Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Portrait Lighting: Underlighting

Strong light doesn’t usually come from below a face, so when you see it, it grabs your attention. We tend to associate it with firelight or theatrical footlights, which can suggest a magical, sinister, or dramatic feeling.

We hardly recognize family, friends, and celebrities when we see them with the light shining upward on their features.

Sources of light that shine upward are often strongly colored, either with the warm orange glow of firelight, or with the blue flicker of a computer screen.

The portrait of the character Lee Crabb from Dinotopia, below, shows him at a dramatic moment when he wants to take control of a powerful glowing sunstone. The ruby-colored light from the sunstone gives him a threatening, power-mad look. The underlighting is combined with a strong, cool edge light from the right.

Not all upward light arrangements suggest drama or evil. A person relaxing with a sun-flooded book might have her face lit mainly by the reflected light, which would have positive connotations.


Jared said...

Who is the model for this portrait? Is the underlighting hiding his identity? Is it you, James? (with messed up teeth?)

James Gurney said...

Jared, I did this one based on mirror studies, and brought out the evil, inner, me, with only slight exaggeration of my bad teeth.

Paolo Rivera said...

This reminded me of an excerpt from The Ancestor's Tale, in which Dawkins describes an experiment suggesting that baby chicks have a built-in preference for lighting from above. He goes on to surmise a similar disposition for humans.

Also, I vaguely remember you mentioning in a past post that facial recognition had been proven to be 3-dimensional. Do you have a link to that?

As always, thanks for all the informative posts!


Hi James,
Million thanks for all these posts

Unknown said...

Great, all these posts about portrait lighting... I suppose they're meant for the upcoming book (that I will buy certainly but only read after I have finally 'consumed' Imaginative Realism (from which I tend to read only a few pages at the time, like tasting a good wine))?

Dave said...

Who is that guy is this the crazy Lee character that is always popping up on the island of the Scalies? Dave

Daniel.Z said...

"We hardly recognize family, friends, and celebrities when we see them with the light shining upward on their features."

I've never thought about this one before and it's exactly right. The proof is right here with Abe not really looking as Abe as his usual self.

Everett Patterson said...

Another form of facial underlighting that has a positive, non-sinister connotation (for me, at least) is the light on a person swimming in an outdoor swimming pool at night. That particular blue on the chin reminds me of road trips with my grandparents as a kid, when after a day in the back seat of the car my cousin and I could get wrinkly in the motel pool.

James Gurney said...

Ivo, yes, a lot of this material on portrait lighting will be in the book, but mostly with other examples.

Dave, that Lee Crabb fellow may be a little wild, but we know he has a heart of gold!

Jared, I should have mentioned that Crabb was based on an art teacher friend of mine. Tip to art teachers: you may end up as characters in your students' books!

Paolo, that's fascinating about the chicks' response. Our reaction to light must be very basic in our deepest nature.