silver reflector, but if I do that it is quite a strong effect, so instead I’m going to use a white reflector, and get it in nice and close. So the effect is still there, it’s just much much less obvious. So that looks nice, I can still see the Rembrandt triangle, but it is much more subtle with this setup, but it’s still there. Okay, so let’s take a few shots like this and see what we get. So Beth are you ready, okay here we go. For these shots, I’ve gone for a softer look. We’ve got Beth in a lighter color top, I’ve lit the background with a second flash, everything is high-speed sync flash because I’m shooting with a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field. I’ve been doing photography for what, quite a number of years, and over that time the definition of what is Rembrandt lighting has definitely loosened up quite a lot, and I expect that will be reflected in the comments below, but even if you’re aiming for Rembrandt lighting, and you don’t get that Rembrandt triangle, it doesn’t matter, what matters is you’ve started somewhere you may have failed, but you’re going to go down a different path, and it’s that sort of thing that makes you more creative as a photographer. Try, fail, do something better, now if you’ve enjoyed this video or you’ve got any questions, leave me a comment below. Click on the bell icon for regular notifications of all the brand new videos right here on Adorama TV, and of course click on that subscribe button I’m Gavin Hoey thanks for watching.

100 Replies to “How to get Perfect Rembrandt Lighting: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey”

  1. Gaven Hoey!!

    One of my favorites!!

    I do all my portraits in my basement. I always think about you when I say I'm limited with my space.

  2. What a hell of a teacher! Always informative! I could even watch his "how to switch your camera on/off", and again will find something to step me up! Thanks G

  3. nice and well explained abt rembrandt.i wanna meet u face to face gavin.but how is it possible.cause i am from india.and i dont have enough money to meet what is the solution for that…tell me pls gavin

  4. Your definition of Rembrandt lighting and mine are the same. Thanks. It's difficult to get in my studio because it has an 8' 2" ceiling. With the model sitting, it is possible using a Godox MS300 though.

  5. A veteran portrait photographer of 80 years told me once that there are three Rembrandt lighting pattens, Rembrandt straight on, Rembrandt short,and Rembrandt broad what do you think?

  6. I wish you a happy new year, thanks for all the tutorials, and I hope for new ones in 2020 I am a fan of you.

  7. I really enjoyed this video; but then, I always enjoy your videos. BTW love your music selection and its topical contrast.

  8. Gavin, you’re the best photography instructor ever, your tutorials are like magic pills of information. Thank you

  9. Gavin that was terrific!! Adorama TV (you especially) is reason that I buy ALL of my lights from Adorama – seven Flashpoints and counting! You’ve helped me get so much better with lighting over the years, thank you!

  10. Ironicaly the ad that preceded this video for me showed the painting Rembrandt, self porttrait as an old man at the Dulwhich picture gallery exhibition "Rembrandts Light", what a coincidence.

  11. How to get Rembrandt lighting and the Beyonce/Mariah Carey/J Lo windswept hair look. Is there anything Gavin can't teach?

  12. This is by far the best explanation I have seen on Rembrandt Lighting. I never use hard light always soft and showing the difference really helps.Also I struggle with ambient light
    trying to get the same result…any suggestions?

  13. Gavin, I have to tease you a bit. Look up "Rembrandt van Rijn" (e.g. Google. 1606-1675) and look how many of the Dutch Golden Age painter's portraits actually have Rembrandt light. Rembrandt used it sparingly. It is also interesting to see how painters before Rembrandt already worked the concept (called chiaroscuro – light and dark, but Rembrandt IMO was the first to really turn "low key", contrasty, moody.) Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco (the flame-lit portraits), Caravaggio, Frans Hals and Velázquez all had at least a couple portraits that remind us of "Rembrandt light". The term was coined in 1915 by Cecil DeMille when financier Goldwyn critiqued his work as not going to make money because of the moody lighting. DeMille: but this is Rembrandt light. Goldwyn: oh, then people will be prepared to pay twice the price. Now tell that to Daniel Norton who is always joking about reasons to ask more money for his work.

