Chiaroscuro example – Captain America

The text below is the trascript of the video: watch it to enjoy this new challenge 🙂 Chiaroscuro example – Captain America

Do you think it’s possible to find a connection between this picture and this painting? No? Well after the intro I am going to show you something surprising.

Hi everyone and welcome back to Exploring Art, this is Alessandro. I received messages and comments about the chiaroscuro video I published few days ago, by the way thank you for your positive feedbacks and support and if you haven’t watched it yet, here the link.

So, I was thinking ok that’s great: Caravaggio had a huge impact on visual arts, I mean look at this. It’s insane the drama and intensity he was able to create with just a single light source. But is it possible to use that style on something more “modern”. And, if yes, what it would look like? Chiaroscuro example – Captain America

The challenge

I love challenges and since Caravaggio used to depict important religious people, Saints or mythological characters, I decided to pick one of most important heroes of our time: Chris Evans.

Well not Chris Evans directly, even if I am sure a lot of girls would be happy about it, but as Captain America.

By the way, Chris I took this picture from your Instagram page. I even asked your permit, but you haven’t answered and it’s just for educational purposes. So, if you are watching this don’t get mad. Or next time I’ll use this one. JK I think you are great actor and you are doing an amazing job as Captain America.

Actually, for you guys, you can find the link to Chris’ Instagram page in the description and I really care to say that Chris started an admirable project called A Starting Point and please go check it online because it’s very useful and informative.

Let’s start

Back to us. This picture of Captain America is available online for free and I modified it into this.

I am here with my laptop so let’s see together why I did it and how to do it. The first thing I did was to change the background. On the original in fact it’s really bright, but we know that Caravaggio used really dark, often completely black, backgrounds and so I did.

As you can see, now what is even more evident is the light coming from the top right that makes the scene too bright for what we want to reach.

So, the first step to fix it, it is to add a gradient map to create shades on the areas we want to make darker. This is a fundamental step because it cannot be too dark or we risk to not give enough volume to the scene, but it cannot be too bright either or we don’t reach the effect we want.

That was one of the main issues Caravaggio had to face: find a perfect balance between light and dark, visible-invisible and partially visible to focus the attention on specific details.

And the details I picked are, in order of importance, the face, the shield, the left shoulder with part of the chest and the right arm.


The why is important as well. The look of Captain America is of course fundamental, so I want to intensify it making it the main focus. From the face we go to his famous weapon and symbol: the shield with the US colors and star. The body is important because it represents his strength, but it has to come after the Captain’s resolution and courage visible on his eyes and it has to be less visible than the shield.

So, let’s create 2 gradient maps: a lower one here on the bottom and a second one on the left. Not bad: we are reaching what we have just decided to enhance.

However, there is a problem on his chest. The original front light in fact is flat and we need to simulate a light coming from almost completely his left side, but that means having more shades on the chest. To do that you just need to use a fresco effect with high contrast and that’s what happen.

Better right? Now it’s time to create the effect of the light on our background. Adding a yellow/orange gradient map, we can simulate the light cone and that’s another important phase since it was to be coherent with what we want in the dark and what we want visible.

As you can see, on the bottom the light is perfectly aligned with the part of the shield I want to be visible. On the upper part the yellow is strong just where there is the shoulder and part of the head. Behind the left part of the body the light is barely visible. Just enough to give the idea of Captain’s body shape.

Let’s just add a texture to make the wall more real.

Color correction and just a last touch 

Now it’s time for a bit of color correction, we need to make the scene warmer.

The colors are a bit flat and the blue dominates too much the scene. As I said before, Captain’s look shows strength, resolution, courage, so very passionate feelings and the colors should be coherent with that. So, let’s enhance the orange and red and the contrast of dark and light.

Not bad right? We need just a last easy, but fundamental step. However, the scene is finally aligned with what we wanted. With the set of gradient maps I designed, now the focus is exactly on the face and shield following this line and, immediately after, the rest of the body following the light from the top right to the left.

A last touch, we need to create a level to enhance the orange of the light and reduce the brightness on the face and right shoulder. So let’s pick a light orange color and let’s add it to the right of Captain’s body as a burn effect.

And here we are: way better right?

Now the result I think it’s obvious, in particular if we compare the two images. So that is what happens if we apply Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro style. As you can see it’s not just something old fashionable, but it was a revolution back then and it still have a huge visual impact nowadays.

I hope that this video helped you to understand that art, even really “old”, is still present in our lives and why it’s important to know better these artists who can inspire us every day.

Check the description for more videos about this topic and don’t forget to subscribe, so you won’t miss the next episodes. Ciao

Chiaroscuro example – Captain America

Captain America - background original
Captain America - Chiaroscuro example
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