How to light a head is one of the most basic decisions that every portrait artist makes. For the next ten posts or so, we’ll take a look at various types of lighting and the effects they give your portrait.
Most portraits are painted with light coming from about forty-five degrees in front of the model. The light reaches most of the visible form, leaving only a fraction of the form in shadow. The light is low enough to illuminate both eyes.
In this portrait by Rembrandt, the main light casts a shadow onto the man’s left cheek, leaving a lighted triangle on the shaded side.
This pattern is called three-quarter lighting since three-fourths of the form is illuminated. Three-quarter lighting is straightforward, clear, and flattering. It’s good to use if you want to capture a recognizable likeness.