3 Simple Steps to Creating Super Dramatic Lighting (By Colliding Different Emotions)

Bipolar… but exciting.

That’s how I feel when two different emotions struggle for my attention.

Like a pleasure of drinking a hot cup of Costa Rican coffee, while watching a cold rain blasting the street. Coffee is hot. The rain is chilling like hell.

You can see the box of a restaurant is filled with a warm light (multiplied by the cigarette smoke). And the whole city outside is filled with a grayish moving gas of the rain.

dramatic lighting

You can see these two worlds are connected by the thin glass of the window.

They play, and they fight.

Imagine it and I guarantee that you will feel a bit bipolar too. Like Hunter Thompson watching Derby while being high.

What I find super exciting (from artistic standpoint) in such situations is drama. Drama, created by play. Drama, created by different lighting styles, seen at once.

Drama, created by colliding atmospheres in your artistic Hadron Collider.

Why bother?

• The drama breathes life into your artworks.

It ignites the feeling in your audience.

• It makes your espresso hotter (on the background of a really cold rain).

After following these 3 simple steps, you will learn how to create a super dramatic lighting.

gleb alexandrov coffee

Step 1. Start With a Dramatic Experience From Your Life

I’m sure you live an interesting life. Even if you don’t think so.

Just remember some situation that had that kind of conflict to it. The situation, that drags you in two different directions, emotion-wise.

Even if you want to create a sci-fi cargo bay, start with something from your life.

Maybe you will remember that storm in early 2000’s. The black clouds are getting nearer, blocking the sunlight. You are waiting for the bus in a thickening grayness. And when the bus arrives, you notice that the old junk is literally full of light.

Good old fluorescent tubes in action.

Apparently, the bright bus brings the whole different atmosphere to the pre-storm setting. It brings drama.

That can be your experience.

And my experience is being caught in the rain and finding shelter in the coffee house.

lighting tutorial blender

Step 2. Visualize the Initial State of Your Imaginary World

Think about it.

When you see some conflicting lighting scenario, there is always a starting point. There is always an initial uninterrupted reality.

Bam! And then comes something outlandish and spice it up.

Then comes the bus, and it penetrates the darkness. Or then you find a coffee shop, and it creates a conflict with the rainy landscape.

There is always a starting point.

So first, visualize that initial state of your imaginary world. And if it rains, make it rain so hard that it gives us goosebumps.

Visualize the cold atmosphere of the rainy street, creeping in the building. Cover windows with shivering droplets. Do whatever you need to elicit a certain emotion. Aim at the goosebumps.

Feel the mood and stick to it for now.

In the next step, you will flip the switch.

dramatic lighting tutorial

Step 3. Add a Conflict to Your Lighting

Flip the switch.

Now when you have established the mood, it’s time to add a conflict to your ligting.

If you created a heavy rain wrecking havoc outside the window, illuminate the interior with a red torchère.

What about your sci-fi lab, base on Mars? Throw in a capsule with Earth lighting simulation. Natural and cool.

And I want to emphasize something. The conflict isn’t just about complimentary colors. It’s not necessarily based on the image composition at all.

The conflict is based on atmospheres and your feeling of tension between them. To create a dramatic lighting, you need a good conflict.

A smoking hot cup of Costa Rican coffee in your hands. Moth, swarming near the lamps. And a wet asphalt, blasted with the heavy rain.

dramatic lighting

Over to You

You can’t measure the temperature of a color with a thermometer. The idea of warm and cool color is all in our minds, but the effect of color temperature on the viewer is real anyway. — James Gurney

Now you have a taste of what it takes to create a dramatic lighting.

And I bet you already have envisioned something special. Something, that will help you create the strongest lighting conflict ever.

What’s next?

Go ahead and create it.


  1. Sayan Mondal

    Adding substance to lighting? Very creative idea. Keep up your great ideas Gleb.

