Learning to Embrace Hard Light

Learning to Embrace Hard Light

Early in my photographic career, I was really into hard light in my photos, but at a point, I started opting for really soft, diffused light, that is until recently. I’ve recently revisited using hard light, and here’s how it has shifted my photography.

Like many other photographers, I know hard light can be intimidating. This is why I chose to work with it early on, as a sort of challenge to myself. At a certain point of being comfortable with it, I opted to go in a softer direction, but like anything else, when you do it for long enough, I began getting comfortable. I started being more comfortable with softer light as opposed to hard. And as a photographer, I never want to be comfortable in a way that limits me, so it was time for a new challenge, revisiting hard light in a way that was different from my earlier work, creating a distinct look that also got my gears turning.

I started using the hard light more as an accent, creating low-angled, long prominent shadows. This just so happens to follow the apparent trend of more direct-flash and harder, more directional light. So, in all fairness, there is an element of strategic positioning involved there as well.

A lot of my more recent work has been created featuring a hard backlight, emulating the sun at golden hour, with a soft key on the face at a slightly lower power level to lift up the otherwise deep shadows. This is also contrasted with a more direct-style flash, following the look of advertising work of a similar aesthetic. Sometimes this is achieved by handholding a strobe or high-powered speedlight just above the camera. I usually opt for this method as opposed to direct on-camera flash as I like having more control of the light position and shadow angle. If you were to replicate such a look, I would recommend having an assistant you work well with to handhold the light, as manning the two can be a bit of a balancing act. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done if you want to be more run-and-gun, or one-man-band the whole thing, but if you want less chaos, an assistant may be in your best interest.

I’ve started doing this both with photo and video (for both techniques of utilizing hard light), although for video, it can be trickier as you usually have to have a bright LED to do so, and if you’re run-and-gunning, it can be difficult as batteries don’t last as long and the lights can be bigger/heavier if you’re looking for a lot of light output or battery power. That is not to say it can’t be done, it absolutely can, but there are a couple more creative challenges that come along with it.

I think it can be easy to fall into one way of lighting and let that dictate your “style.” That said, I also feel it's important to experiment and see what works for you, and it can be a great way to continue to develop your style. I wanted to give aspects of my work a sort of refresh, and doing this was a great way to do just that. Perhaps this can be a spark for you to try changing up your lighting in certain ways. Try using gels, hard, soft light, a mix of all of the above, or something altogether different. The world of light can be as simple or complex as you want to make it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go back to my old way of lighting when the shot calls for it, but embracing different techniques gives you more in your toolkit to create the type of image you’re looking for. And if you’ve been afraid of embracing hard light, let this be your sign to give it a chance, maybe, just maybe, you’ll get inspired.

Log in or register to post comments
1 Comment

Yep, it's my preferred lighting.