Rembrandt lighting technique – old painting vintage style effect

Rembrandt portrait lighting how to make a portrait looking like an old Rembrandt paining I have been fascinated about this ole vintage look for a portrait. I have seen many […]

Rembrandt portrait lighting

how to make a portrait looking like an old Rembrandt paining

I have been fascinated about this ole vintage look for a portrait. I have seen many professional photography competitions in my past and I have noticed that fact that making a portrait looking old in Rembrandt style is appreciated. This is not copying blindly the famous painter, it is just borrowing few visual language elements.

A good lesson for any artist photographer is to study art history and try to understand various approaches to beauty. I believe using elements of visual art from one domain to other can be successful, especially we are talking here about painting and photography as 2 different self standing artistic field.

I have noticed that the old vintage look can be easily achieved in post production either in Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom, where playing with the colour balance, white balance, contrast, exposure and few other basic controls is very easy. Also adding a bit of old dried paint texture can be done with photo shop by adding a soft light blending layer on top which borrows a specific texture , and blends it into an image. Please follow the video above for the detail how to do the photo shop post editing part.

Another aspect one needs to consider is also the Rembrandt lighting, as if the direction of light is not good, there is nothing you can do in post production. As a photographer I always ensure that the result form the camera is already an end result and I never rely of the post processing and editing step, as if the pictures is staffed up what happens after is useless. The Rembrandt lighting set up means one soft light at 45 degrees to one side of the model and above. The face is half lit and there is the light triangle cast by the nose to the shadowed cheek.

So if you wish to try this, you need to have 2 images, one portrait and one texture, if possible looking like old paint brushes. In my case, I took a photo os a empty piece of the wall on the back of my house and I managed to play with the white balance to get it warm.

wall texture

if you want to use this texture in high resolution, you can download it here

[wpdm_file id=8 title=”true” template=”facebook drop-shadow curved curved-hz-2″ ]

As described in the video above I took a self portrait with one soft box as the Rembrandt light, and one speed light at the back to ensure the background in this case is not completely black.

rembrandt type portrait lighting set up


After That I have brought both images into Photoshop in the same file organised by layers, with the texture on top. I have played with the brightness/contrast, levels, curves and colour balance for the portrait until I reached a yellow vintage feel to the image. This is not a recipe, if you want to try it, feel free to play until the image appeals to you. The next step is to blend the texture and turn into a soft light blending mode. That has the purpose of blending only the texture of the top layer into the bottom layer. I have also deleted (or masked) the face area with a brush tool to remove the texture partially and to ensure that only the portrait remains in focus. The rest of the image is OK as textured. As the last post production trick was to use the gradient tool from black to transparency to darken the edges even more, just as an attempt to get closer to the Rembrandt style.

I am nto a bit advocate of spending too much time photoshoping an image and the faster it goes , the happier I am , but I am sure that if you spend more time, you can get even more refined result than mine…but where do you stop? – I leave that with you to decide.

an here is the final result:

rembrandt type portrait lighting set up




About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and