How Photographers Can Use Hard Light for Beautiful Portraits

Screenshot image from the video by Adorama on hard light

In some of the previous video tutorials we shared, we were told that a soft light setup is the best for portrait work, especially if you’re working with female models. If you’re curious about how hard light can be used to make beautiful portraits, even for female models, this quick Adorama tutorial by Daniel Norton shows us how.

Hard light, as we’ve previously learned in these video tutorials by Robert Grant of LearnMyShot and Daniel Norton as well, produces a lot of shadows and a more pronounced contrast. This is good if you want to create a dramatic mood or intense atmosphere on your photos, but typically, portrait photographers prefer soft, diffused light. According to Daniel in the previous tutorial, you can actually use both lighting techniques for your portraits; just keep in mind to use soft light for female subjects and hard light for male subjects.

But, what if you want to experiment a little bit and work with hard light on a female model? Daniel actually demonstrated this in detail in his tutorial on proper lighting for men vs. women. But if you’d like to quickly see how to work with it, Daniel has recently made a fun video with Adorama demonstrating what you can do and how it looks.

Daniel begins by explaining what hard light is and why it’s called such. It’s basically a small light source that will cast abrupt shadows with hard edges on your subject, hence the name. To create his first example, he moved a beauty dish away from his subject to make the light source smaller and more concentrated, thus creating hard light. Next, we see how this lighting allows you to play with the shadows for poses, aside from the usual dramatic effect of shadows on the subject’s face.

If you want to learn more, do check out our in-depth tutorial on using hard light for photography.