5 Creative Ways to Use Hard Light in Your Portrait Photography

The light is the most important component of a good photo.  This always begs the question, “What makes good lighting?”  Generally, photographers say that good light is soft light.  That’s often true. Unfortunately, many photographers fall into the trap of thinking that the only good light is soft light.  Here are 5 creative ways to use hard light in your portrait photography.

1. Use the shadows cast by your subject to create a stand-alone portrait. This tip works especially well when photographing kids.  Since kids are shorter and lower to the ground, the shadow is shorter, which makes a more clear and definite shape.  To apply this tip in your photography, keep in mind that the time of day is especially important.  Shoot shadows two hours after sunrise or two hours before sunset.  At noon, the shadows are directly under the subject and at sunrise and sunset the shadows are not well-defined. Shooting two hours after sunrise or before sunset seems to be the optimal time for this type of shot.

2. Let the hard light pass through an object to create interesting lighting patterns on your subject.  Photographers call this a “gobo” because the technique involves an object that GOes Between the light and the subject. When using an interesting light pattern for a gobo, hard light is best because it will make a more clear and sharp outline of the pattern.

3. Use hard light to show off texture in a person’s skin.  The best way to show off texture in a photo is to use light that comes from the side, rather than straight on.  

4. Use hard light to cast heavy shadows, which will create an ominous and dramatic look to any photo.

5. Use hard light as a backlit rim light to make your subjects pop off the background.  This can easily be accomplished with a small strobe wirelessly triggered from behind the subject.  

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