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Old 11-22-2005, 11:51 AM   #11
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joan Breckwoldt
I am still very much interested in hearing more opinions on just how delineated/sharp the line should be where the shadow meets the light.
There's no "should" involved, any more than you'd ask, what "should" I include for props, or how "should" I pose my subject. You make those choices so that the result will be in service to the overall effect that you're trying to achieve.

Middle value transitions between shadow and light value shapes are wonderful areas where amazing things happen, for it is in those locations that color is often most richly revealed and used to its best purpose, since it is neither washed out by the brighter lights nor dulled by shadow. Cultivate that opportunity and exploit it, rather than looking for ways to minimize such transition areas.

Yes, mood is a consideration, as is the physical quality of the subject. That craggy cowhand's face can easily manage a sharp-edged shadow cast by a hat brim, and we will see every wrinkle and fold and whisker. Bringing that kind of focus to bear on that sort of detail in, say, a young woman's face will only seem harsh and unflattering in most cases. On the other hand, if your intent is to convey a sense of brilliant strong lighting, the sharper definitions are probably in order. (I'll try to find some examples to add later, as I have some in mind.)

Remember that a hard edge, a sharply defined boundary of a value area, attracts the viewer's attention to that area (or in certain applications, creates depth, which itself is an attention gathering device). You are in control of whether or not that happens.
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Old 11-22-2005, 12:24 PM   #12
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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Quote:
I am still very much interested in hearing more opinions on just how delineated/sharp the line should be where the shadow meets the light. I suppose it also depends on the mood I want to convey. And like so much, there is probably no magic answer.
Exactly. It depends on the subject and the mood you want. Look at paintings you like and see how they did it.

Remember, though, that when you set up a model in the light you think would be just right, it will usually turn out to be too contrasty in the photograph. That's what cameras do, whether film or digital. They increase contrast, sometimes by a huge amount.

A simple tip when shooting by window light (which is the easiest way to start in any case): In order to increase contrast between the lit and unlit sides of the face just move the subject closer to the window, to decrease contrast move him or her away from the window.
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Old 11-22-2005, 02:49 PM   #13
Joan Breckwoldt Joan Breckwoldt is offline
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Transition areas

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Sweeney
Middle value transitions between shadow and light value shapes are wonderful areas where amazing things happen, for it is in those locations that color is often most richly revealed and used to its best purpose, since it is neither washed out by the brighter lights nor dulled by shadow. Cultivate that opportunity and exploit it, rather than looking for ways to minimize such transition areas.
Thank you Steven, you have opened up my eyes to looking at transition areas in a whole new way. I tend to try and minimize the transitions because I don't feel confident painting those areas! But, just reading your post has made me want to master the transition areas. Very valuable insight for me, thank you.

Joan
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Old 11-22-2005, 02:54 PM   #14
Joan Breckwoldt Joan Breckwoldt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michele Rushworth
Exactly. It depends on the subject and the mood you want. Look at paintings you like and see how they did it.
Michele,

Great suggestion! For some reason I tend to think I must have a sharp delineation between shadow and light. I'll look at books and see someone like Renoir who has painted the dark side of a face a medium tone, at best, and I'll wonder 'why does that work'? It has been drilled into my head by previous instructors to paint shadows dark, dark, and darker.

I understand there must be some dark somewhere in the painting, otherwise the painting will look washed out. But still, there are some paintings where the darks just aren't that dark and I think they work. Though again, that may be to portray a soft mood.

thank you,

Joan
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Old 11-22-2005, 03:54 PM   #15
Steven Sweeney Steven Sweeney is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joan Breckwoldt
I understand there must be some dark somewhere in the painting, otherwise the painting will look washed out. But still, there are some paintings where the darks just aren't that dark and I think they work.
Now you're starting to refer to the "key" of the painting. The high-key paintings you refer to (in which "the darks just aren't all that dark") work because the narrower range of values that are used are well managed in relation to each other. There are no absolute values that must appear -- you don't have to have a near-black value on one end and a near-white value on the other -- you just have to make sure that the darkest value you do use goes only where the darks should go, and the lightest values you use go only where the lights should go, all in relation to each other in the overall value design. Squint, squint, squint at your subject or resource to sense the location of the different value areas and shapes.

Key has no necessary relation to edges and transitions.

