Rembrandt Lighting (Video Interview Techniques)

I’m stationed at Combat Camera now.  I’ve been stationed here before, so I know it’s pretty rare to travel with a light kit.  We still have to shoot interviews, and we want those interviews to look as well-lit as possible.  So how do we do that?  My answer is: Rembrandt lighting.

Rembrandt?

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch painter from the 17th Century [FIGURE 1].  Rembrandt lit his subjects so that one side of the subject’s face was well lit, and the other side of the face was in shadow except for the eye and a small triangle of light under the eye.  The triangle of light is created when the shadow from the nose reaches down to the corner of the mouth and connects with the shadow from the dark side of the face.  And that’s “Rembrandt lighting.”

REMBRANDT diagram

FIGURE 1:
Here is a self-portrait of Rembrandt as a young man. In this painting, the well-lit side of his face is facing the “camera.” When we set up our interviews, we usually want the camera to be facing the shadowy side of the face. See the examples below.

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Here are some modern examples of Rembrandt lighting at work:

Dramatic Rembrandt

FIGURE 2:
Very dramatic use of Rembrandt. I pulled this picture from Lens Diaries’ great post on Rembrandt lighting. The photo is linked to their post. Check it out.

In the first example [FIGURE 2, above] the Rembrandt lighting is very sharp and defined. You probably wouldn’t use such a dramatic use like this unless your subject matter really warranted some drama.

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Natural Looking Rembrandt

FIGURE 3:
Here is a more subtle use of Rembrandt. I pulled this photo from Louis Daniel Botha’s great post on lighting techniques. Click the photo to check out his blog post. (He uses an awesome WordPress theme)

In this example [FIGURE 3, above] the Rembrandt lighting is less sharp and contrasty.  I’m guessing the photographer used multiple lights on this one, but it is set up to look like it was lit with natural light coming from a window.  In my opinion, unless you’re going for a specific effect, the natural look is the way to go.

How to Do It Yourself

Like I said before, sometimes you just don’t have a light kit, but that doesn’t mean your scene can’t be as well-lit as possible.  Here are four simple steps to help you get better looking interview shots by using availible light to achieve Rembrandt lighting.

1. Find a Light Source and Position the Interviewee:

Find a window, and position your subject so that the light from that window is casting Rembrandt lighting across your subject’s face.  If you’re in a windowless room, try a desk lamp or some other available light source.

2. Position the Reporter Right in Front of the Interviewee:

Your whole set up is based on the available light source. So once your subject is properly lit, you’re not going to want him to move or turn his head to face the reporter asking the questions.  Position the reporter (which is probably you, right?) directly in front of the interviewee, so he stays properly lit while he’s answering your questions.

3. Position the Camera:

Position the camera so that it is on the shadowy side of the interviewee’s face.  If you look at the two Rembrandt examples [FIGURE 2 and FIGURE 3], you’ll see the camera is on the shadow side of the subject’s face.  Shooting the shadowy side of someone’s face has a slimming effect.  Conversely, positioning the camera on the bright side of someone’s face has a broadening effect.  Normally people want to appear slimmer, but there are definitely occasions where you would want to shoot the bright side to make someone’s face fuller.

(note: often the shadowy side is called the “short” side, and the bright side is called the “broad” side, but, whatever…)

4. Don’t Forget the Background:

Make sure your background isn’t too dark or too bright (ie: you don’t want the background brighter than your interview subject.) Sometimes it helps to kill the other lights in the room; sometimes it helps to leave them on or just kill a few. If I’m using a window as my light source, I usually try to kill all the overhead lights and open curtains to light my background. This helps me avoid mixed lighting situations.

Because you built this whole scene based on where the light was coming from, you don’t really get to choose your background composition, so make sure there isn’t anything crazy or distracting in your background.

Interview set up diagram

FIGURE 4:
Here is a diagram of how this set up would look from the top. We’ve got light coming in from a window creating Rembrandt on our interview subject. The reporter is standing right in front of the properly lit subject. The camera is pointed at the shadow (or “short”) side of the subject’s face.

That’s All Folks

Using available light to achieve Rembrandt lighting on your subject will give your video that extra touch of professionalism.  We can’t all roll around with light kits, flags and reflectors, but using this simple technique will up the production value of your interview footage.

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About MilC digital

I'm Brett Cote. I'm an MC1 with 12 years in the Navy. I was a legacy JO, but now I'm a full-fledged MC. In addition to JO "A" school, I've attended Video Production and Documentation "C" school. I've also attended the Military Advanced Motion Media program at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications. I'm currently stationed at Fleet Combat Camera Pacific. My past commands include Defense Media Activity, a previous tour at Com Cam, and NAS Meridian, Miss. .....facebook: cote brett .....video: vimeo.com/brettpatrickcote .....gmail: brett.patrick.cote@gmail .....photos: 500px.com/brettpatrickcote View all posts by MilC digital

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