What’s a rim light, and when and why should I use it in my sci-fi art?

ImagineFX - - Imagine Nation -

Jen­nifer Malvern, US

Mark replies

Rim light is a light source placed be­hind your main sub­jects. It’s most com­monly used in pho­tog­ra­phy and films, where the fo­cus is on one or more char­ac­ters in front of a darker back­ground. The back light cre­ates a out­line of light around the character or por­trait, which frames them and sep­a­rates them from the back­ground.

I’ve no­ticed that rim light has be­come overused in con­cept art and il­lus­tra­tion, but it’s def­i­nitely an ef­fec­tive use­ful light­ing tech­nique to use un­der ap­pro­pri­ate light­ing con­di­tions. Its ori­gins are in stan­dard three-point light­ing in por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy and other visual medi­ums. A pho­tog­ra­pher places three main light sources around the sub­ject to ob­tain the most amount of visual in­for­ma­tion pos­si­ble: the main light; the fill light that’s es­sen­tially an ar­ti­fi­cial bounce light of the main light to show de­tails in the shadow ar­eas; and the rim light to add de­tails to the edges and frame of the scene. I would ad­vise us­ing rim light if you’re keen to en­hance the de­tails in your character’s sil­hou­ettes with fram­ing, and if you’d like to sep­a­rate them from the back­ground.

Note that rim light isn’t just about the ac­tual light­ing con­di­tions, but also about cre­at­ing a cer­tain mood. It works best if you want to cre­ate the feel­ing of sus­pense and mys­tery, or sim­ply ex­ag­ger­ate the visual in­ten­sity of your im­age.

Rim light can strengthen the visual im­pact of your images.

Use it to frame the main sub­ject, and to bring back more de­tails

in the sil­hou­ettes.

It’s easy to achieve a mys­te­ri­ous ef­fect with just pure rim light­ing, but be care­ful: with­out a main or fill light you may not be able to show your character as clearly as you want.

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