Production Lighting: How To Do Chiaroscuro Lighting

The chiaroscuro technique dates back to the time of Rennaissance paintings. Also sometimes called Rembrandt lighting, it often pertains to having one solitary light source and depicting stark contrasts between light and shadow. This style of lighting may seem minimalistic, but it yields very dramatic results. The high illumination contrast creates 3D depth on an otherwise 2-dimensional surface. Often this technique is achieved by having one bright, solitary light source - usually daylight. But, in a studio set-up, or with a lighting set-up, chiaroscuro can also be accomplished. Here's how:

Step 1: Choose Your Subject

Rembrandt lighting or chiaroscuro is most dramatic on 3-dimensional surfaces, such as the human body. If you attempt to do it on a flat surface, the outcome is not as dramatic. You can, however, choose to cast shadows on a flat surface. To start off with your attempt, choose your subject wisely.

Step 2: Determine the Mood

This lighting technique sets the mood in itself. Given its play on light and shadow, the chiaroscuro is often used to depict mystery and a dark mood tone. Out of necessity, this technique is used for scenes in darkened places like prison and dungeons. But, for mood-setting, one will see this lighting technique in dark, serious movies like The Godfather and Citizen Kane. For your set-up, try and appropriate the chiaroscuro with the right mood. If you're shooting a wedding video for instance, this can be used during the dramatic moments like the bride and father, and more.

Step 3: Remove External Light Sources

One thing that can destroy a good chiaroscuro is unwanted light sources. Check your viewfinder for unwanted light images. One way to remove any spillage is to turn your work area pitch dark. Close the drapes and turn off overhead lights. This way, you can totally control your light source and set up your chiaroscuro lighting properly.

Step 4: Angle Your Main Light Source

Often you will only need one main light source to achieve the chiaroscuro. Depending on your type of set-up, usually the light is angled 45-degrees from the subject. Focusing the light straight in front of your subject will often just give you a flat look. If you angle it, you produce more shadows and more contrast. You can also position the light straight above or below your subject. Both these methods yield different moods.

Step 5: Experiment

The best way to find your preferred chiaroscuro technique is to be flexible with your light source. Place your light at varying angles and heights. You will see that each of these invoke different emotions - dramatic, lonely, foreboding, solitary, mysterious and more. Don't be afraid to move your main light source around and find that which works best for you.

Step 6: Reflect

Having just one light source may not be enough in certain scenes. There may be details that you don't want to completely cast a shadow on. In these instances, it's wise to use a reflector. Make sure to use a very light and subdued reflector so as not to overpower your chiaroscuro technique. 

Popular Cameras for High Quality Photos: