ChiaroscuroFine Art Photography

Chiaroscuro Is Enjoying a Renaissance

The technique – let’s call it “Rembrandt lighting” so you don’t have to struggle with the pronunciation as you read to yourself – dates back to Renaissance paintings. In these works, a directional light falls on the subject, creating deep shadows and bold contrast. 

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Centuries later, the impact of placing a single light source on the subject became a favorite technique of photographers, including Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Yousuf Karsh and Horst.

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Photographers can produce chiaroscuro images using natural or artificial light, in low-key black and white or color. What is required is a dark background and bright side lighting. The softness of close lighting and the hardness of rich shadows can reveal textures and depth. What is obscured or not shown intrigues us.

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You could think of chiaroscuro as the “film noir” of photography. Cinematographer Gregg Toland was a pioneer in defining the signature, smoky look of the classics from the ‘30s and ‘40s, with dramatic shadow patterns and harsh contrast between dark and light.

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Today, this moody and mysterious style lends itself to portraits, still lives, professional food photography and fashion campaigns by high-end design houses such as Prada, 2017.

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Tom Sheeter
Tom Sheeter is a Los Angeles based writer and Account Manager at Superstock. He specializes in film and tv licensing and clearance issues.

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