Rembrandt Lighting My Way

One of the things you can probably look forward to in 2017 is I plan to do a lot more education. I hope to start by doing blogs like this, and perhaps someday move to videos and more.

Sony A7, 55mm 3.5, 1/125 sec, 800 ISO

Sony A7, 55mm 3.5, 1/125 sec, 800 ISO

This week I shot some self portraits. I have always been really inspired by Rembrant lighting, particularly when used with photographing portraits. Frankly, I don't know why it took me so long to take a shot at it. Sometimes fear keeps us from moving forward. 

I've gotten a lot of requests on how I set this up, so I thought I'd offer a tutorial on how I set up the light, what I shot it at, and the editing process of the images. 

Frankly, studio photography isn't my favorite thing all the time, I have invested in basic lighting, backdrops, etc. because I feel like it's "not my thing". However, after this shoot, I think I might start doing it a lot more.  

So truth is, I took this in my bathroom! Yes, gross I know, but it's super clean, and it was the best place I could set up without conflicting light. I did this in the middle of the day and while I'm thankful for the natural light in my home, I felt like it would mess with the hard directional light I was aiming for. The best way I could show my set up was with a quick (and somewhat embarrassing) video. 

Yeah, nothing to sneeze at, but it really worked. I did a lot of research and the basic concept of Rembrant is your light source is 45 degrees above you and to the side of you. I do think my light could have been a tad higher, but I'm happy with the results and will try that next time. I also pulled in the reflector on the opposite side to pull in some of the backdrop and fill the shadows ever so slightly. I would have used a V-flat, if I had one (told you I don't have a lot of sudio equipment). I also wanted a little warmth so the gold helped.

I had enough space here to stand for some shots and sit on the stool, that was nice for versatility. The photo below is obviously a test shot but it shows what the light looks like when I stepped back a bit. Notice it's softer and not quite able to be considered "Rembrandt" here. But heck, still looks amazing.

My phone was my handy-dandy remote. One of the things I love about Sony. I have a live view and can compose the shot and take the photo, all with my phone on wifi.  

My phone was my handy-dandy remote. One of the things I love about Sony. I have a live view and can compose the shot and take the photo, all with my phone on wifi.  


So, I thought I'd share one of my favorite backdrop "hacks" I have found. I'm cheap, super cheap, I am not at a point where I want to pay for a custom backdrop. I have painted my own, and while I found this to be a decent way to save money, the painted canvas backdrop was just too heavy for my cheap backdrop stands. I went to Joann's and found this 58'' wide suede. I LOVE it. It's so light, seamless, and you can add or remove texture just by rubbing your hands across it (you know what I mean, we've all had that couch). It's so affordable and they have several other colors. Get a few yards. Seriously. I think what I have is 3 yards, which is more than enough.

The light I used here is available on amazon (and would you believe, it's very affordable?). I have used this many times, mostly for corporate headshots, and I love it. I look forward to using it even more now. I do wish I had a grid for it. I do not so I ended up clipping a white pillow case over it to further soften the light. It was quite strong and I even added more shadows in post.

As I said, I used my Sony A7 with my 55mm 1.8 Zeiss for most of the shots. I tacked on my Nikkor 85mm 1.8 for a few shots. My average aperture was 3.5, ISO bounced from 640-800. Depending mainly, on where I stood. I would have loved  to tether up to my laptop while shooting this, but my A7 makes the horribly complicated and I spent an hour (and the rest of two days) trying to figure it out, I've come to the conclusion, it won't work for me :(. That's ok, plan to upgrade to an A7ii soon, hoping that won't be a problem. WB in camera was, I believe warm white, that's almost irrelevant though, I just made sure all the images were set on the same thing so editing would be easier. Sometimes I'm a big stickler about getting WB right in camera and sometimes I know I'll be messing with it quite a bit and don't stress about it.


The first image is the strait out of camera. Something happened and my camera decided to shoot jpg instead of raw, this was a complete mishap but I don't mind much at all. I have edited jpg's for years and never found it to be that much more cumbersome. 

I always cull and do initial edits in light room. I mainly adjust shadows, highlights and white balance. I adjust it to what I feel looks realistic, and if I want to add any creative touches (in this case I really messed with the color balance and love the results) I will do that in Photoshop. In PS I also did some slight skin softening, mainly cloning. I did use Portraiture on about 60% opacity because no one wants to see tiny face hairs.

I really messed with the color balance here, I love the green hues in the shadows. 

Highlights C+2 M-6 Y+5

Midtones C-1 M+2 Y-19

Shadows C+1 M+5 Y+11

If you are interested in the full PS action that includes the Portraiture, camera RAW adjustments, and color balance, please comment below. If I get enough interest I might give it out.  

So, that's how you do it, from start to finish. Hope this was useful to some! 


Have a happy New Year!

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