Every now and then you come across a wireframe screenshot online that actually looks better than the artist’s final render.
Which is a shame! Because the artist is often great at modelling or texturing, but their lack of lighting understanding completely undermines everything else.
If you’ve got bad lighting, it won’t matter how good your other skills are, potential employers will find it difficult to overlook the glaring mistakes.
Thankfully, creating good lighting can actually be quite easy, if you understand the core fundamentals.
In this video you’ll discover:
Got any lighting tips of your own? Post it in the comments below!
Thumbnail artwork by Theo Peronnard.
When lighting is done well, it can grab more viewers’ attention, and generally improve upon all the hard work you put into the image. But when it’s done poorly, the exact opposite happens.
Lighting doesn’t stand by itself. Your lighting, along with modeling and texturing, is only one piece of the puzzle. Lighting must work in harmony with your story and composition to produce a unified, coherent image. For example, you wouldn’t put a grungy, post-apocalyptic vehicle under clean studio lighting.
1. What’s the point of this render?
2. Is there a story? If so, in what order should the viewer read the image?
3. What should the viewer be focused on?
4. What emotion or mood do you want the viewer to feel?
5. What lighting styles could have the most impact or appeal to suit this?
Simple Techniques to Know:
Short lighting is seen when light hits the subject predominantly from behind, whereas broad lighting is when the light is in front of your subject. Short lighting is characteristic of deeper shadows, stronger highlights and generally making the subject appear thinner. Broad lighting has the opposite effect- your image will contain less shadow and softer highlights, and your subject will appear fuller or broader.
Rim or edge lighting will give an edgier and more defined look to your model. It’s a great tool for separating your subject from the background, especially in dark environments, but it’s more suited to stylized images.
Lights that come from above always look more natural to us than lights that shine from below. Lighting from below will make your subject look menacing, scary or just plain odd- which may be your goal!
The size of the light source relative to your subject will determine how hard or soft the lighting is. The bigger the light, the softer it becomes as it “wraps” around the model. Soft light is great at smoothing over tiny bumps and allows us to focus on the larger forms in the image. This makes it ideal for beauty lighting. Hard lighting is more suited to when you want to reveal smaller, textural details. It’s a more aggressive lighting, as it adds greater contrast into the image. Hard lighting also requires more careful light placement than soft lighting.
Natural light colors (such as the yellow of a sunset or the blue of twilight) will make your images seem more comfortable and traditional. Exotic colors of light, such as green, purple or deep red, will make the subject or environment more emotional, interesting and stylized.
Choosing not to have a background is a bold move. It can make your image more focused, but it can also feel empty, as there’s literally nothing else to look at besides your model. To the viewer, it may seem as though your lighting was an afterthought.
Adding a background will usually make the image feel complete. If chosen poorly, it may distract the viewer from the model. But if done well, a good background will support your subject and story without drawing attention to itself.
It is very tempting to show off every part of a model, especially if you’ve put a lot of time into creating it. But by illuminating everything the same way, you dilute your viewer’s gaze and make it harder to find the focus of the image. For example, you probably want the face of a character to be receiving more light than their shoes.
Sometimes what we choose not to show is more important than what we do show. Shadows don’t just reveal form. They can create tension, unease, mystery and intrigue. Don’t be afraid to let parts of your image fall into shadow if it supports your story.
Evan Mackenzie on ArtStation
When you’re lighting something highly reflective, like a car or a shiny glass container, you’re really lighting for the reflection. Because you’re not seeing much of a diffuse reflection, you’re seeing more of what’s around the subject rather than the subject itself. That means you want to light the environment around the model as much as (if not more so than) the model. The more reflective the material, the more this is true. When placing lights, think about where the reflection will be bouncing in relation to the camera.
Start with one light, and only add lights as necessary.
Light is clarity, darkness is mystery.
If lighting a character, ensure at least one eye has a catchlight. Without it, the eyes will feel lifeless. Shadows under the eyes will make a character look dark and mysterious. Avoid them unless this is the look you want.
Strobist.com – A great site for those seeking more information about lighting.