This section is from the "Studio Light Incorporating The Aristo Eagle - The Artura Bulletin 1911" book, by Aristo Motto. Also see Amazon: Studio Light Incorporating The Aristo Eagle - The Artura Bulletin 1911.
Of all the works of the old masters those which are probably best known and appeal to us most strongly are the wonderful portraits by Rembrandt. There have been painters of other schools who have painted greater pictures of a higher degree of merit probably, but those bold, forceful studies of light and shade and color have made their indelible impression on our minds. We have found much to learn from this old master in the matter of lighting that may be applied to our studio work, but the so-called Rembrandt lightings we so often hear spoken of by photographers are, as a rule, far from the style used by the old master.
Rembrandt's father was a miller and it was in the old mill, so the story goes, that Rembrandt began his career as a portrait painter. Imagine working by the small windows of an old Dutch wind mill and you can get a fair idea of the lightings he saw and reproduced in his first paintings and the effect it must have had on his future work. He painted what he saw by the light of the window in the old Dutch mill and that little old light brought out all the character of the subject in wonderful contrasts of light and shade.
The prominent features were pointed up with snappy highlights that made possible the greatest range of gradation to the rich, transparent shadows. In many instances the draperies were almost entirely subdued, but even when his imagination clothed his subject in the most costly fabrics and jewels (he was poor and often painted pictures of his wife arrayed in costly gowns and jewels), these were always painted in low tones that would not detract from the main point of interest, the subject's face.
Rembrandt would possibly never have been the painter he was had he worked under the modern skylight. At least it is reasonable to believe he would have developed a much different style for he would have seen things differently. We try to make our subjects look natural, and yet we sometimes photograph them in the most unnatural environment. We see the old grandmother as she sits by her favorite window with her sewing basket beside her and our mind's eye retains the picture and carries it through our entire life. Is it any wonder then that the pictures of grandmother made under the broad skylight of the modern studio do not seem natural to us?
When we think of these things it is not hard to understand why there is the growing demand for home portraits. It is not altogether the desire to have the picture made in the environment of the home so much as it is to have pictures of people as they really are and as we see them in their home life. Make a picture of grandmother in the studio, but make it as we are accustomed to see her at home and it will be a characteristic and pleasing picture.
By Gertrude Kasebier New York, N.Y.
We build a skylight that is large enough for a group of fifty and use the same for single subjects, cutting it down with many screens, some opaque and some of muslin, until we have lost all the snap and brilliancy of the direct light. Then we blame the plates for being too slow or lacking in contrast or wonder how the other fellow manages to make his negatives with a little two by four light and get good results. (Our illustrations Nos. 1 and 2 show the subject under the open skylight and the result obtained by such a broad, diffused light. Illustrations Nos. 3 and 4 show the subject under a 3 by 6 ft. light and the result obtained, no screens being used between the subject and the light in either instance, the exposures being identical.)
I remember walking down the main street of a small town ten or eleven years ago and having my attention attracted by a photographer's sign over the door of a car or small portable house. I hardly thought it worth while to look at the display case, but the first glance forced me to stop and examine closely what proved to be wonderful pictures resembling very much the effects of some of the old masters in lighting and tone values, and I wondered how it could be possible.
On making the acquaintance of the photographer I found him working by a little side and top light, the two combined measuring not over 4x7 feet, and the secret of his success lay in his ability to make pictures as he saw them by that light. He was about ten years ahead of his time, for to-day most of us are building little skylights around our subjects by the use of numerous screens and allowing a small volume of light to fall on the subject.
We might have accomplished the same result ten years ago had we been forced to work under a small light and we can do the same thing to-day by cutting down the light with opaque curtains and working under it instead of in the cell of screens.
The fact of the matter is, there is much that is of advantage in the small light for portrait work. The exposure does not need to be more for the 4x6 ft. light than with larger lights, it being simply a matter of placing the subject nearer to the small light. The highlights will be better pointed up and there will be a greater range of gradation and more roundness, provided direct light is used and only a small reflector to light up the shadow.
There was a time when photography was merely a matter of making a map of one's features and the process was thought to be so wonderful that nothing more was expected. Then more attention was devoted to lighting, as plates of reasonable speed were manufactured and placed on the market. Now, that great progress has been made both in the manufacture of fast lenses and plates, and the public has ceased to wonder at photography, it is only natural that this public is demanding more of photography than ever before.
It is no longer satisfied with a map of the features in monotone but is demanding half tones in gradation, flesh tints that differ in tone from draperies, in short, probably without knowing just what they want, certain classes of customers are demanding more natural lifelike pictures - less artificiality we might call it - and there are many photographers who are working to satisfy this demand.
There has probably been less lead used in retouching in the last few years than ever before because men of the business world are demanding pictures with more character and less flattery. The same is true of pictures of children and there is reason to believe that women may eventually want pictures that look like them.
By Gertrude Kasebier New York, N.Y.
Go home and look at your family in the natural home environment, and while you may not see the lightings you are getting under your studio skylight, you will see many that are probably much more natural and characteristic, and if you should also carry a camera home some day and leave your ideas of portrait lightings at the studio, you might make some negatives of the family that would give you some better ideas of what can be done with a small volume of genuine direct light.
Rembrandt painted what he saw and we can do the same in photography, but we must see our subjects as others see them and not in a strange light of our own creation.