All About the Light – Part 2: Determine Light Direction

We also need a method to determine the light direction in our reference photo. Let’s look at several photographs and determine the light source.

1. Egret from by Aschi

This photograph has beautiful interesting light.


2. Where is the Light?

Find the spots in the painting with the most light. See if you can figure out where the light source is that is causing these lightest places. (orange lines). You can draw on a copy of the photo.



3. Look at the Shadows

Next look at the shadows from the darkest to the lightest. If there is a single source of light the shadows will be opposite the lightest places. Find the darkest shadows.


In this photograph the light is from the right and below the feathers that are raised. There is a bit of backlighting for the forward upper feathers creating a very excitingly lit photograph.

If the photograph has changed the lighting to come from multiple directions you’ll find that out and then decide if that is the photo that you want to paint.


4. A Time for A Run by Susan 19 at


Look at the light and shadows


5. These Shoes by Freda Austin Nichols


In my opinion this painting would look better with out the bag/purse because it has soon much light that it steals the focus from the shiny shoes.

6. On Stage by Ian Worrell at



7. Leopard by Linda Williason at




I hope this has been helpful to you. Feel free to leave comments below.

2 responses on "All About the Light - Part 2: Determine Light Direction"

  1. Sheryl, this is great especially for new students. When I first started it was difficult for me to understand “seeing the light”. This is very well explained even for someone like me who has been painting for years. Thank you.

    • Thank you Kaye. I hope that it helps. So often we get caught up in the subject of our painting but if we’ll really “see the light” it will jump off the page. I always strive to simplify a complex subject and hope this is a good example. I appreciate your comments very much.

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