How To Paint Believable Shadows krista hasson

How To Paint Believable Shadows

Shadows can be a tricky thing to paint. Especially if you are painting from photos instead of real life. In order to paint believable shadows, you must first understand how a shadow works. Note that in the photos below, I adjusted my reference pictures so they would show the needed information. Most times shadows in photos have been flattened into a solid dark mass. It all depends on your equipment and lighting conditions.

Shadow broken into parts

How To Paint Believable Shadows krista hasson
How To Paint Believable Shadows krista hasson

1. Highlight – the lightest spot where the source of light directly hits the object. The size of the highlight depends on the smoothness and hardness of the object it is on. Smoother and harder surfaces have a smaller harder highlight. On softer and textured surfaces, the highlight would be larger and softer.

2. Light side – the side of the object that is facing the light source.

3. Shadow side – the side of the object facing away from the light source.

4. Reflected light – the light that is reflected off the surface the object is sitting on (note: the reflective light will take on the color cast of the surface). It also varies depending on if it is on a light or dark surface.

5. Core shadow – is your darkest shadow area on the object.

6. Cast shadow – the closest area of the cast shadow will be the darkest.

7. Cast Shadow – the outer part of the cast shadow will lighten as it moves away from the object.

Notice how the cast shadow is reflected onto the apple. These reflections will also be more or less pronounced depending on the object’s surface hardness and smoothness. Shadows are not black. It will serve you well to set up an object with a light and observe shadows in real life. Try putting them on different colored surfaces etc.

When you study shadows from life, it gives you the ability to fill in the missing information when your picture does not have it.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.

Cheers, Krista
PS: Don’t forget to leave your comments below and sharing is always appreciated!

To read more articles on painting visit my main blog page

16 thoughts on “How To Paint Believable Shadows”

  1. Very helpful. I almost always paint from photographs and was not aware how different from real life it is.

  2. Thank you for very precise detailing. I hadn’t appreciated how reflected light and shadow enrich the object being captured in painting or photo. You have helped stretch my understanding and alerted my eyes to notice more.

  3. Gayle Capson

    Thank you, Krista. I enjoy reading your articles as they are very informative and I always learn something new.

  4. Thank’s for the interesting article Krista. Just enough information for my brain to try and reflect on.

  5. ???? great explanation. Better understanding of how to paint realistic shadows

    1. Hi Marjorie, I am not sure if you are able to get out and study the ranges if you are that would be extremely beneficial. The biggest thing to remember is that as things get further away they get lighter, cooler and less saturated. The same is true of shadows. The shadows would still be darker at the base of the trees or mountains and get lighter as the shadows come out away from the objects. In order to get good atmospheric perspective (a sense of distance), they would always be cool for mountains and far away objects. I hope this helps 🙂

  6. this is quite comprehensive – thank you. I wonder if ther5e wouldn’t be a slight reflected light from the table onto the front of the apple. I think I see it in the coloured picture but not in the black and white one.

    1. Hi Val, you are absolutely right there is a reflection of color and light bouncing off the table. That could be another article lol. Good eye 🙂

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