Optimal lighting for poses

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Theo 2 years ago.

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    Hello everyone,

    As I've been offering some of my figure drawing reference pictures to this site, I'd like to get advice from the artist's perspective.

    What kind of lighting is the best for figure drawing poses? High contrast? Well-lit? Do silhouette poses have much value?


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    I would like to see some Low Key and silhouette photos.


    What are low key shots?


    It's a bit of a trick question, as the best lighting is a variety of lighting situations.

    The majority of reference pictures already in the library is well-lit with a somewhat neutral studio lighting with a bright ambience. That IS useful for a beginner, who is mostly interested in getting to grips with basic anatomy and proportions. But, it's also a bit boring and repetitive, and it's by far not the only useful form of lighting, depending on what is the focus. Chiaroscuro lighting, with stark, well defined shadows, for example, can lead a beginner towards seeing the human body more as a sculpture, and can help break down the human figure into geometric forms as defined by its planes. You have a well-defined body with low body fat, which would probably lend itself well to experiments with cast shadows. Some of your outdoor pictures already had very beautiful strong shadows, which were very interesting to capture in ink.

    Once people venture into learning about values and trying to divide up the figure into darks and lights, and then to subdivide into core shadows, cast shadows, reflected lights, lighted areas, highlights, etc, a broader medium light spectrum becomes more important. Ambient studio light can make it hard to find good separating borders for shadowy planes, on the other hand stark spotlighting doesn't lend itself very well to finding intermediate values, so for that probably a middle ground would be best.

    So, really, a variety is best.

    Can I also ask you for a favor? I know, you mostly focus on figure, but the portrait library is still a good bit smaller than the figure library. And worse, it is even more uniform. Pretty much all of the portraits I can imagine the fotographer telling the model: "Sit on this chair, now, look to the left, look to the right, look upwards, look downwards, look angry, look sad, look happy, look this, look that" Someone gave me the tip to use the figure library for portrait drawing, and I found it an improvement, mostly because the models arent all sitting on a ***** chair, with shoulders almost parallel to the frame. They are posing, they even try themselves a bit into acting, and the fact, that shoulders, chests and necks are in actual motion, and they balance their actual body weight instead of just focusing on their eyes and mouth often makes their impressions way more lively and interesting. Drawback of using the figure library for portrait drawing is off course, that the head is relatively small and its harder to make out details.

    So, while you pose for figure drawing, can you ask your photographer to occassionally just zoom in on your head, and then post those pictures to the portrait section?

    My most inspiring references for well-lit images btw often came and come from movies or series with a film-noir touch. Gritty gangster flicks or dystopic science fiction, with badly lit rooms, where the actor suddenly ends up in front of a bright light source, or strangely lit from just a single neon light, or even just from the lighter, with which they light their cigarette. In the end, as long as we work from reference, we draftsmen are second hand artists, we just re-interpret the photographer's art. The best reference for an inspiring draft is an inspiring photo.

    Also, I remember from Croquis Cafe, one model from which I didn't expect much, which totally blew me away. It was an elderly somewhat overweight woman. Her trick was to use the poses and props to do small stories. I think in one session, she woke up in a dark room from an unexpected sound, lit a candle and started to investigate, and ended up discovering something very harmless (I imagine it was a cat), in the other session, as far as I understood, she prepared for her lover returning from war, looking at his picture or letter, smelling a rose, doing her hair, then going to the window frame, from which she waved to him with the flowers as he marched by underneath the window in a parade (at least, that is how I interpreted her poses).


    Thanks for the good ideas - chiarascuro and story telling. I'll try some more of these when I have the time. I would love to do portrait stuff, but I would like to keep my anonymity at this point, so unfortunately no for portraits.


    Are silhouettes helpful for people learning how to draw?


    I would say yes. If you only have silhouettes to practice from, that's certainly a problem, but as one more spice in the soup, it's certainly welcome. If you want to learn to draw better, you need to challenge yourself with a variety of problems.

    Silhouettes are an artistic reduction, focusing only on distinctive outlines. Extreme beginners sometimes focus too early on outlines over construction, in hope of having found a shortcut, but at the very least at the level of an intermediate draftsmen, outlines themselves do become important again, as they determine a lot of readability and first impressions. Graphic novel artists and animators from famous studios are known to have spent a lot of energy into maximizing the readability of the outlines of all their figures, as those are what the human eye picks up first. You can turn any Disney figure from any movie into a silhouette, and will still be able to identify both their identity and their action. The famous spiky hairs on a lot of anime characters are a direct result of trying to transport characterization with only the silhouette.

    To make it even more succinct: Photos of silhouettes can be very beautiful and impressive. If you can answer the question with, whether a photo is beautiful or interesting, with a determined: "Yes", then that is also the answer of whether this is a good photo to draw from. The end goal of learning to draw is to learn to create beauty and/or to raise interest after all.



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