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Colour checking from life in low or odd light conditions

I have been working on trying to paint and colour match from life in low light conditions (like dusk). I live in northern europe have been interested in representing the interesting lights (much like the lighting in a 19th c. Hague school landscape). I have tried a number of experiments such as:

1) illuminating my colour checker and painting the colour where it goes on an unlit neutral toned canvas (painting ugly)
2)illuminating the canvas also (the contrast between lightings can be distracting but this works ok too)
3) simply match colour in weird light (fun but unsatisfying result).
4)trying to memorise or roughly annotate the shades from life and bringing them back to my studio (meh)
5) take a photo (works but lacks some of the spontaneity)

So far, illuminating the colour checker with an LED of the same light frequency as a studio works the best (controlling for glare), but considering this question is as old as painting I figure someone here might have a better idea. 

Thank you in advance.


  • edited August 13
    @klew00f, I'm not sure how this would work in really low light but I do something like 4).  On a scrap of old canvas or cardboard I paint the colours I want to record. I also take some photos. Back in the studio on my computer and printer I try to make the colors in the photo the same as my colour notes. When I get it as close as I can I paint from this photo.  It's not ideal but light is fleeting even on a good day. This method seems to work for me.
  • thank you, tassie. I will give it a try in very low light. It is true how fleeting the light is at these times of day
  • klew00f

    How about making it easy on yourself? Paint as normal but desaturate and darken each value. Selectively increase contrast between light and dark so the image is readable.
    The end process adjustments can be competed with transparent pigment glazes.

    A good example is how this moonlight landscape is created from a daylight scene using Procreate.


  • Thanks! I will give this a try as well. I tried mixing for low light in low light during this cloudy evening because I could not get the LED to illuminate without glare. Obviously the colours are too vivid when bringing them into normal lighting but since it was just a study I can try glazing it without much concern for ruining anything. It does seem unintuitive that this would work for a dusk painting considering the shadows but I hope it does because it would mean that I could colour check more easily.  Thank you
  • I tried tinting a drier study and the problem seems to be the painting equivalent of "white balance". I suspect my field lamp has a cooler temperature than my studio and this is causing problems with matching the colours.  I tried tinting towards a darker scene (like in the video) and it looks decent as "night" (once you fix the other sources of light like lamps and such).  I will have to formally try this with dusk if the sun ever comes out again. 
  • What a great topic of discussion.  Of course, the best way to understand color and values is to get out there and paint en plein air or from life with a still life set up in a light box. 

    The first instinct I had when I read your question was to take a lot of photos and bring them back to the studio to review later.  But, cameras don't always capture what our eyes see. 

    I'm still trying to work out the lighting in my little 8x10 foot studio for a still life and have yet to get out there and paint en plein air.  I live in the country and now have a big fear of Pyrenese dogs running around loose, as my neighbor's dogs ran loose and totally terrified me. Another time whlie on a trail ride, three of them ran up behind my horse snarling and barking.  Sorry, WTMI (way too much information).

    I know you have to capture lighting as quickly as possible when plein air painting, which is difficult enough to do during daylight hours.  I can see how you were running into trouble with a color checker at dusk and trying to capture the color with illuminating the checker and the canvas, which I don't understand how that would work at all.

    Nocturne paintings would be a super fun thing to do and had never thought about the obstacles as you have outlined.  I hope you will share your painting with us and your experience with how you overcame the obstacles.  
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