The correct use of lighting plays a vital role in an image. It can create form and dimension, texture and tone.

Controlled in a studio environment, you can set up the lighting equipment to create strong contrasts of highlights and shadows, softer light or colour through the use of gels. The position of the light sources will also determine where the shadows fall, the same way the position of the sun creates shadows on your subject when shooting outdoors.

By using a diffuser such as a softbox or umbrella, you can create the appearance of a softer and more natural light. In addition, the light is more forgiving as it softens shadows, glare and the appearance of the model’s skin.

To help us understand the impact of light in an image we have looked to the techniques used by the Dutch Masters and other known painters of the renaissance period. Some of the lighting techniques used in photography were inspired by classical painters such as Rembrandt van Rijn.


The Italian term Chiaroscuro means light and dark. This technique was developed during the Renaissance by painters such as Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, who used it to create strong tonal contrasts, depth and drama.

This style of lighting is commonly used in Film Noir and black and white photography to create 3D forms. It prevents the lighting from appearing flat. A recent example of this is in Frank Miller’s Sin City films.


The image below by Josh Redman, was on display at the latest Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. It has a likeness to Caravaggio’s paintings with the use of the chiaroscuro, the direction of the light above the subject is comparable to his painting of St Jerome.

Rembrandt Lighting

In photography the term Rembrandt lighting is a form of the Chiaroscuro technique, characterised by an illuminated triangle under the eye which reaches in line to the tip of the nose on the shaded side of the subjects face. This technique can be achieved simply with a key light positioned high and to one side, facing the subject’s cheek. A reflector or a fill light is positioned on the opposite side, at half the height of the key light to illuminate the shaded side of the face.

Loop Lighting

Characterised by small shadows to the side of the nose and cheek, which do not join together and slope slightly downwards. The lighting must be positioned above the model’s eye level and towards the side of the face, if positioned further across, this will create a Rembrandt effect as the shadows will meet.


Butterfly Lighting

The lighting is positioned higher, above the models head and to the front of the face. If too high, there is a possibility of the eyes not catching the light which will make the subject appear lifeless.

As I was posing for this example of lighting, I have used one of Louise’s images. You can probably tell, I did a little editing for my profile picture by reducing the clarity and adding a filter!


Split Lighting

This lighting can add drama to your portrait. By positioning the light at least 90 degrees to the side of the subjects face, there is a strong split/contrast of light and dark. Depending on the shape of the subjects face, ideally the light will catch the eye on the shaded side of the face.


Broad or Short?

There are two ways of demonstrating these techniques depending on which side of the face the key light is facing. If the furthest side of the face is lit up, this is called “short” lighting, as the side of the face closest to the camera is shaded. If the closest side is lit then this is called “broad” as the shade falls on the side of the face which is furthest from the camera. I have a round face so short lighting would help to slim it down!

Here are two good examples using Rembrandt lighting, both images were taken by Annie Leibovitz. For portraits, she frequently uses a single light setup with slower shutter speeds to increase the exposure of the surrounding ambient light which helps to lighten the background.

I found this useful lighting guide from Digital Camera World….


The images below were taken during class early on in the project. I had fun experimenting with different perspectives & compositions and particularly like the use of a single backlight, as it creates a more dynamic look.

By using a snoot or barn doors, the light can be concentrated onto a smaller area of the subject. In the of images of Rosemary, she is wearing black which blends into the background making her face stand out in the light but overall the image does appear flat.

For the images of Jason, if we had combined the two lights in the same set up, it would have created more depth by separating the model from the background.