Old Masters: The O G Strobists

Way back before SB-800's were a glint in Nikon's eye, the Old Masters were working some serious light. In fact, an intimate understanding of light (and how to reproduce it) was integral to their attaining "Old Master" status to begin with.

There is a discussion thread in the Strobist Flickr Group right now where people are kicking around the subject. Studying the Old Masters to learn more about lighting just happens to be one of my upcoming New Year's resolutions, so this was good timing for me.

We'll be doing a week on Old Masters' light early next year, and I would love to see your suggestions for subject matter. There's a very good catalog site here. Drop by the thread, and/or hit the comments if you want to offer up a favorite artist and/or painting from back in the day. (Be sure to leave us a URL.)

Strobist Info

In Philosopher Meditating, (c. 1631, oil on wood) Rembrandt used an SB-24, at full power with a full CTO gel a large diffuser silk just outside of the window at left.

At right, just out of frame behind the fire, is an SB-26 on 1/16 power with a LumiQuest Ultrabounce and a full CTO gel. Exposure was 1/8th of a sec at 5.6, ISO 400, to pick up the ambient light at the top of the stairs.

The SB-24 was triggered with a Pocket Wizard, the SB-26 by its built-in slave.

:: Old Masters Discussion Thread ::
:: Great Resource: ABC Gallery ::



Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Blogger tangcla said...

I'm not sure if they had SB-800s back in those days. I think it would have been a vintage Vivitar 285...

December 04, 2007 11:41 PM  
Anonymous MasDom said...

I love the work by Joseph Wright. My all time favorite is: The Alchemist (I study chemistry b/t/w :-)). http://janet.vertesi.com/files/alchymist.jpg

December 05, 2007 12:53 AM  
Blogger txaggie07 said...


i love the technique... but what white balance setting? tungsten? or something natural to let the warmed strobes bring more color in?

December 05, 2007 1:13 AM  
Blogger gewhite said...

This Is a great post I have never looked at the "old masters" in this sense. I think others have already caught onto the idea of trying to recreate these paintings in photographic form, this might be a fun ongoing project for us all.

December 05, 2007 1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was guessing ISO 1600 or so to get that extra grainy feel.

December 05, 2007 2:34 AM  
Blogger Olivier said...

Vermeer is also a great source of inspiration concerning interesting lighting.

December 05, 2007 3:59 AM  
Anonymous Parko the sned said...

Yo Dave.

Check out these DIY Brackets and the softbox this guy made.


December 05, 2007 4:20 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

I'm pretty sure there's more to that bottom-right light than an Ultrabounce. Look at how soft and wrappy it is. Fortunately for us, Rembrandt included the light source in the picture so we can see for ourselves -- it's a crumpled up ball of diffusing tissue paper that reads as hot coals and softens the light considerably. Otherwise, it might be a smallish China Ball with a creative paint job...

December 05, 2007 4:49 AM  
Blogger Karsten Rump said...

the day after strobist seminar paris,i went to the louvre..just to have a short look at mona lisa...but when i came along this painting
and saw the amazing colours and the light / shadow painting i had to take a longer look at it...

December 05, 2007 4:50 AM  
Anonymous ArAgost said...

If you really want to see a master strobist of the past, look for Caravaggio and no more :)

December 05, 2007 4:51 AM  
Anonymous SB's Around U said...

David, when you venture into Old Masters week next year, it would be great to give us Lighting 102 "flashheads" some homework assignments related to it. I'm just saying...

December 05, 2007 6:29 AM  
Blogger Nacho said...

Great idea.

Don't miss Caravaggio (Italian 1571-1610).

For example:




December 05, 2007 6:41 AM  
Blogger JS said...

Keep in mind, it was more acceptable to use slaves back then.

December 05, 2007 8:27 AM  
Anonymous Old Flickr Pro said...

An 'L' lens would've reduced the terrible softness in the corners.

December 05, 2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger vasi said...

Now that's a great example of reverse engineering! So many details!

December 05, 2007 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Vadim said...

I went to the Rembrandt exhibit in NYC last week and thought the exact same thing. How I didn't really appreciate the lighting in my favorite paintings until I began (and still definately working on it) to understand how it was created or to better phrase the thought, would be created with a camera. I was actually wondering if any other strobists went to the MET and had the same thought.

December 05, 2007 8:31 AM  
Blogger Vadim said...

(meant to add an image link to my previous post)



December 05, 2007 8:36 AM  
Blogger Boris Yankov said...

Rembrandt was a strobist!

December 05, 2007 9:00 AM  
Anonymous timbo said...

Would be great to do a breakdown of something by Johannes Vermeer. They reproduced his "look" very nicely in the film Girl with a Pearl Earing.

December 05, 2007 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Wink Of an Eye said...

David is painfully wrong on lighting set-up. How can anyone not see this is pre wireless strobe(circa 1655.

It is a "photo studio" set up using Amvona A Pro Boom by DynaTran. It is obvious a 3200K bulb outside the window with no CTO needed (there has been discussions that it is really a book burning fire but wrong year).
The light to the right was actually A David Z "napkin carrot cake reflection". *Shirley you are not serious David.

Left room for reply

December 05, 2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger A.M.Elliott said...

David, As always, great post. I feel that discussion of our art form in the context of the larger art world is somewhat lacking. So, thank you for bringing this up.

December 05, 2007 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Alvin said...

What about that Thomas Kincade guy? Right there on his web site he says he's a "Painter of Light". He has galleries at the MALL! That means he MUST be good. :)

December 05, 2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger Eric Rudd said...

From a technology standpoint..I'm sure Da Vinci would have been a strobist.


December 05, 2007 10:39 AM  
Blogger RML said...

One of my favourite paintings is by Rembrandt: The Jewish bride.


December 05, 2007 10:46 AM  
Blogger scubajunkie said...

Looks like he forgot to turn on noise reduction

December 05, 2007 12:40 PM  
Blogger Basswork said...

I have it on good authority that Rembrandt was a Canon guy all the way.

December 05, 2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Pat Turner said...

Great discussion idea David! Since reading Strobist, I have become extremely tuned into lighting in all forms of art.

With all of the references to the use of technology by the "old masters", i.e. SB-24's, I thought people might be interested in a hypothesis that I saw presented at a physics conference a couple of years back by Charles Falco.

He makes a very convincing case for the fact that much of the incredible realism that appeared in paintings going as far back as the 1420s by many of the masters (from Van Eyck through Caravaggio, Lotto, Velazquez, Vermeer, Chardin, Ingres, etc.) were actually made with the help of early CAMERAS. Just without having photographic film.

Anyway, I found this fascinating and think many readers will too:

While this could be depressing to some who feel like it's destroying the magic of the art, I think us Strobists know how much work and careful thought goes into making fantastic images.

December 05, 2007 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes.. I can see the built in slave just starting to come down the stairs.

December 05, 2007 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Wills said...

Was this shot in RAW? What lens was used? I take it, it was shot with a Nikon or they didn't have 580ex's back then.

December 05, 2007 10:15 PM  
Anonymous md said...

Great idea. Let's recreate the painting using the stobes. Send your pictures in.

December 06, 2007 12:01 AM  
Blogger mtreinik said...

Have you studied old masters yet? A week on lighting in classical paintings would be a very good starting point for some new reader assignments.

October 06, 2008 2:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home