Friday, October 17, 2014

Light and Shadow

Light and shadow in both painting and in photography can be defined by an artistic term, chiaroscuro, which literally means light-dark. I don't know if he invented the technique, but Leonardo da Vinci was among the first painters to use it to invest a painting with the illusion of volume.

As the Renaissance progressed, the technique was adopted and refined by other artists such as Caravaggio in Italy and the Dutch painters Vermeer and Rembrandt. In fact, in photography, the style of lighting in portraiture is known as Rembrandt lighting.

I love the look of chiaroscuro and am always on the lookout for opportunities to use it. While a photographer can rather easily set up a studio to employ this type of lighting, it is a little more difficult to try to find it under natural conditions outdoors. It involves exaggerated contrasts in the tonal values of light as opposed to color. The technique usually helps to evoke a strong emotional response.

This photo of a child may also be considered an example of chiaroscuro with its extreme contrast between dark and light values. It was taken in a room with a bay window where the sunlight was almost overwhelming. By severely underexposing, I was able to reduce the image to a silhouette. I have always thought it was a rather cool shot.

One of the best ways to achieve the chiaroscuro look is to have some good cross lighting. An opening along the shoreline to the left of the photo permitted sunlight to rake across the scene while the trees in the background were in shadows. The contrasts were enhanced more in post production to achieve the high contrast appearance.

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