9 Different Lighting Scenarios You Should Master



(1) DUAL LIGHTING:  Dual lighting is often used for theatrical purposes where lots of “impact” or drama is needed.  You will see comic artist, visual development artist and illustrators commonly favor this type of lighting.  The lighting is highly effective for this purpose but it should be noted that the use of two light sources will create a dual core shadow.  This can be challenging to navigate and requires careful study of the forms each light source is affecting. You will usually want to make sure one of the light sources is dominant either in intensity or temperature or both.  The dominant light is often referred to as the “Key light” and the secondary light as the “Fill light.” Experiment and take note of other artist’s and how they utilize this type of lighting.

Note: I will be using two 300 watt bulbs with barn doors on both lights and a dimmer switch to allow me to manipulate the intensity of both lights until I find the effect I want!

(2) RIM LIGHTING: You will sometimes find this lighting referred to as “Edge-Lighting.”  In film you will sometimes hear this referred to as “Rim” lighting or a “Kicker” light.  This effect will often occur outdoors when the sun position is low and shinning toward the viewer.  The rim will vary according to the planes that face backward toward the light source.  This light can sometimes cause a heavenly glow around objects and is sometimes referred to as “halation” light.

Note:  I will be using a similar lighting set up as the dual lighting or back-lighting scenarios. The secondary will be used to simply add some filler light to help navigate the shadowy area of the model.
(3) THREE QUARTER LIGHTINGSometimes referred to as “broad lightingThis is one of the most commonly used lighting situations and is often used by fine art portrait painters.  The lights origin will be about forty-five degrees in from either the right or left side of the model.  The light will usually be located low enough to create slight illumination on both eyes.  In this type of lighting you will often fine a cast shadow off the nose creating a triangular shadow that often times will connect with the core form shadow of the cheek.
Note:  I will be using a single light source from slightly in front of my model positioned either left or right depending on the artist’s preference.  A “fill” light can be used but should be extremely subtle.  Often times natural reflected light will do the job nicely!

(4) BELOW LIGHTING: This could be considered a specialized lighting option used when drama of a magical, sinister or simply powerful nature is needed.  Many old- time pulp-fiction covers as well as horror and science fiction illustrators often employed this powerful lighting to help convey their ideas.  It should be noted that the look of our subject can be very odd due to the fact that all of the planes we commonly see in shadow from above lighting will now be reversed and as result care should be taken when designing and navigating the forms of the head, figure or any other object.

Note:  A single light source, 300 watt will be positioned at a low angle.  Occasionally a secondary light from behind can add to the effect.  Remember: many of your lighting conditions you will need to set up will be a  combination of these scenarios.

(5) WARM DOMINANT: In this situation we will be bathing the model in a light source that is extremely warm.  You may find that although regular incandescent bulbs will generally be considered warm I will be using a “amber bulb” that you can usually purchase at a specialty lighting store in your area.  The wattage on these bulbs will usually be around 75 watt.  Film gels can also be used if you prefer this method.  I have found the bulbs to work sufficiently for most of my class-room as well as personal needs. Remember when using such a warm light the shadows will take on an even cooler effect.  Play around with manipulating this effect as you more comfortable with bending color to your liking.

Note:  The “Amber” bulb gives nice warmth to the model without giving the model the appearance of a fake orange tan!

(6) BACK LIGHTING: I seldom use this lighting but when needed for certain circumstances it can be a god send.  No pun intended but this light is often referred to as “heavenly” as the light surrounding the object, a head in this case, almost takes on a glowing effect as the surrounding edges dance along the forms.  The silhouette becomes dominant and the interior information becomes close value and requires subtlety to navigate.  Keep in mind that as the light passes through the ears they will appear almost cadmium red from the tube as you see the light shine through the heavily blood rich capillaries.  This can be a challenging but fun effect to play around with!

Note: I will sometimes step up the wattage on the bulb used  to 500 watt or higher depending on the effect desired.  You can always embellish a bit when painting.

(7) NORTH LIGHTING: North lighting has long been revered by artists for its consistency and subtlety.  It has a slightly diffused quality that is very hard to duplicate with artificial lighting.  When using it the temperature of the skin will be affected by the coolness of the sky and as a result the shadows will appear warmer.  I like to use transparent red oxide or transparent maroon as a base for the shadows in these situations. 

Note: For this lighting I will use a light box placed over the model.  For many of you this will simply be too expensive of an option.  Some other options that I found work well and are very inexpensive are simple Film you can Velcro over in front of your lighting rig or get a fancy holder that attaches to the diameter of your light to hold the film.  This is nice as the light becomes very hot using such high wattage and can make the adhesive on the Velcro come loose.

(8) COLORED LIGHTING: Colored lighting is also commonly used by illustrators and fine artists.  I find it great fun and an invaluable learning tool for color understanding.  I often times will use either analogous or complementary lighting scenarios and then encourage students to push the colors to see how far you can take them before they become out of harmony.  The values will be the glue that keeps the more abstract color notes working so pay particular attention to them.  Again try to allow one of the lights to dominate the object and keep a keen eye on the planes as they bounce light off onto other planes.  Keep your wits about you and have fun.

Note: For Colored lighting situations we will use Floods lights or gels.  Again it can be a bit difficult to find high wattage colored bulbs or floods and many times you will need to look for a specialty lighting store or go online when in doubt.

(9) COOL LIGHTING: For this lighting I will often really push the cool light and usually use a blue flood light.  This scenario would be useful for many illustrations where the subjects are being lit by moonlight or simply cool lighting on a winter overcast day.  You can also use cool red or even pink light.  There are many options and gels also offer a wide range of options. Always remember that these are simply spring board scenarios from which to stretch your ability to work under adverse lighting conditions to better perfect your color sensibility.

Note:  I will be using a 75 watt blue flood.   This will flood the model with very obvious cool planes that are facing the light source.  Another more advanced scenario is to use a black skinned individual.  You will find the reflective qualities of this skin type to be beautiful and offers many unique opportunities for exploring advanced color harmony.