  2. CrazyEngine

    It’s just amazing how you catch me with every single article you write. Before reading I’m often like: “Damn. Tons of homework to do…” after I’m like “Crap! That scene was sick. I have to create something like that by my own!”
    You’re able to make people (at least me for sure) to think about a subject. Light is now more like a friend than an enemie to me xD Before it your project I was somehow able to avoid complex lighting in the most cases. But now I goddamn love it! <3 It's just incredible how much light affects everything! Even in reallife I can't watch a film without trying to get why they choose the specific lighting in each scene xD
    I just want to thank you! You're awesome! Keep up that wonderful work! (^o^)/

    PS: A breakdown of one of your recent scenes would be pretty awesome! Especially if you would focus on the lighting part 😀

    • “Crap! That scene was sick. I have to create something like that by my own!” – that’s the best reaction, hands down. You make me feel very happy 🙂 Yep, I find myself analyzing the lighting in movies too, heheh. And in real life as well! It will drive us crazy some day.


  3. Daniel

    Once again amazing work, I love how you are constantly updating you blog (enough for me to check back every other day) Andrew Price started out similarly but slowly started posting less tutorials and articles as he became busier. I understand that this is most likely inevitable but It would be terrible if your blog did the same. In a nutshell, I love your work you are a major inspiration for me, keep it up!

    • Daniel, that’s a one very cool stony cave! 🙂
      Yeah, business takes a lot of time and that’s inevitable to some degree indeed. But let’s keep the ball rolling. More to come!

  4. Jeffrey Wilson

    I think you need to start a coffee comp. Every time I open this page I have to go make an espresso. Thanks for the sideways thoughts on this topic very mind turning for sure.

    • Jeff, and now you reminded me to go make an espresso too. Huh. 🙂

  5. Yulia Kalashnikova

    Oh.. I get it now 🙂 So… when it comes to a character… dramatic lighting would be the contrast of light and shade, red and blue on him or her? Or there is more to it, than that?))

    • From the standpoint of composition, dramatic lighting would mean the contrast (yeah, complimentary contrast as well :)) . But I believe that there is more to it, than just a colors. If we can create a contrasting emotions (or we can as well call it atmospheres), that’s a big win.

      Attaching some examples, quite subjective.

      • Yulia Kalashnikova

        oh… i see 🙂 amazing examples, really. Now any time I forget what is dramatic, I will just go here and try to recreate the exact mood. I think, in time I will learn to create my own dramatic scene))) Thank you so much, Gleb!

  6. Felix Schütt

    Just asking but do you use other composition than blue – orange? No critique, the picture is good but it’s a little bit repetitive.
    And yes, you can measure color with a temperature, this is why we have a temperature node (also called “Blackbody”) in cycles xD

    • Haha, that’s a good point! Personally, I think that blue-orange is WAY overused in the movie and gaming industry. We need to think outside the box (or outside of orange-blue gamut).

  7. Uncle Snail

    Another amazing tutorial! I will say that I think this may have been one of my favorites. 🙂 It came at the perfect time too, considering that I am making a scene with great contrast for Andrew’s competition. I don’t have a preview render yet, and I’m not that far along, but I may share one sometime… :/
    Great tutorial.

  8. David Giles

    Amazing tutorial! I tried making my own dramatic lighting scene after reading this, but the result wasn’t as good as I had hoped. The scene was inspired by the all the city lights reflecting in the water I saw on the overnight bus trips I used to go on.

    The models are mostly from Blendswap and Sketchfab, but I made a few of them myself. The image was rendered in realtime using a game engine. Please tell me what you think!

    • David, I’m amazed by the coziness of the town. The contrast of cool/warm really works here. Composition-wise, it’s quite good too. If I had to add anything to this image, it would be the details. But overall, very nice impression!

      • David Giles

        Thanks! I’ll keep working on it, at least until the game engine freezes up from too many polygons. Also, I made a timelapse of putting the scene together in the game engine, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JByjRyqaQhE

  9. Sandra D

    Good idea. Thanks. The cold looks colder, the warm is warmer. The outside of your picture looks very cold and uninviting. but the way the picture is tilted my eye keeps getting drawn to the cold outside then back to the warm chair and then back, like there is a sort of color war going on, and it is very interesting. Yes bipolar is naturally very interesting.

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