Arts book review

Let there be light

An insightful and useful analysis of lighting in art

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Cover art of Light for Visual Artist.
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing


Light for Visual Artists

By Richard Yot

Laurence King

April 2011

Lighting is arguably the most important factor in many types of traditional and digital art, ranging from painting and photography to animation and architectural renders. It is surprising to know that this fundamental building block of visual art is often overlooked by artists, and many do not fully understand the full implications of light on an artwork. This book by Richard Yot serves as an instructive primer for artists of all disciplines, and at all levels, to begin to understand the intricacies of lighting. It serves as a tool to inspire continued creative manipulations of light in visual art to create extraordinary effects.

The book begins by delving into the fundamentals of lighting. It moves from a discussion of basic principles of lighting to cover the differences between natural light and artificial lighting. The effect of shadows on the perception of the art piece is explained from a logical stance (e.g. the surfaces of objects darken when they get closer together), but the even more interesting aspect of emotional and psychological effects that shadows bring to an artwork is discussed in depth. In relation to a discussion of shadows, the more complex subjects of translucency and transparency, and diffuse and direct lighting are introduced with colorful pictures that demonstrate their differences. This section in particular is of interest to animators and renderers: most of the rendering software in the market invest in algorithms that can manipulate light, and the successful ones are able to make translucent and transparent materials look natural in diffuse and direct lighting environments. In radiosity mesh calculations (one type of render engine), renders of liquid surfaces (especially moving water) take extra long time to complete.

Fundamentals aside, the book also gives practical advice on lighting of people for portrait photography and lighting in natural environments for traditional art, like drawing, painting and photography. A helpful exercise explained in the book is one that helps to light a head by breaking it down into basic planes, and placing lights to illuminate certain ones and put others in shadow, in order to bring out the detail of certain parts and leave others ambiguous.

Knowledge of how to use lighting and how to manipulate it to create specific effects is one of the most important factors in the success of an artwork. With effective lighting, the artist can sculpt the psychological response of their audience and direct their eye to the focal point of the piece, while guiding them in a visual journey through their art piece without the audience ever noticing their motive. Light for Visual Artists is a great reference tool to help artists master the use of lighting in artistic pieces.