Rembrandt Lighting

In Notes From the Set by Rod Santiano1 Comment

I’m currently in Philadelphia working on a documentary project where Rembrandt’s work holds an important role in the storyline. We thought it would be a good idea to move a little away from how we’ve been normally shooting talking-head interviews and try to go for a more… Rembrandt feel. Now, “Rembrandt lighting” is a pretty standard and classic lighting approach when it comes to lighting people but I tend to always light from the opposite side of the face that the camera is favoring.

An early self-portrait of Rembrandt

As I studied Rembrandt’s portraits more closely, I noticed that he almost always lights his subjects from the same side as the viewer (er… camera?). So it was a bit of a change for me, but that’s what is called for.  I also tend to use a varying amount of back light or edge light on my interviews, but again, Rembrandt almost always has a lack of this.  His backgrounds are also very often a nondescript texture rather than a specific location or domestic backdrop.  His paintings tend to lean towards the warm side of the palette as well.

Taking all that into consideration, this is how I’ve been aiming to light our interviews.  Below is a screen grab of b-camera’s shot that I was rolling on when I was adjusting a light.  I didn’t take a still for setup illustration.  For the key light, I’ve got a 650W Arri fresnel with an extra small Chimera light bank fitted with a soft 30-degree eggcrate to control spill. It is placed high and steep enough to create that signature nose-shadow pattern, at least when the subject is looking at the right spot (the interviewer). I needed just a kiss of fill light so I aimed our 1K Arri openface unit into the ceiling about 15 feet behind camera and that provided just a touch of fill so it wasn’t so jet black in the shadows. For the background, we used a Botero collapsible brown and gold backdrop and I used a 300W Arri fresnel with some 216 diffusion and some Blackwrap for control.

Pretty simple, pretty decent… right?

Shot on two Canon 5D MkII cameras. “A” cam on sticks with a 70-200mm lens. “B” cam on a Microdolly and the 24-70mm lens. Both cameras set to 3500K to add the warmth expected from a Rembrandt painting and I used a picture profile that was modified from “Standard” to decrease sharpness, contrast, and saturation a bit with a slight color tone shift to taste. :)



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