Light is one of the most central and important aspects to a painting. And the light directions you use in your work has an enormous influence on how form develops in your painting. It is important to compose with light and be intentional with the direction of light you choose.
In this article, we’re going to explore four different types of light directions – front light, side light, top light, and three-quarter light. As well as how they influence the impression of form in your painting.
Let’s start with the most straightforward type of light – front light. This is when the light source is directly in front of your subject, illuminating it from the front. Therefore, there are deep shadows cast behind the subject. This type of light is great for achieving a well-lit, high contrast image. It can create very dynamic and dramatic images when the subject has strong features or interesting proportions.
Great for Photography but Not for Form
Front light can be more flattering for portrait photography, which is why it is a popular choice for photographs and portraits.
In terms of form, front light tends to flatten out subjects, making them appear two-dimensional. While this can work well for some subjects, it’s not always the best choice if you’re trying to create a sense of depth and dimension in your artwork.
When the light source is placed to the side of your subject, it creates side light. Side light can be used to exaggerate the forms and structure of your subject, casting strong shadows that emphasize the curves and edges of the object. This makes side light an excellent choice for adding drama to your artwork.
Although, this kind of light emphasizes form more than front light does. It still emphasizes dramatic effects more than form. If you are want very dramatic light and dark values – this is the kind of light that will give that to you.
As the name suggests, top light comes from above your subject, casting shadows downwards. Top light is often used to create a sense of mood and atmosphere in a piece of artwork. It can help to add depth and dimension to your subject, particularly if you’re looking to show how light and shadow interact on curved surfaces.
Top Light Can Flatten Subjects
Be aware, however, that top light can also flatten out certain types of subjects as it distorts detail, so it’s not always the best choice for showing fine details or texture.
Finally, we have three-quarter light. This occurs when the light source is between side light and front light, at around a 45-degree angle to your subject. Three-quarter light is considered by many artists to be the most ideal type of light to create a sense of form and dimension in your work.
Three Quarter Light = Best of Both Worlds
It strikes a balance between showing detail and texture and creating a sense of depth and roundness in your subject. Three-quarter light is used for a wide range of subjects, from portraits to landscapes. This type of light helps to create a sense of movement and energy in your artwork.
Apply different light to your work
When it comes to painting and drawing, understanding the different types of light and how they impact the form and structure of your subject can make a huge difference in the final result. Whether you’re working with front light, side light, top light, or three-quarter light, each type of light has its unique benefits and drawbacks. By understanding these different lighting situations, you can choose the one that best suits your subject and helps you create the impression of form that you’re looking to achieve. So go forth and experiment with light, and see how you can create interesting and dynamic compositions with different light directions.