Casting Light on an Important Consideration

In preparing a new still-life setup, I always have to consider the lighting. Do I want it to be harsh or soft, from a single lighting source or from more than one, to intentionally cast multiple, splayed or intersecting shadows?

If I plan to work from a photograph of the setup instead of working directly from life, the quality of light is especially important. If the light is too harsh, or a flash is too close to the subject, as it is in the illustration below, the photograph will record only limited reference information. Although the shadow patterns may be interesting, many of the details and subtle colors will be lost in the overly lit areas. That might be sufficient if it provides the desired effect. But if it doesn’t, the photograph will prove an unsatisfactory reference.


Flash lighting can be difficult to use. If the flash is either directly on the camera or very close to it, shadows around the subject will be minimized, effectively flattening the appearance of the subject’s form, as exemplified here.


Even a more distant flash can unexpectedly change the composition’s balance by casting shadows into areas unanticipated before the flash was activated, as it did here.


To compensate for shadows in the composition, either the framing can be changed to try to achieve better balance,

or the flash can be moved.


Sometimes the shapes of cast shadows add an interesting element to a composition. This effect can be exaggerated by either increasing the angle of the light to the side, or lowering the light source, as I did in the illustration below.


Lighting is critical. Strength, quality, and position of lighting contribute crucial information in establishing key, mood, and balance in a painting.


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