Rules for Using Value in Your Images

If you remember the following “rules” and apply them to your images, your work will show immediate improvement:

  • Value is about relationships.
  • Form is described by value.
  • Nothing is more important than value in picture making.
  • There are two value areas in pictures: things that face the light source (lights) and things that face away from the light source (darks).
  • Mid-values are a convenient way of tying together our lights and darks and will help us create pictures that are closer to the way we see. Imagine that your midvalues are everything that is not very light or very dark. When designing your picture, try to do the basic value plan using just three values. A general guide to follow when laying out your value pattern is this: 60 percent of your values should be in the mid-value range, 25 percent should be either light or dark, and the remaining 15 percent should be the opposite. The more complicated an image is, the simpler the overall value structure should be.
  • Local value is the inherent lightness or darkness of an object.
  • Atmospheric value is the idea that objects of similar local value will have different atmospheric values as they recede in the picture.
  • Side light value is when an object’s local value will change either lighter or darker when lit from an angle.
  • Simultaneous contrast causes an object’s local value to appear to move toward the opposite extremes when viewed adjacent to surrounding values.
  • A light image is called high key, and a dark image is called low key.
  • Artists tend to paint things too dark. It is easier to make the value darker than lighter. If you are not sure if the value is dark or mid-value, make it mid-value. If you are not sure what the difference between a light value and mid-value is, make it a light one.
  • Work in simple values. Limit yourself to three values when you are planning out your compositions. This will help you arrange and organize your image without being caught up in unimportant detail.
  • Stick to your original value plan. There is no limit to the amount of detail that you can have within a form if the form is the correct value locked into place within the composition.
  • Detail is always subordinate to the overall value pattern of the composition. Detail is only incidental and descriptive.
  • Keep your highest contrast between values at your center of interest.
  • Value passages are important ways of unifying your pictures.
  • Interlock your lights or darks.
  • Use chiaroscuro to simplify your light and dark patterns. Chiaroscuro is defined as the technique of using light and shade in pictorial representation or the arrangement of light and dark elements in a pictorial work of art.
  • Values on objects will gradually darken and have less contrast as they get farther away from the light source.
  • Values that are in your light areas should never be as dark as the lightest areas of your darks, and vice versa.
  • As value contrasts increase, color decreases. The brightest colors in your pictures may be found in the mid-values.
  • The brightest colors in an object will be found in the transition edges between the lights and darks.

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