Rembrandt Self-Portrait

10 Masters of Light and Shadow in Portrait Painting and Photography

Shadows can create  very dramatic effects in portrait painting and photography.

1. Rembrandt was without a doubt an early master of this technique. Many of his paintings play with shadows, for example this self-portrait of 1629:


2. Another master of strong light effects was Nikolai Ge. Here his  self-portrait from 1892 :


3. Georges de la Tour uses candle light for his atmospheric paintings. His most famous one: ‘La Madeleine à la flamme filante’ (1640).


4. Franz von Stuck‘s ‘The sin’ (1893) is not really a portrait but I didn’t want to give it a miss. It is such a great example of a symbolic use of light and shadow.


5. Ofir Abe, ‘Heart of a drifter’ (2009) transforms the techniques of painting into photography. Like Edd Carlile by whom he was inspired, he studied the old masters very well. It is not only because of the clothes the model is wearing but because of a very special lighting that we perceive the portrait as an old painting.

Heart of a drifter

photo credit: Ofir Abe

6. There are many brilliant examples on Flickr for the use of shadows to create drama in portrait. One that stood out for me was ‘Shadows of the past’ The strong shadow defines the person with a few lines and simple geometrical forms.

shadows of the past [the extreme version]

photo credit: unplugged

7. Also on Flickr I fell in love with the portraits of Reed Hohenstein. Like other masters of photography as Paul Strand, Alexander Rodchenko or Ferdinando Scianna he implements structural elements of shadows in his portraits. Shadow effects are not just used to highlight a face but as elements of composition. The face becomes a secondary part of the whole.


photo credit: Reed Hohenstein

8. Very dark is the ‘staging’ of this expressive photo by Miquel Gil, Dia 365 (2014).

Día 365

photo credit: Miquel Gil

9. Light and shadow in its symbolic meaning: David, The search for hope (2007).

The Search for Hope

photo credit: David

10. The shadows cover the face with a beautiful pattern in this portrait by Stuart Hingston, 2012. I like the way the model closes her eyes to become a canvas for the artist.


photo credit: Stuart Hingston

Want to see more? Follow this board on Pinterest: Shadows

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