Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Portrait Lighting: Frontal and Contre Jour

In frontal lighting, the light comes straight toward the form, so the planes get darker as they turn away.

Contre-jour lighting is the opposite: The head is seen against a field of light, which spills over the edges of the form.

The planes that are darker in one are lighter than the other.

Here are some charcoal studies using frontal lighting that I did as reference for a portrait of a spaceman on a paperback book cover (below, left).

I used contre jour lighting for the Asteroid Miner painting, right, which I did as a portfolio sample. I later sold the rights for a paperback cover, but the black type behind him sort of killed the effect.

Both frontal and contre jour lighting are a bit unusual, and can be used for dramatic or poetic effect.
Previously: Contre Jour Lighting
Frontal Lighting
Asteroid Miner (without the type)


Brooks Hansen said...

good series.

Where's the Lincoln sculpture from, btw?

Sandro Rybak said...

great serie, its the first time i post something on your blog and im following for a long long time anonymously..anyway just wanted to say thank you for the time

oh and i have a question about the statue in the contre jour situation. how big is the light source? because i dont really understand why the sides are eluminated at all, it should be blocked by the hair or is this mostly bouncing light?

phiq said...

These posts on lighting have been just fantastic, thank you so much!

James Gurney said...

Sandro, thanks for commenting. It's always nice to hear a new voice in the comments.

The lighting for all of these photos of Abe are from natural sunlight, no artificial light. The contre jour light required bouncing the light back to the sides with two white cards on the side, and hanging him in front of a silk panel.

Brooks, the Lincoln sculpture came from a New York storefront about 20 years ago, along with a lot of other artist reference casts. I suppose it was based on Daniel Chester French and the death masks.

Daroo said...

Thanks for this informative series of posts -- Its great to have a name to attach to the lighting set ups.

A similar effect to the contre jour (the shadow down the center of the face) can be achieved by having windows to the side, perpendicular or just slightly behind, the subject. (Zorn did this) If its a cool northlight on one side and a warm artificial light on the other you get some interesting color temp variations.

The contre jour asteroid miner is really a masterful painting -- When I see it I think of Bama -- a high frequency of detail playing in beautiful counterpoint to enigmatic edges that melt away into the light.

Well done.

Sketching Artist said...

I'm very interested in how the difference in lighting can change the expression.
TheFrontal lighting provides the typical wise or brooding look, while the Contre-jour lighting gives Lincoln a surprised look.