Painting 3-Point Lighting

Shading With An Eye For 3 Point Lighting

While teaching painting, I often found students having problems paying enough attention to physical lighting, even in the midst of exercises supposedly dedicated to ‘mood’ lighting.  I modified this basic exercise to introduce a systematic method of painting on layers of shades – in the same way we typically light subjects for photography or on a basic movie set.  If you’re not familiar with it, do read up on 3 point lighting before we begin.

We begin by blocking out some objects,  preferably with straight as well as curved surfaces.  Plot out perspective lines if necessary. image001
Choose or identify a key light source.  I’ve chosen to put mine in the top left so my subjects are backlit from an angle.  An easy way to start is to paint in the shadows on the tabletop.  This effectively defines the light source beyond any doubt.image003
Now we finally get to the shady part!  Work with the key light.  Flat matte surfaces generally appear…flat.  If you’re not yet familiar with painting a gradient, the cone and sphere are good places to start.
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Next, we add a rim light to add further clarity to our subjects.  As the name suggests, this light creates a bright outline around the rim or silhouette of the subject, which further distinguishes it from the background.  You may find flat surfaces inheriting a bit of ‘depth’.  Take this opportunity to add further definition to important features or areas of interest, within the scope of reason and believability.  I’ve exaggerated the highlighted edges of the cube just beyond this realm, just to illustrate this point. (really!)image007
Finally, we have the fill light, or bounce light.  This is more subtle, but gives visibility to areas blackened by the shadow of the key light, which might contain important stuff!  Take time to study the proximity of objects or features to each other.  Do this in order to paint in light bouncing off adjacent objects.  Paint in radiosity if strong colours interact.   In this example, note how the lower portion of the cone, which encroaches on the cube’s personal space, radiates some light onto the cube’s face, and vice versa.  Imagine how the curvature of the sphere bulges towards the cone, this bulge also gets a little more light than it deserves, due to its relative proximity to this faint source of secondary light.image009
I placed the key light behind my subjects in order to enhance the visibility of the fill light and radiosity step, but all this works just as well for ‘normal’ 3 point lighting.

© Copyright Ian Ang 2009

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