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Rembrandt lighting: what it is and how to achieve it

By May 8, 2018 Photography No Comments

Rembrandt lighting is an extension of loop lighting and, at the same time, a more dramatic version of it.

Rembrandt lighting

1/200 | ƒ/6.3 | 100
Lights: Studio head 1 with standard lamp reflector (front, camera left)

This technique gets its name from the Dutch painter Rembrandt as it is a light pattern he very often reproduced in his paintings. A Rembrandt setup is achieved when only one side of the subject’s face is in the light and the other side, in shadow, presents a highlight in the shape of a triangle. This occurs when the loop shadow created under the nose on the darker side of the face meets the shadow created on the cheek, forming a small triangle of light in between. This triangle should technically be no longer than the nose and not wider than the eye. Due to the deep and extensive shadows it creates, this technique is well known for setting an intensely dramatic mood.


The main light is positioned about 45° or more from the camera around to the subject’s side. The unit is higher than eye level and pointing down toward the subject’s face. As in the loop-lighting technique, the light follows the direction the subject is facing. To soften up the overall dramatic effect of Rembrandt lighting, an extra light source or reflector can be aimed at the darker side of the face to tone down the intensity of all shadows.

Rembrandt lighting


Rembrandt lighting is good for subjects with a round or fuller face, as this technique will tend to add definition to it and make it appear slimmer. This setup is typically not suitable, however, for subjects with a long, thin face, as the lighting pattern will tend to make it look even slimmer and longer. Rembrandt lighting is perfect for setting an intense, dark mood in images.


Make sure the eye near the triangle of light is lit or shows signs of a reflection or catchlight to make the portrait look more lively and captivating. This can be achieved through the use of a small reflector near the subject’s face or accurate placing of the main light, which, in order to create a catchlight, should not be too high or too far around the subject’s side.

Lighting People: A Photographer’s Reference is Rosella Vanon’s complete reference and guide to lighting techniques and posing models. Lighting People is an art every photographer—and every photography student—must master, and this single volume is both a complete course and the most useful reference book you can find.

Lighting People, Rosella VanonLighting People: A Photographer’s Reference
Rosella Vanon

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RRP for print edition: £24.99

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