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Quick Tips to Paint Lighting Effects

Samuel Berry provides advice on some crucial aspects of creating realistic and effective lighting...

Samuel Berry provides advice on some crucial aspects of creating realistic and effective lighting...

Today were going to go over lighting effects, general rules of thumb and also look at specific cases. From making a painting more believable to adding a sense of drama, conveying different kinds of lighting is definitely a boon and an important tool to have in your belt.

Things to Keep in Mind

1. No matter whatever effect youre painting, always keep in mind how light behaves (and what kind of light source it is.)
2. As a follow up, always keep in mind the forms of the subject the light falls onto.
3. Think of the light source and subjects placement relative to the audiences eyes. Different angles create different circumstances.
4. Be aware of what the subject is made out of and the properties it possesses. Usually this comes down to how it absorbs and reflects light.
5. Most effects have to do with how light interacts with the subject and the environment around it.

Specifics Cases

Edge lighting
Called a Rim light in the film industry, edge lighting comes from behind the subject but at an angle. It creates an illuminated edge separating the form from the background. Depending on the intensity and local color, it can go from simply brighter colors or whited-out edges. The width of the rim varies according to the plane facing the light. That is to say, edge lighting isnt exclusively the edge.

Contre-jour
French for against day, contre-jour lighting happens when the subject stands directly in front of the light source. The light becomes more prominent, over taking the edges of objects. The silhouette becomes the emphasis as colors lose saturation and the shadows push forward. I like to paint as if it was haze creeping ever so slightly forward, barely wrapping itself around the edges of the subject. After that, highlights and shadows depend on how strong you want the light source to be.

Organic shapes tend to make the most of these two types of lighting.

Organic shapes tend to make the most of these two types of lighting.

Transmitted Light
When light goes through a thin semitransparent material it becomes colored and the light that bounces off tends to be desaturated. We see this often with stained glass or vegetation. From here, allow me to go on a bit of a tangent about painting leaves (and by extension, trees). There are four kinds of light on leaves, transmitted light, leaf shadow facing down, leaf shadow facing up and direct sunlight. You can see these on the example further below.

Subsurface scattering
Skin and translucent materials will capture light and spread it underneath the surface. This creates a unique glow that is easily recognizable; it affects forms with depth and volume like an ear, or a piece of fruit. You can easily see it yourself whenever you place your hand over a flash light. It needs three conditions to occur: translucent flesh, small forms, backlighting.

This quick study is probably one of my favorites because of the lighting. Man, my hand is huge.

This quick study is probably one of my favorites because of the lighting. Man, my hand is huge.

Highlights
Wet or shiny surfaces will have highlights, they help us construct a better understanding of a subjects form by telling us how light hits it. The location, size, and color give us a slew of information. Highlights tend to not be pure white but rather a combination of the local color of the object and the color of the light source.

I feel like all of these should be related to each other somehow.

I feel like all of these should be related to each other somehow.

Water, reflection and transparency
When light hits water two things happen: reflection and refraction. Reflection occurs when you look at it straight across at a shallow angle. Refraction occurs when you look at it at a steeper angle. That is to say, the closer you are at being on top of the water the more you see through it and the further away the more it reflects. But despite that there are a few things to keep in mind with water.

1. What is in the water will affect the color of the reflection. Muddy water that receives no direct light will reflect as well as clear water though.
2. The image will be distorted by waves, even if theyre miniscule.
3. Paint reflections in a loose gestural manner, details get lost in the reflection.
4. Cast shadows appear over deep murky water when hit by light.

That lovely moment when a short study outdoes a finished painting.

That lovely moment when a short study outdoes a finished painting.

In the end, dont get intimidated by light and color. Yes, theyre complicated subjects that artists have spent their whole lives studying them. Its easy to get overwhelmed which is why breaking things down into basic principles will always help you pull through.

Related links

Follow Samuel Berry on Instagram
Check out more of Samuels art on his tumblr page
Samuels portfolio is full of great artwork demonstrating the principles above
Read Samuels tips for improving your environments
Theres also some quick tips for painting hair and fur...
and finally some great advice about creating quick and easy weather effects

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