  14. The simplest, correct demonstration of Rembrandt Lighting I have seen anywhere on YouTube or anywhere else! Bravo 👏

  15. Gavin Hoey, Daniel Norton, Mark Wallace, Sean Tucker – all time favourites! (In no particular order!) thanks for your work!

  16. I'd say Daniel also lost his mind as well. Just a question, if the model has glasses I presume it increases the degree of difficulty ?

  17. Great going over the basics, I love you Gavin Hoey,,,you are one of the best! I hope you come to NYC again sometime.

  18. Have read a few of the comments. However, Split lighting is normally done at a lower level of light and also provides light in the shadow side eye. The intonation almost makes "loop/modified butterfly" seem to be something inferior. However, unlike Rembrandt lighting which is almost impossible to create without a modelling light, it is relatively easy to create modified butterfly using no modelling light which is generally available with small electronic flashes.

    A couple of other things noticeable particularly the first time at the area of 5:25 when turning the subjects face toward the right (photographers left) is the facial view is well past a correct 2/3 view and thus the subjects nose becomes elongated and not exactly attractive. With this subject, it is very noticeable and not a facial view that a subject later would appreciate.

    Also, without direction, the subject makes use of hands that sometimes show the palms which don't show hands to their best. Ideally, the hand closest to the camera is known as the "show hand". This subject does generally show the edge of the hand but non models likely will more often show the back of the hand which is just marginally better than the palm and generally should be avoided.

    Now of course this was a tutorial related to Rembrandt lighting but the position of the model is square to the camera which is not ideal whereas a body position of either turned to the left or right of the camera in a 2/3 body position provides a nicer look to the subjects body.


  19. Why so much photographers belive that this triangle (actually more a bit dramatized davinci lighting than typical rembrandt) is key to rembrandt lighting. Just study close pictures of rembrandt and you will discover that mostly he used other lighting. Its definitely more difficult to explain and reproduce – mostly its a spot with 1/3..1/4 face size at different place on different characters and always filling light is present (shadows not complete dark like you do) and even this filling light is complex and comes in waves not flat. Rembrandt is great master of character light and scheme that you showed here dont even close in results to feelings that you experience when look at his paintings 🤷‍♂️

  20. First youtube video I saw this year, and it really warms my heart that you're here to kick off 2020, making and sharing another great video. Happy New Year from Denmark, Gavin!

  21. Sorry if this sounds dumb but if you have the light on the left to get the Rembrandt shadow why use the camera flash?

  22. Excellent video Gavin, brilliantly presented and explained. Hope to see you and Beth in Birmingham in a few months.

  23. Excellent. Really appreciate Beth engaging fully and not looking bored as models do in so many instructional films. Makes a huge difference.

  24. Hi Gavin! Awesome video as always. Did you use the 12-40 for the shallow depth of field photos as well? The ones with the softer light towards the end.

  25. Some great points here. Too-soft light doesn't work well for Rembrandt, you need to take the ambient light down for your lights to give you the effects you're going for, and you don't have to give up if the effect doesn't turn out perfectly, because not every face will produce it readily. There was a time when I did not know these things. : (

  26. Hey Gavin,
    Great tutorial as always, I never get enough and looking forward for the next episode 🙂
    I have a quick question, looking at your video, your Pop-Up Background look a lot bigger than 5×6.5' am I wrong ?
    Thank you

  27. Hi Gavin, would love to see a session on lighting setups for light groups, like 5 or more people in a studio and outdoors. love your work i follow and watch every video you make thank you.

  28. Great video. I’m using Canon Speedlites but this videos shows the benefits of a modelling light as well. Any suggestions, I don’t want to move away from my Canon Speedlites due to the amountI spent🙄 . 2 EX 600 rt’s and an EX 430 rt with a ST 03 RT on camera. Help😏

  29. I think of the rembrandt triangle as an upside down right triangle that includes the eye. I want light in that eye and a catchlight. I like to see the shadow running down the nasal-labio fold.

  30. Hi….When you added the back light…was light metering at the same output as the main or was it 1 stop below the main…or more? (for white background)

  31. Another great and easy to follow lighting tutorial. I like how you explain it but then tell your viewers not to worry about fail. I think that's what scares most new photographers the most. They don't realize it's all about the art of the shot and being creative, not perfection.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *