Producing Rembrandt / Chiaroscuro Portraits with Continuous Lights??

Discussion in 'Lighting Forum' started by perpetualjon, Jan 3, 2015.

  1. I recently ran across this tutorial on and I immediately found the type of photography I want to do! However, I currently work exclusively with continuous lights. I have found several tutorials on this technique and most of them can even be shot outside with a fair amount of sunlight (once you add a strobe). You basically set exposure to complete darkness with ambient light, and then bring in a strobe at low power. It's a trial and error process that eventually gets you there.

    But for me to pull off such a low key exposure, the model will have to be perfectly still, and I'll have to be on a tripod to keep things steady enough for the exposure to work (or wind up with a very shallow DOF due to the wide-open aperture). Is this sort of goal just not meant for continuous lighting?

    I've gotten close with shots like this: --but you can see from the blurry back of the scarf that the aperture is wide open (f1.8) so not everything can be in focus. Am I doing it wrong or is it simply not possible to pull this off without strobes?
  2. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
  3. robbie36

    robbie36 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 25, 2010
    rob collins
    I have experimented with continuous lighting but have mostly found the results very underwhelming.

    Peter Hurley uses continuous lighting for his headshots. But he is shooting at 1/60th of a second which isnt ideal for candid headshots. He also has about US$10,000 of continuous lighting equipment. And, at times, his model suffer from what they see as very bright lighting.

    The underlying problem with continuous lighting is that while the lighting appears very bright, it isny very bright in reality.
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  4. I think it's more an issue for me in that I can't produce the intensity of a strobe with continuous lights without taking extreme measures. This, in turn, affects how sharp an image I can get and how deep my DOF can be.

    ...Yeah, I think I'm already realizing that I'm going to have to start looking into building a strobe kit and large softbox / grid to get these types of shots. I've never worked with flash. I'm probably going to need a trigger and light meter. Man, I guess I'm back to watching tutorials again!
  5. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    A reasonable set of studio strobes will have modelling lights that you can balance to the flash intensity and exposure can be quickly determined with a few test shots, so a flash meter isn't so important. The problem with studio strobes is that they can be too powerful if space is limited, so you have to be careful as to what you buy. I have a set of Elinchrom studio flash and even at the lowest intensity you have to stop down a lot, in the space that I now have available, in order to get correct exposure. That's where the Olympus flash units come in handy, but they have no modelling lights, swings and roundabouts. Some of the newer LED light panels seem to be getting some pretty good reviews, producing a lot of light but no heat and adjustable in intensity.
  6. datagov

    datagov Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 2, 2012
    New York
    I tried Rembrandt lighting with a smartphone after having been inspired by some Dutch Master portraits at Kenmore House in London. I shot this with the P20 @ f1.7 and ISO 3200.

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  7. This is exactly what I'm trying to avoid: high ISO and wide open aperture. I need a wider DOF so the entire subject is in focus, and low ISO for the sharpest possible image and the least amount of noise.
  8. JNB

    JNB Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    This is very challenging without a reasonable amount of power. The following were taken with a single Alien Bee 400 monolight, softbox, and reflector. A second light was used on the background but, in the end, I didn't like it. So I replaced the background in post. ISO 100. Somehow the EXIF got all messed up, but it was probably taken at 1/125 (the max sync for my old camera) and likely f/5.6. Power on the AB400 was probably at about 1/2.

    <a href="" title="JP by JNB (John), on Flickr"> 4335877334_b7a7c450db_o. "512" height="768" alt="JP"></a>

    <a href="" title="JP #2 by JNB (John), on Flickr"> 4335133527_b832b23696_o. "539" height="768" alt="JP #2"></a>
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  9. datagov

    datagov Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 2, 2012
    New York
    Those are lovely shots. The second one is especially good.
  10. Yeah, I have really enjoyed working with continuous lighting this year --and never delved into flash photography. I liked being able to see my changes immediately when moving a light source around. Alas, I don't think I'm going to be able to avoid it any longer. With all the advantages a strobe can give me, I think it's time to go back to learning new things!

    I have seen strobes that have a continuous light in the center for reference. Do any of you shooters use these?
  11. DigitalD

    DigitalD Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 10, 2014
    I have 3 Bowen 750w monolights and they have modeling lights. Most strobes will have a modeling light that will adjust intensity based on what you set the flash output too. The only strobes that I know of that don't have modeling lights would be off camera flash units. I also recommend getting a light meter. For me it makes my workflow faster rather then shooting, checking the camera and shooting again until you get it right. Once you get proficient with a light meter you can be set up rather quickly if you're definitive in what you are trying to achieve.

    I've had my bowens for so long that I have considered many times to update them. Even as monolights they are still pretty big and heavy for what I would use them for now. I don't shoot head shots professionally anymore. My first choice would be alien bees because of their size and cost. They also have excellent customer service and repair. I would also start with umbrellas as they are very simple to set up and more importantly store away quickly. I would stay away from the 3-in-1s as changing out the materials are a pain. I would just get inexpensive separate umbrellas for each type you want. All white are nice to be able to light through for a more directed light source instead of bouncing off. But I would have both options handy plus a good bounce. I find foam core (gator board) from art stores provide a nice cheap bounce if you don't want to buy a fabric one. I would also get black cardboard as it's handy to suck light up for more dramatic lighting scenarios.

    Good luck friend! Strobe photography is pretty fun once you get the hang of it!
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  12. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    Foam core and spray paint the back of it black. I find the best paint for it is high temp exhaust paint in black, it REALLY sucks the light in and makes for a decent flag.
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  13. tosvus

    tosvus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 4, 2014
    Jnb's nice portraits above Are taken With an alienbee strobe that does have a modeling light (which means continuous)