Esther Beaton


Rembrandt artist

Rather than using colour, as in the previous post, to get rid of a busy or dull background, you can accomplish it with exposure control alone.

Reducing the exposure by using a faster shutter speed has darkened the background, making the artist stand out.

This artist worked in her garage and the best angle of her using her jewellery press had some old storage units behind her. The easiest thing was to turn the whole background black. And the easiest way to do that is with exposure. 

The steps to doing this are: 

1. Choose your working aperture – usually about f5.6 for a head and shoulders portrait.

2. Then dial up the shutter speed until your scene is at least 3 stops underexposed.

3. Add the flash unit, in my case with a softbox, and position it close enough to the subject until you get about f5.6 output. 

Despite doing all this, back at the computer I noticed a few little straggles of background peeking through – but they were easy to retouch out with Lightroom’s brush. 

Incidentally, this is your classic “Rembrandt lighting”. Lovely, isn’t it? I wonder how Rembrandt got his black backgrounds? Oh I know! He painted them out!


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