I suspect that those who advised you that shadows must be dark were probably just trying to get you to extend your value range. That is, perhaps you naturally paint in a high key. When you're starting out and trying to master the depiction of form, it's much easier to use an extended value range -- get those dark darks in there, as well as the light lights, and everything in between. The subtlety of a narrower value range (whether high, middle or low key) is tougher to parse.
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Old 11-22-2005, 10:18 PM   #16
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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You are right, Joan, there is no correct answer. If the light moves you, go with it. Just be constantly on the lookout for a beautifully lit subject and then, if you can't take a photo right at that moment, try to replicate the light for your painting.

Personally I like the light in the two reference photos of your daughter and your mother's friend the best. The light/shadow relationship is definitely not too subtle and, in fact, is excellent for a portrait. If you're going to be painting from life in a studio with the dark green-gray walls, make sure there is a good, clear, even light coming from the window and move the person near the light source. If you take a photo, you can manually set the light meter for the light side of the face, or use spot metering taken from the light side. Were you using artificial light for both of the dark photos? That might not work very well, but I couldn't say for sure, since I've never tried it. (My studio walls are off-white.)

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Old 11-27-2005, 08:46 PM   #17
Joan Breckwoldt Joan Breckwoldt is offline
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Higher key

Hi Steven,

Thank you for your reply. I apologize for taking so long to thank you for it, I've only just come back from Thanksgiving holiday vacation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steven Sweeney
I suspect that those who advised you that shadows must be dark were probably just trying to get you to extend your value range. That is, perhaps you naturally paint in a high key. When you're starting out and trying to master the depiction of form, it's much easier to use an extended value range -- get those dark darks in there, as well as the light lights, and everything in between. The subtlety of a narrower value range (whether high, middle or low key) is tougher to parse.
I think you are absolutely right about this. My instructors are trying to teach me to model form and certainly it's easier with a broader value range. Hmm, I just didn't realize it could be done effectively in a narrow value range. But I suppose that's why paintings I see in books do work, even though they are in a higher key. So, what you're saying is . . .. . . I can do anything I want! Yippee! Oh, it just has to work though.

I think my last instructor taught using the broadest value range and kept telling me to do the same thing, I just didn't think it was "right" to do it otherwise. Certainly this example shows me the value of taking lessons from different instructors. Thank you for putting this into words and explaining it to me.

Joan
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Old 11-27-2005, 09:07 PM   #18
Joan Breckwoldt Joan Breckwoldt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexandra Tyng
You are right, Joan, there is no correct answer. If the light moves you, go with it. Just be constantly on the lookout for a beautifully lit subject and then, if you can't take a photo right at that moment, try to replicate the light for your painting.
Hi Alexandra,

I apologize for taking so long to thank you for your post. You help reinforce the fact that I can pretty much try what I like. I'm a 'rules' person and I like having rules . . . but I realize once I learn the rules (not that I have) then they can be broken.

In the samples I posted at the beginning of this thread, the girl with glasses was shot with artificial light in the studio where I take lessons. I'm going to look next classperiod at what kind of lights are being used. The photo of my son was taken indoors with a combination of weak artificial light and some light coming in a window.

I am beginning to understand that the subtle/soft light transitions can be desirable. Now I just need to paint them convincingly. As I said before, they're my biggest challenge.

I spent some time with my camera's manual and came up with what I think is a good reference photo of my daughter. I only wish I had dragged along some kind of backdrop, oh well.

Here it is:

Joan
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Old 11-28-2005, 01:14 PM   #19
Linda Brandon Linda Brandon is offline
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Joan, I just wanted to add to this excellent and interesting discussion that there seems to be a modern portrait "convention" (certainly not a "rule") that the younger the subject, the narrower the value range between the lit side and shadow side in the face.

This was not always the case in portraiture. I can think of several Sargents, for example, that feature young subjects with darker value shadows. I suspect that many clients today would find such portrayals of their young children as too "gloomy". The emphasis (in this country anyway) for children's portraits is on charming, fresh, light, happy, etc. . As I browse through websites and look at hundreds of contemporary portraits, it seems to me that darker shadows are often reserved for subjects who require qualities such as intensity, power and drama.
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Old 11-28-2005, 01:59 PM   #20
Michele Rushworth Michele Rushworth is offline
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I would also add that many women's portraits have a lower contrast ratio between the lit and unlit sides, too. Women "of a certain age" (ie anyone my age or older!) generally prefer somewhat softer and more frontal lighting to minimize wrinkles, compared to what you'd see on a man's portrait where, as Linda said, the emphasis might be on boldness and drama.
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