Through The Fire And The Flames: Becoming A Visual Storyteller Through Object Source Lighting (OSL)

Through The Fire And The Flames: Becoming A Visual Storyteller Through Object Source Lighting (OSL)

May 28, 2020

"Is not the only constant in the universe change? One day all this will be dust, and even the stars above us will flicker and grow dim. Your life is but a tiny candle in the darkness, and your death an afterthought, shorn of meaning by its insignificance. Come little one, let me show you how your flame can burn bright..." - Vilitreska, Lord of the Flux

Hello again wargamers and dear readers. Welcome to The Gentleman's Reserve. My name is Vito from and today I would like to give you a brief introduction into one of the most interesting and impressive techniques used in miniature painting: OSL or Object Source Lighting. 

Object Source Lighting is when one or more objects on your miniature, such as a campfire, a glowing sword/orb, or the base itself is casting and cascading light onto the miniature/scene itself. Not only can these lighting effects be very eye-catching but they can visually tell a story. It's as if you are watching a movie in an inanimate object. Here are some of my favourite examples:  

Painted by Rodrigo H Chacon

Painted by Richard Sharp

Painted by Maciek aka (Flameon)

Painted by Arnau Lazaro

Painted by Jean-Michael Wilton

Each one of these wonderfully painted minis crafts a unique story with the use of OSL. An inquisitive witch by her burning and bubbling cauldron. Do we have a charming faun with a devilish grin looking for mischief? Or a fiendish demon delighted to have found its next victim?

A chaos lord in a crystalline cave who has just received a gift from his unholy patron. A sith lord who's only guiding light is the dark side of the force. And lastly a Bloodstolker who in the dark caverns of Khorne revels as he can unleash his torment on others. Object Source Lighting; ain't she a beaut?

Now dear reader, we have tasted dessert first and it was delicious. But before we go any further we must understand the technical side of object source lighting so as we can truly comprehend the craftsmanship behind the art. 

The closer the light source is the stronger the highlight would be. This goes the same for shadows. The further the source of light from the object, the weaker and softer the highlight would become. A common example would be a flaming sword or a simple torch.

Red would be the furthest colour away, followed by orange then yellow. In extreme circumstances the brightest highlight can be white. I've provided a fantastic example below to help illustrate OSL. Each sphere has a fixed light source from above while another blue travels back and forth to show intensities in both highlights and shadows. 

Additionally, the way light reflects and reacts to different surfaces and objects will differ from one another. Some may have a glossy texture while others diffuse light. On metal surfaces highlights and surfaces are generally very sharp and pronounced.

All these elements come into play when painting a miniature and applying OSL. Perhaps a wizard is holding a valuable orb in a dark hallway and suddenly it illuminates. The wizard tries desperately to conceal the orb but in his failed attempt the orb's rays reflect off his gauntlets and attract the enemies around the corner. This might sound like a scene out of a fantasy RPG but it can be realized through miniature painting and object source lighting.

If you want to see a real-world application of OSL, we have a Quick Tip in the MiniWargaming Vault where a suit of armour glows from the inside. A great narrative device for any fantasy or sci-fi RPG.

Click Here To Watch How To Paint OSL Glow Armour

Whenever I want to really flex my painting muscles I try to find real-world examples. A fun exercise I invite you, dear reader, to try and do is to grab a flashlight and shine it on different surfaces. Cloth, wood, plastic metal, your brother (just kidding don't do that) and see the different results that you get. 

If you have been staying with me through this journey of light and darkness then I thank you dear reader. As some of you may know, I belong to several groups within the Facebook community. It allows me to stay connected to the community within the areas of painting, conversions, lore and yes, even memes, ha.


One such group that I belong to is called simply Warhammer 40k. In this group members exchange their love of the hobby by sharing their thoughts on lore, muses of the game itself and work in progress or finished photos of their miniatures. As of the writing of this article there are currently 58,139 members.


One such member is Tom Hunt. A new initiate to painting who has only picked up a brush within the last 9 months. He shared a photo of his Leviathan Siege Dreadnought atop a lava base. What struck me was his application of object source lighting, setting the scene and should I mention it was his first time doing it?



Now his miniature may not be of the same quality as some of the first ones that I have shown you but the principles that Tom applies to OSL are all there. Darkest to lightest, shadows to highlights. Even the composition of the miniature makes sense if this hulking war machine were real.

The lava glow would cascade the majority of the light onto its knees, codpiece and chassis. If we look to the rear of the miniature there is not a lot of OSL because the jagged rock behind the Leviathan is blocking it. Rather the OSL is correctly placed onto the stalagmite.

As for telling a narrative I can completely see this bulking behemoth pushing its way through a magma cavern, the heat from the lava creating distortion in the air, as it searches for traitor scum! It is my humble opinion that Tom is on the right path to becoming not only an excellent painter but a visual storyteller as well. Keep up the great work Tom! 

In summation, we have covered what object source lighting is, examples of how to do it well and how it can be used to tell a story. This may be a brief introduction into OSL and I hope to cover it more and give it the due diligence it deserves. OSL can ignite a plethora of possibilities when it comes to the miniature world and I hope, dear reader, that you light your own flame and dare to tell your own stories as well.

I hope that you have enjoyed this article on Object Source Lighting and how it can help you to become a visual storyteller.  It can be a difficult technique to achieve but all things are difficult before they become easy as a wise man once said. If you are not a Vault member, may I suggest you click this link to get a free 7-day trial. Vault members are what drive MiniWargaming, so consider joining to support us in making even more miniature wargaming content for you. Till next time dear readers. Happy wargaming!

- MWG Vito