As a lighter in a game company, one of your main responsibilities is to add mood, atmosphere, and in the case of certain style of games, realism to the scene.
If you are lucky, you can rely on a concept artist (or if you’re really lucky, a full dept.) to be informed by the Lead Designer and/or Lead Artist and codify the look of certain key areas in levels.
These could include:
Most of the time though in the real world when everyone is getting cranking in crunch mode, concept artists are most likely to pulled away and put on other more pressing tasks for the studio. In those cases, it’s then up to you to figure out how to light key areas without concept support.
Having a library of images becomes invaluable, even if lighters have enough experience in the past solving these kinds of issues.
Here are some image libraries (some free, some not) that can be looked through as reference for areas to be used for inspiration and lighting queues.
The Complete National Geographic - If exotic locales are what you need for lighting reference (and being a game artist, it’s rare when it isn’t a exotic locale) this series is invaluable. It is also very cheap right now on Amazon, so get to it!
Flickr MultiColor Search Lab: Some people would say, duh, of course Flickr has some amazing images that you could use as lighting reference….but have you heard of a web app that searches through EVERY Creative Commons Flickr image for up to 10 colors that you pick and gives you a clean thumbnail list? Well, here it is. Excellent for really focusing in on certain color themes and how they affect photographic imagery.
(Hint: Unless you want a McDonald’s scheme, make your first color picks greyscale, about 4 of them, and the rest desaturated color picks.)
PBase - An excellent photo collection that runs in the millions of photos. Some real gems in there.
Google Image Search - The default first option when most artists are looking for image reference. It is useful though to go into the advanced settings which is next to the type in box: