Light and Shadow

Within the painting ‘Morning’, utilisation of light is an important factor within the piece so a study into light and shadow was executed.

Depth and form of the shadows in our images are directly linked to the light we use.

Shadows can be filled in with an extra light source. This adds light to the dark areas, flattening the visual contrast and making the shadow less obvious.



Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematographer who won an Oscar for his work on the film ‘The Revenant’ uses only natural light to capture the immense beauty of the environment, which in itself refers well into the concept of the film in a genre standing point.

Digital cameras are more sensitive to light, and are able to capture the shadows to a greater effect in comparison to film. Film has its benefits through its high dynamic range especially in daytime shooting.

But as of using this natural lighting, if say, there were to be these studio lamps across the scenes or shooting at the actors from behind the camera, that would defeat the concept and possibly the time in which this film is set in. Little things like where the light comes from and how it is projected is an important factor within the concept of a piece as well.

Light Sourcing

According to CAMBRIDGE in COLOUR – there is one light source.
The main light becomes the primary source of a portrait photo but of course, additional lights can be added to enhance the portrait.

  • Direction – controlling position of shadows and highlights on the subject
  • Apparent Size – controlling the appearance of the shadows and highlights
  • Sense of Depth – in order to create a realistic looking portrait it is vital that the use of light is accurate. Having a sense of depth can change a certain aspect of the subject being displayed in terms of interpretation and meaning behind a scene.

For example, a sphere is a reasonable approximation for the shape of our heads, and it only appears 3D when light strikes it from an upper side.

(From left to right follows: Front Lighting; Side Lighting; and Upper Side Lighting)

Another important study within sense of depth is in the contextualisation of it when put on a human head.

Both of the same subject with the same facial expression, lighting used here has a great impact towards the image as a whole.
Comparing against the spheres, the left most likely uses the side lighting whereas the right uses front lighting.
On the right, you can see a completely normal portrait of the model, which could also be used within passport photos as well if the model had a neutral face.
On the left, when changing the sense of depth, the model becomes sinister-looking even though the facial expression is exactly same as the one on the right.
When creating a certain mood for a subject using lighting, playing around with where light will shine and how much of it there is can affect a scene as a whole hence changing the meaning of it. It is a key factor towards symbolism in cinematography through such scenes and the metaphors it can raise about a certain subject and should be utilised within the project just like how it is utilised within ‘Morning’.

All models used in this section are created by Nikola Dechev