Join Simon Walker for an in-depth discussion in this video Using Rembrandt's chiaroscuro technique to increase tension, part of The Art of Color Correction: Artistic Color Grading on the Timeline.
Rembrandt is one of the world's greatest story tellers. He somehow manages in his paintings to reveal the inner secretes and the inner thoughts of the people sitting for him. Have a look at the painting in the art reference pdf. It's Rembrandt himself, leaning on a window sill. In this self portrait, Rembrandt has used the light and dark technique, the Coriscura technique, to emphasize the dark shadows around the figure as a contrast to the lightness in the face and the hand. There's very little midturn.
Most of the image is dark or light, by accentuating the dark shadows he pulls focus to the face. There is much more detail in the brush work on the face than there is in the rest of the painting. By limiting this detail he is creating a virtual area of focus. He's showing us where he wants us to look. We can interpret this with modern film making techniques through the addition of soft-blurred edges. Either by using a practical vignette on the lens or by adding a virtual vignette in post production.
We'll look at doing this in a second, but firstly let's ask ourselves, why's he doing this? What is he achieving with this technique? Is using these areas of virtual spot exposure, highlighting the face and the hands in this case. In a really dramatic way, as a storytelling device. He's somehow enabling us to consider what the character may or may not be thinking. So, how do we do this in post production? I've got a series of clips on a timer here. I'm just going to turn off the audio for a second, and this is two guys having a chat in the local coffee house. And it's reasonably innocuous what they're talking about. For example, I'll just play a few seconds of this clip: >> And enchiladas most people, traditionally it's, it's you know, there's always a meat in it.
There's chicken, there's beef. >> Mm-hmm. Yeah. >> But this is her most famous dish, like. So, they're not talking about anything dramatic. But what we're going to do, we're going to apply color correction, which makes the whole scene change and. Causes the tension to increase in the scene. I've got two clips here on the end of the timeline. And on this first clip, I'm going to apply an instance of magic bullet looks. In fact, I've really applied it to the adjustment layer. And I'm going to show you how to build up this light and dark technique. So I'll press edit look, and bring up the looks interface.
Right, the first thing about Rembrandt's paintings were they were dark. So let's grab a Curves tool, and then bring down the shadows and the mid tones to make it a bit darker. This look tends to be quite dramatic. And Rembrandt was using lots of reds and dark oranges in his image, so I'm going to use a 3-way color corrector and add in a little bit of orange into the highlights, a bit more into the midtones, and some in the shadow as well.
Now when you're building up this sort of a look you start to get an unnatural looking subject, and Rembrandt paintings didn't have too much vibrant color. So I'm going to bring in a Range Saturation from the Subject area. And the nice thing about range saturation of course, is that you can change the saturation in the different areas. So, I'm going to reduce the saturation in the highlights, to the mid 60's, and also do a similar thing in the shadows, because we want a contrast between The highlights and the mid tones or the shadows and the mid tones. In fact, that can be desaturated ever so slightly.
So, we're beginning to get a slightly desaturated, slightly red-tinted image, and we need to make the background dark, which we do by using My old friend the vignette. And I think on this example, we can use a couple of vignettes. One to just make the edges slightly darker, and another one to really. Bring out, or increase the shadow area. Now an important thing to note is that Rembrandt was making these dramatic paintings with very dark shadows.
And in video making we're being inspired by his techniques rather than just replicating them. So our audience is expecting to see some detail in the shadows. So how dark you make these vignettes, how dark you make the shadows, is a matter of choice and also it reflects the story that you're telling in your particular scene. One other detail I could do actually is I could go back to the Curves tool and add in. Some red to bring out this particular look. We're going for a reduced palette and we also could do with a three-way color corrector at the end of the chain here. And bring down some of the midtones and push those towards orange. So, we're starting to get a similar feel.
So Rembrandt's self-portrait. But the key element here is the pool of light, or the virtual pool of light that Rembrandt used in his paintings. And we can use a spot exposure tool to replicate this. So I'm going to grab a spot exposure from the post section And position it just before the last three-way and drag on the screen controls to actually make an area of the light. I get to increase.
the exposure slightly on his face. There we go. And it's this combination of dark shadows and bright pools of light that echoes the light and shade (INAUDIBLE) technique. Let's compare this build up of tools with the Rembrandt preset. That have applied onto the second clip. So I'm going to jump over onto this next clip here, and just use a down-arrow key to switch to the clip. Click on the Adjustment layer. And then click Edit Look to bring up the Rembrandt preset.
So here I'm using the Rembrandt preset. From the collection and most of the tools that we were just building up are referenced here. There's an additional fill Light tool, which brings up the shadows ever, so slightly because we're working with video and we still need to see our subject. But this brings up an interesting point about the story telling device that Rembrandt was using. I'm going to switch off fill light. And I'm going to make this image a little more dramatic by clicking on the spot exposure, making it much more narrow, and moving it over one side of his face, like so, and bringing up the stops value, so bringing up the exposure slightly, and then I'm going to go over to the curves tool.
And bring down these shadows even more, and then go back to the spot exposure and play with the exposure there. So this is the essential pulls of light technique that Rembrandt was using. And he often highlighted One part of the person's face. In his self-portrait, he's hiding his eyes, which is making us think, what is he hiding? He's hiding behind his eyes. He's not telling us something.
The focus of our attention is on his thoughts. And this is the effect of this technique. By manipulating the spot exposure as we have, we're only highlighting half his face. One side of the man's face is lit, the other half is in shadow, so metaphorically we're only looking at half the man. He's hiding something from us and we are being asked to consider what may be being concealed in the shadows. What is he hiding. And what is he thinking? And, you can this visually, if I turn the whole tool chain off, here, he's listening, now, he's thinking.
He's listening, and he's thinking. And that's what Rembrandt was doing with his paintings. He was causing us to consider the thought process and the story behind the subject. So, this color scura technique allows us to reveal to the audience the nature of the subject. Their mood, and sometimes even their deep seated attitudes. Rembrandt really was the champion of this technique, which has a lot to do with the fact that he was interested in the story or the humanity of his subjects.
But it's so great that we can use this same technique in our own video material.
- What is a grade?
- Starting with contrast and color
- Observing Michelangelo's approach to high and low contrast
- Accentuating highlights in the style of Fra Angelico
- Working with Leonardo da Vinci's limited palettes
- Using chiaroscuro to increase tension
- Changing the mood of a scene with light and shade
- Applying colors to complement skin tones