Examples: The Quality of Light
We’ve seen some samples of the difference between standard copy-board lighting and what is pretty typical for an artist’s studio. Let’s take it a step further and look at what we can do using basic lighting techniques.
Painting by Nellie Ashford: “Best Friends”
This is an example of what you’d typically see in an artist’s studio or a gallery. It’s lit with a “Main” that’s a halogen spot from above, and has all the characteristics of that type of lighting – lots of texture, rich colors, deep shadows, bright highlights. There’s a very slight amount of cooler fill, spilling from the surrounding walls. This is “hard-edged closed shadows”, that is, the shadows have a hard edge, but are closed up, or dark.
This is the same light, but simply adding fill. “Hard-edged open shadows”. Take a good look, the shadows themselves still have a hard edge, but they’re now brighter, and show color and detail. This is pretty typical of what you’ll see from a modern artist’s studio, often a combination of North light and halogen spots. The fill in a studio like this is often far more cool that what we’re seeing here, though.
These last two examples are lit with a very soft, very diffuse light source. Typically a “North Light Studio” without any additional spots would look like this, but the first one has no fill in the shadows. Thus, it’s called “soft edged, closed shadows”. We still get a fair amount of texture and the appearance of relief, but the effect is less dramatic, more flat, with the overall contrast lower and less saturated colors. It’s more forgiving, but has far less impact.
Finally, we take soft, diffuse lighting and add fill. This almost completely flattens out the work, showing very little texture, very diffuse colors, and very low contrast. You’d use this if, for example, you had an original that had major surface flaws that you didn’t want to call attention to. This is how an artist’s studio would look if they had North light, and very bright walls, floors and even ceilings. It would be a fairly rare thing to see an artist working under these conditions.
Go ahead and click on each image to take a good close enlarged look.
These are what I consider to be the four basic building blocks of lighting. What gets interesting is where you start working with degrees of these techniques – starting with hard-edged closed lighting and adding just a little fill… controlling the degree of softness in soft-edged closed shadows – or any combination of types. Not only do I get 4 basic flavors, but I can mix and match and hit somewhere in between.
This is true photographic lighting, and why it’s so powerful in redering artwork in a way that’s faithful to the artist’s vision. It’s possible through no other process – no scan system or copyboard lighting can achieve these kinds of basic results, and certainly not in any combination.