This article is just a short follow up post to another article I wrote a few weeks ago titled “Shoot 5 Different Styles Of Studio Portraits With Just 1 Light“. The purpose of that article was to help teach a number of quick setup options you could do if you were shooting portraits and working with just 1 studio light.

M-01Rembrandt Light – ©Marc Schultz 2015

At this point I am going to take one of the most popular one-light shooting setups known as a Rembrandt Light (seen used in the photo above from the previous article) and build on that setup by adding in 2 more lights to the setup for those photographers who may be working with 3 lights and would like to learn how to make their studio portraits more dynamic.

To recap, the Rembrandt Light effect is where the far side of the face (opposite to where the light is positioned) is mainly in darkness, but there is still a small triangle of light on the cheek that appears on the darker side of the face so that the far side of the face isn’t in complete relative darkness. This is done by placing your camera at around 6:00 and the light at about either 4:30 or 7:30 to the camera, which is either slightly to the left or right of the camera at about 35-45 degrees to one side. In my case, I placed my light to the right of the camera. The light should also be placed about 1? (1 meter) above the subject’s head and the subject should be facing either straight forward to the camera and/or turned just a bit towards the direction of the light. So in the next 2 photos of the same model I added in the 2 more lights to my original one light Rembrandt setup.


The first new light you see in the photo above is a backlight to create some light on the hair on the side of the head which is on the darker side of the face. I am referring to the side of the face that is further away from the main Rembrandt light on the left side of the photo. This light is placed at around 11:00 where the camera is at 6:00. I used a softbox so that the light would be nicely diffused and not too harsh with hard highlights illuminating from the hair. You can see the softbox I used for backlight in the example setup shot below.


This backlight on her hair adds some nice color pop and added detail, but it also helps to create some separation between her hair and the edge where her head meets the backdrop, which was a much darker area before as you can see in the original Rembrandt single light setup at the top of this article.

The second newly added light introduced in this new setup is being used to illuminate the backdrop behind her head a bit. This light just adds a slight bit of glow around her neck and lower head area. You can however place the backdrop light in any position you want to create the illumination where you like it. You can also increase the power or widen the backdrop light cast if you prefer a wider area of light. I just like the little glow as I have done here though behind the head as it doesn’t create too much of a distraciton, but still helps to add some separation between the subject and background as well as gives some color gradient to the backdrop itself. But there is no correct or incorrect way to what kind of backdrop light you use. It depends really on what appeals to you and the look you are going for.


There are also various ways to add a spot of light onto the background and create a bit of a gradient of light like I have done in the 2 above examples, but in this case I decided to place the light at a low angle behind her on the floor using a miniature light stand and shooting the light upwards a bit and directly at the background.

If I were taking a full body shot though then this placement of the backdrop light on the floor behind the subject would not be possible because the light itself would be visible in the frame. So in cases where you are not able to place the backdrop light into the frame like I have done here then you can simply place it to either side of the backdrop (outside of the framing of the photo) and shoot it onto the backdrop from a side angle. Shooting on an angle should not be any different in terms of effect than shooting it from the middle of the backdrop if you are using a modifier fixed onto the light which focuses the light into a beam and prevents too much of a gradient of light spill-off from occurring.

Although you can’t see it in the setup example photo above with the backdrop light in it, the light itself is fixed with a grid on the front side of it (also known as a honeycomb), which helps to focus the light into a beam and create a small circle of light on the backdrop. The grid prevents the light from spraying out into a larger area and would also be especially useful if you are going to light the backdrop from the side instead of directly from the middle. It is also possible to light the backdrop from above if you have a boom arm to raise the light itself above the model’s head and center it into the backdrop.

If you have any questions about this lighting setup and the techniques I used here please feel free to post them below and I will be happy to answer them.