Hashtag #accidentalrenaissance has over 17,000 posts on Instagram. And even though it’s often a joke or a meme, I believe all of us have also seen some pretty amazing photos that look like Renaissance paintings. But what is it that makes them remind us of the works of master painters? Chroma says that composition and light are the keys. In this video, they break them down so you can take “accidental Renaissance” photos – on purpose.
Composition plays a big role in the “accidental Renaissance” photos. They are often taken in places full of people, showing dramatic action and intense emotions. You’ll often see photos like this taken at political or sports events, music festivals, or protests.
However, even though those situations are often chaotic, the photos are not. The only thing that makes them not appear like utter chaos is composition: there is always a focal point that draws your attention. People in the image can all point or look at the main subject; it can be lit differently, have different colored clothes, pose, or facial expression.
Just like Renaissance painters, modern photographers often use the Golden ratio, trigonal and pyramidal structures, or diagonals as composition techniques.
Renaissance artists achieved depth in their paintings with light. So, you don’t need a super-fast lens with a large depth of field to get those Renaissance-inspired photos.
Artists like Leonardo da Vinci used the so-called Sfumato technique. The name is derived from the Italian word for smoke, and it softens the transition between the colors and shadows to make out of focus areas less prominent. The key to this technique is to be moderate and preserve the highlights and shadows. “Too much light gives crudeness, too little prevents our seeing,” da Vinci would say. “The medium is best.”
As a photographer, you can, of course, use all sorts of diffusers flash. If you prefer natural light, rely on cloudy days. And remember that “sfumato” got its name from “smoke,” so use smoke and fog to transform the light, too.
On quite the opposite side of Sfumato, there’s Chiaroscuro (or literally, “light-dark”). It uses strong contrasts between light and dark, a “spotlight” on the main subject with much of an image falling into darkness. Just like Sfumato, Leonardo da Vinci used Chiaroscuro too, as well as other master painters like Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
Chiaroscuro focuses all attention on a singularly lit subject. The high contrast of this technique emphasizes three-dimensional forms and drama in the images. Since I mentioned Rembrandt as one of the artists developing this technique, can you guess what type of portrait lighting comes from this technique? That’s right, Rembrandt light.
I find it interesting that “accidental Renaissance” isn’t that accidental after all. While photo-worthy situations can happen by chance, it’s up to us to capture them in a way that turns them into art. And as the narrator of the video would conclude, “art can be all around us even if it is only by chance.” So, if you want your photos to have that Renaissance feel to them, consider light and composition the next time you photograph an event.