If you spend a bit of time searching online, it isn’t too difficult to find the right lighting for your reference photos, unless you’re looking for something with softer lighting to create that “glow” effect. This type of lighting is especially helpful for depicting magic, firelight, or a small off-camera lighting source. The trick is finding a light that isn’t too harsh, but is customizable as well, so it fits your specific painting. I’ve found most regular bulbs create too-harsh direct lighting, which creates cast shadows. This usually isn’t usually a problem, unless you don’t want those severe shadows in the first place.
Above is an example of the soft, glowy light we’re talking about. If I had used a regular bulb, it would have created a spotlight effect.
A great little lamp I found which helps with this type of lighting is a Smart Table Lamp (Amazon). Not only is it dimmable, so you can adjust the brightness, but you can change the color as well. This has been super helpful for me, especially since the glowing light in my paintings usually isn’t just plain white.
Here’s the normal white light with the brightness turned up 100%. The dimmable feature is on a sliding scale, so you can customize it to however bright you want it.
Here’s the light set to red, with my hand next to it to show the effect it creates.
Another example, this time showing a deep blue option.
Another option is a LED Smart Bluetooth Bulb, like this one from Govee (Amazon):
So you put the bulb into your standard lamp, turn on the bluetooth on your phone, download the app that goes with it, and you now have a fully-customizable light for all your painting needs.
Here’s a screenshot of the app interface. You can pick any color, adjust the warmth and coolness of the white light, as well as the overall brightness.
It even has a neat feature where you look through the camera on your phone and it changes the light to be that color. Not sure how practical that feature is in real life, but it is pretty cool!
Another reason these options are nice is that when you take reference photos with colored lights, your photos aren’t going to pick up the same nuances in value and color that your eyes can, so if you have the light close by, you can make lighting observations in real-time in order to give a more realistic/life-like effect to your illustration.
Hope that is helpful to someone out there looking for more lighting options for their reference photos!