The Elements of Lighting in Composition


By robgale November 18, 2018

Edgar Payne’s High Sierra Landscape – Big Pine Canyon

As I’m working on my Spider Witch piece I got to thinking about the elements of lighting for composition. It’s one thing to think about abstract shapes, but when you want to start making those shapes into shapes that describe meaningful and believable objects, there are a number of factors involved. In particular, I am struggling with the difference between the shadows and shapes that make up the forms, and the lighting effects of the atmosphere of the cave, which got me thinking about these elements. 

I’m going to go deeper into each of these in coming posts, but right now I’m thinking of 5 overarching elements of lighting for composition. As always, I’m talking about composition for realism or stylized realism, the more abstract you get, the less you need to abide by these rules, though I would argue that they might still be helpful. 

  1. Light and shadow on solid objects. This includes both form and cast shadows. 
  2. Local color and their values
  3. Material and textures
  4. Atmospheric Effects
  5. Direct Light Sources

This is still part of a working system of thinking, but it’s helping me already to break down the light and shadow shapes into these various categories, not necessarily in any order of importance. 


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