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Old 05-12-2004, 05:26 PM   #1
Joan Breckwoldt Joan Breckwoldt is offline
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question What is so great about Rembrandt lighting?




It seems I learn everything the hard way. As long as I can remember I've heard how wonderful "Rembrandt Lighting" is (where there is only a triangle of light on the cheek opposite the light source), this must have come from some of my classes. Well, after aiming for that for the past year and being very frustrated with all that SHADOW, because with only a little triangle of light on one cheek the rest of that side of the face is in shadow, I have finally begun to wonder what is so great about Rembrandt lighting anyway? I spent some time looking through books today and see that many of the old masters have positioned their models with the a little shadow on the side of the nose and the side of the head.

Why had I not realized this before? Is it possible to paint a face half in shadow and have it still look good? I'm sure it is possible but is it a good idea for painting children's portraits that will appeal to a broad market. Perhaps I should reserve this kind of lighting for a more dramatic effect. So, as I said, sometimes I feel I learn the hard way, now I'm off to explore light with just barely a shadow on the side of the nose.

BTW I just posted my latest attempt in WIP and the photo posted is what led me to post this!

I'll be very interested to see how other's feel about lighting their models with Rembrandt lighting.

Joan
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Old 06-20-2005, 08:06 AM   #2
Richard Budig Richard Budig is offline
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Joan:

I'm not a lighting maven, and I don't have years of art class experience, but I'd say that Rembrantd lighting has to do with how it reveals the form and shapes in and of the face through shadow.

The shadow side of the face doesn't have to be in DEEP shadow to be effective. I believe that his basic lighting, where the light is generally high and to one side, can leave some very interesting shadow patterns on the "shadow side" of things. For example, as you noted, on the side of the nose away from the light.

Look again at some paintings using this kind of light, and you should see these interesting patterns. Depending on where the light is, how intense it is, how high it is, will reveal everything from deep to subtle shadows that form some very interesting patterns as it travels down the face and body. The far side of the forehead, the eye socket, nose, shadow side of the mouth, and the chin will reveal, through shadows, the form of the face.

By refining where you place your light, you can highlight the top part of the eye in shadow, for example, or that little triangle of light. These little patches of light on the shadow side add interest, and further define the shape (form) of the face.

As Forrest Gump says, "And that's all I have to say about that."
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Old 06-20-2005, 03:15 PM   #3
Mike McCarty Mike McCarty is offline
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Quote:
Well, after aiming for that for the past year and being very frustrated with all that SHADOW, because with only a little triangle of light on one cheek the rest of that side of the face is in shadow, I have finally begun to wonder what is so great about Rembrandt lighting anyway?
I think this would qualify as an example of Rembrandt lighting. The shadow side, however, doesn't have to be in total darkness to get the effect.
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Old 06-20-2005, 05:28 PM   #4
Richard Budig Richard Budig is offline
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Mike:

Yes, I agree. In my opinion, it's not the depth, or darkness of the shadow so much as it is whether the shadow (on the dark side) presents an interesting pattern, and defines the form. I like just enough shadow to have the accompanying "core shadow" where light and shadow meet. But, of course, being the artist, I can put it in my picture with paint if I feel it will help define the form further.

But, I digress. Yes, this is basically Rembrandt lighting.
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Old 06-20-2005, 05:38 PM   #5
Claudemir Bonfim Claudemir Bonfim is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike McCarty
I think this would qualify as an example of Rembrandt lighting. The shadow side, however, doesn't have to be in total darkness to get the effect.
I agree with you Mke, and Joan, I love Rembrandt's lighting... Did you watch the movie "Incognito"? The plot is not wonderful, but it's a good movie if you like Rembrandt!
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Old 11-09-2006, 03:37 PM   #6
Karin Lindhagen Karin Lindhagen is offline
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I suppose Rembrandt painted with that kind of lighing because that was the way people viewed the world indoors before electrical light was invented. Imagine how different the world must have been with only candles or your fireplace to light your room!

But still today, a light from the side makes the pictures much more interesting than the flat front light such as you see in amateur flashlight photos.
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Old 11-10-2006, 10:47 AM   #7
Tom Edgerton Tom Edgerton is offline
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Joan--

I appreciate your frustration, but here's a (perhaps too) simplified explanation of "why it's so great." Richard has put it better than me, but I want to chime in and stress how really important shadow shape is.

Accurately painting the outside contour and, perhaps more importantly, the shape of the shadows, goes more toward capturing and defining form on a two-dimensional surface than anything else. So-called Rembrandt lighting is essentially a three-quarter light--at a 45 degree angle off of dead center (more or less), designed to unite the shadows into a unified, pleasing, and interestingly shaped mass. Move the light a little more to the front, and the magic triangle of light connects to some of the lights on the bottom of the face and chin, and the LIGHTS become connected into a pleasing mass also. Anywhere in this general area--a roughly three-quarter direction off of center--is the optimum placement for the light to describe form and mass. More shadow on the face and the available contrast range to describe form diminishes, as does light coming directly from the viewer's point of view--in other words, flash-lit photos.

It's why artists working from really sorry, flash-lit photography wonder why their paintings look so horrible, as Karin points out. The flat lighting from the camera mounted flash kills all available shadow, and the contrast range available for describing form drops to nil. Put simply, all shadow shape "washes out."

I'm not saying that any other light but three-quarter light should be avoided, but a basic knowledge of this optimum form lighting, plus continual experimentation with lighting the subject from a variety of angles is essential. Light and shadow is what we have to work with--it's virtually the whole ball game.

Once an artist learns that shadow shape may be the most important factor in creating an illusion of three dimensional mass on a flat surface, and seeks or creates lighting that gives a strong, interesting shape to the shadow(s), their work improves dramatically.

Fight for this understanding and apply it to your work--it's really important.

Best as always--TE

(As a result of this discussion, I walked over and incrementally deepened and simplified the shadow under a subject's nose in a WIP, and everything in the painting suddenly became a lot deeper and more three-dimensional.)
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Old 11-10-2006, 11:14 AM   #8
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Quote:
Light and shadow is what we have to work with--it's virtually the whole ball game.
Well put!
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Old 09-17-2007, 01:35 PM   #9
Dean Lapinel Dean Lapinel is offline
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Very simply ...

The lighting is appeciated back then as it is now because it is natural to the eye and depending on the amount of ambient relected light on the shadow side, can be mysterious.

Most of my portraits use this form of lighting and about 25% of my studio photography shots use this approach.

I like hard light as often used by Rembrandt because the features develop more character and the eye fills in the rest.
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Last edited by Dean Lapinel; 09-17-2007 at 01:44 PM.
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Old 09-24-2007, 01:02 PM   #10
Pam Powell Pam Powell is offline
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Tom, your explanation was superb! I taught beginning figure painting for years and always lit the model from one side to create light and shadow patterns. Why? Because if you got the values right, there was instantaneous form. Two values, light and shadow, would give the illusion of 3 dimensions. With all the other value changes ( core shadow, reflected light, middle tone, highlight, etc) added, a simplified structure becomes the complex rendering of a specific being appearing
3-dimensional.

The use of all-over ambient light makes it much harder to create the appearance of 3-dimensions, as it tends to flatten the form, so you have to be very subtle and diligent with the value changes. My examples here are William Merritt Chase (ambient light) and Zhaoming Wu (strong single light source).
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