In a recent painting I was struggling with some lighting effects. The image I'd planned depicts one of the main characters in a story shooting it out inside of a spaceship hangar.
As I started on the painting I'd felt pretty sure of myself that I could depict the metal reflection, as it's one of my favorite subjects and I've looked at and painted lots of reflective material. As the days drew on, however, I realized that what reference I'd gathered from Google Images was lacking. I would spend an entire afternoon scouring the house for something cylindrical and metal. I'd wanted to have these paintings done in a week each so this was a big chunk of time.
Thankfully, the next morning found me coming upon a metal shaker bottle. It was perfect! It even showed some wear and tear from a year or so of disuse, just like a ship hurtling through space might. Now that I had the bottle, though, I ran into a second problem.
There were no grid-patterned lights in the house that depicted the scale of the hangar I was attempting to show. All that searching for the right reference would come up short if I couldn't somehow place the correct lighting...
So I had to come up with a different idea. Using a desktop printer, some tape, and a backing board I had lying around I constructed an accurate grid system for my bottle to reflect. Although they weren't lights themselves, it worked somewhat better because now I could find myself controlling the scale of the projection onto my new "ship."
Merging those photos together to depict how the reflections might fade off as the ship elongated, I came out with this for reference.
The most interesting part for me was seeing the effects of the wall behind it, which would show up in my painting as reflections of space through the hangar door.
Next time you're having trouble finding reference, try thinking of things from a different angle! I could've used this same technique for armor or a robot under the same conditions. I know I'll be on the lookout with an open mind next time I go to the store!