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Five lessons Rembrandt has taught me for street photography

November 23, 2020
Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt was born on 15 July 1606, he was a dutch painter and printmaker; his art was influenced by Caravaggio and Italian Caravaggists. He is one of my favorite painter, I love the way he painted “chiaroscuro“; with his unique style I was influenced  in doing street photography. So in this article I’ve decided to list 5 lessons Rembrandt “has taught” me in my street photography. I’m talking about compositions, lights/shadows, emotions, hand gestures. As usual I suggest you to study not only works made by masters of photography but also painters.

1. Diagonals

Looking at many Rembrandt’s paintings we can appreciate how the artist creates dynamism using diagonals in the composition of the scene. A perfect example is one of his masterpiece The night watch. 

Rembrandt street photography

Looking better at this masterpiece we can appreciate a complex scene made up of multiple elements: the two main characters in the foreground are coming toward us, outside the canvas. This is important to give depth and perspective to the scene. In the background we can see a lot of people each one looking to a different direction. Look  how Rembrandt painted also hand gestures to give more realism, vitality and dynamicity to the whole picture. Each character is doing something different, each one is looking in a direction. This complexity is schematizable with multiple diagonals all over the paint. When you look at The nigh watch by Rembrandt you can feel the action of the scene, composition is like an explosion of visible and invisible diagonals, this create action involving spectator inside the scene.

Supper at Emmaus is another interesting example of composition with diagonals.  This paint is actually exposed at Louvre in Paris. First of all look at the wonderfull chiaroscuro, the use of silhouettes and the depth/perspective of the scene. I love the use of lights/shadows in this masterpiece.

Rembrandt street photography

The diagonals give dynamism, drama and tension connecting the two main subjects in the foreground to each other. This episode painted by Rembrandt is told in the Luca’s Gospel.

Rembrandt street photography

2. Arabesque

Another compositional element characterizing Rembrandt’s style is arabesque (curves) important as diagonals to give vitality and dynamism to the scene. It’s not by chance that arabesques recur in paintings full of action as The blinding of Samson.

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Another example is The sacrifice of Isaac. Subjects are connected to each other by an invisible arabesque curve. Composition is elegant and dynamic at the same time. Again you can feel the drama and the action of the scene.

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

3. Piramidal/triangular composition

Another composition choice made by Rembrandt is the pyramidal/triangular one. It gives harmony and equilibrium to the scene balancing elements. We have a lot of examples.

Let’s start with a classic, a work of art painted by Rembrandt, The anatomy lesson. Apart from piramidal composition, which is the principal structure of the image, hand gestures and face expressions give more realism to the scene. For each character try also to draw an invisible line (diagonal): the result, in terms of different dispositions of characters, is something that we’ve already seen before with The night watch.

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Other paintings with Piramidal/triangular composition:

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

4. Light

Probably the most important aspect of Rembrandt’s style is how he painted lights and shadows in his “chiaroscuro”. I think this is Rembrandt’s greatest and most particular skill. He inspired also other great painters as Van Gogh in his famous The potato eaters. As you can see looking at his masterpieces he didn’t paint directly the light source (as candles). Often we don’t understand where the light comes from.

Does it come from a candle behind hands?

Rembrandt street photography

Does it come from the sky like a mystic light?

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

As in Caravaggio’s paintings also in Rembrandt we can say that light can tell a story. Always he didn’t paint directly the light source maybe to create mystery and to avoid “highlight areas” (distraction for eyes). It’s like to do street photography outside, usually we don’t put directly sun in the frame.

5. Gestures: emotions

Rembrandt often painted hand gestures to obtain more exciting scenes. Looking at Rembrandt’s paintings we can see how often he was interested in hand gestures. In my opinion this is the most important lesson I’ve learnt from him when I’m doing street photography. In fact on the street you can see how hand gestures can make interesting a common scene making sometimes the difference. Apart from people looking directly at you in camera images without gestures are often completely dead, probably you’re only taking photos of walking people (what is the sense?). Hands can communicate something as facial expressions.

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

Rembrandt street photography

That’s all folks

Stay well, have always light in your life

Best, F.S

Read more about painting and street photography here:

Slaughterhouse as anthicrist: painting and street photography

Street photography and 20th century painting Part 1

Giorgio De Chirico can influence your photography – 1

Giorgio De Chirico can influence your photography – 2

Giorgio De Chirico can influence your photography – 3

Read also:

Art as life expression

Three things Vermeer has taught me

Three things Munch has taught me

The circular rhythm of life

Read more articles about Art clicking here

 

 

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