Being Dramatic With Three Point Lighting!

There is no doubt that any artist should know three point lighting because the art of camera lighting is a beneficial technique to separate your main subjects from the background they are in.

Originally used for film and photography, there is no reason for paintings to not have these characteristics these days. In fact, you would be at a disadvantage if you do not know three point lighting.

Even if you graduate from 2d digital painting and into 3d animation, it is imperative that you know this lighting concept.

This is knowledge that will last you a lifetime in your art career or hobby so you need to learn this well!

1. The three light sources

Three point lighting techniques begin with knowing the three different sources of light.

The diagram I have for you is for when you are looking at a scene from above. You can see the relative positioning of the key light sources to help give you an idea of where everything is.

three point lighting

The main light is called the key light. This will be the strongest light to show the entire composition where your light source is coming from. Not a hard concept as all your paintings should have a strong light source in the first place.

There is no excuse for not having a centralized and strong light as it is a fundamental knowledge all artists must have.

The second light is the fill light. In essence, this light is located on the other side of the key light and is used to highlight the shadows created by the main light source.

For artists, this is extremely important if you need to emphasize depth of your characters or objects.

The last light is the rim or back light. Placed at the background, this light will project a halo rim around the object.

In doing so, it separates the object from background masses and brings the object forward to the viewer’s attention. You can see just how important this is for painting as it allows you to change focus to specific characters.

So what does this look like in action?

2. The key light

The basic of the three point lighting system, you will see an object being illuminated on one side by the primary light source.

The cast shadow generated is fairly standard in that it is behind the object since the light source is in front.

three point lighting

Any time that you need to paint a subject, you will refer to this single point of light placement initially as it is the most widely used composition.

As an artist, you should know how to place the light source to meet your composition requirements and the corresponding cast shadows that can result.

Notice that the entire composition seems a bit flat…

3. The fill light

Next, we will stack on the fill light on the other side of the key light.

In the natural world, there is always fill light. Since light bounces in all direction, you need to make sure you understand this concept.

For the fill light, it is illuminating the shadows on the opposite side of the key light.

Take note of the cast shadows on this particular light source. You will see that it is relatively faint. This is due to it being a secondary light source rather than the primary light source.

three point lighting

On top of that, the fill light is used to show texture otherwise hidden by the key light.

In the natural world, the light from a main source will reflect off from the ground and other nearby objects to highlight the object on the other side of the key light.

As an artist, you can see just how well the object comes to life with these two light sources working together.

Practice using these two light sources and you can create objects that naturally come to life.

That leads to the final type of light in the three point lighting system…

4. The rim/back light

You can bring a lot of things to life in the background using just the fill light and the key light. But what about separating the main subject from the background?

Say you have a character that you want the viewers to focus on. While the key light and fill light is great for emphasizing detail, your character still feels flat.

This is where the rim light comes in. With the key light and fill light in place, let us stack on the rim light and see what happens.

In essence, the rim light is located right behind the main subject and exists mainly to separate the subject from the background.

It achieves this by creating a halo around the subject as light cannot penetrate the object. As you can see from the example, the ball feels a lot more alive and is no longer part of the background.

Don’t forget about the cast shadows either! You will see that the cast shadow is now faintly in front of the object it is highlighting.

three point lighting

With the three point lighting system, you can truly see just how much of a difference it has on an object. Use this knowledge to start painting in light to emphasize your focus on your digital painting.

Plus, you will take this knowledge everywhere outside of digital painting. Example would be from film, photography, and 3d animation.

This is information that will last you a lifetime and is applicable to anything related to visual art!

I hope you enjoy this little introduction to proper lighting techniques and look forward to see how you will use it in future artworks!