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.
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. Â 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. Â His backgrounds are also very often a nondescript texture rather than a specific location or domestic backdrop. Â 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. Â Below is a screen grab of b-camera’s shot that I was rolling on when I was adjusting a light. Â I didn’t take a still for setup illustration. Â 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 backdropÂ 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. :)