In researching aspect ratios, I came across this charming article from an 1875 journal of photography, which mentions as changes in fashion of photography the "Adam-Salomon and Rembrandt styles". This wasn't relevant to what I was looking for, but caught my eye as interesting.

Rembrandt lighting is considered one of the fundamentals today. Adam-Salomon didn't completely fade into the mists of time, but I doubt many people have heard of him. The Wikipedia article says:

Adam-Salomon's portrait photographs were considered to be among the best examples in existence during his lifetime, and were renowned for their chiaroscuro produced by special lighting techniques.

I have a basic understanding of chiaroscuro — one of a handful of things I remember from high school art class! — but what was Adam-Salomon's special lighting technique? I assume it is related to Rembrandt lighting, but is it identical? In modern usage, a "trademark" of Rembrandt lighting is a triangle of light under the eye; is there something similar implied by this style?

Is it really as distinctive as the references make it seem to be? What exactly are the "special lighting techniques" referred to in the Wikipedia quote? Is it something which has survived today, perhaps by a different name?

What do I need to replicate this technique, and how might I go about it?

  • \$\begingroup\$ As an aside, these 19th- and early-20th-century journals of photography are fun to read (or at least skim, as they tend to be quite wordy). They cover so many of the exact same issues we chatter about on photography forums and blogs today, in much the same way. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Dec 19, 2011 at 16:07
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Other than the fact that he tried to hold back light from striking the rear wall of the set (and seems to have burned viciously and somewhat sloppily when he couldn't), I don't see anything particularly distinctive. The light appears to be studio north light (high windows and perhaps a skylight) controlled by curtains and shutters. The light is soft, but there isn't a signature direction or shadow pattern, at least not to my eye. It's probably the general chiaroscuro being referenced. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Dec 19, 2011 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


It's actually the same as Rembrandt lighting in the classical wider sense (not necessarily having the triangle, like in Rembrandt's paintings). Being a sculptor, Adam-Salomon recognized its ability to bring out three-dimensional features in subjects and was the first to use it in photography. He also borrowed other elements from sculpture and paintings, such as poses and preference for luxurious fabrics (e.g. velvet); and even retouching of prints.

To replicate his technique, ask your model to take some formal pose from an old painting, use velvet drapes for background and Rembrandt lighting. Using contemporary elements from the time such as black-and-white, non-coated lens, low ISO, collodion/albumen process will get you more authentic-looking results.


  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 - Agrees with my understanding. You can see that from his photography when compared to images done in the "Rembrandt Lighting" style. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Dec 19, 2011 at 18:41

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