Hard Light Food Photography Tips

Hard lighting in food photography can come in quite handy when you want a graphic look. Professional food photographer, Joanie Simon shares some tips for working with hard light for food photography:

Hard light typically creates shadows that have a transition from light to dark in an immediate fashion. Hard light creates shadows that have hard lines with less gradient. On the other hand, soft light creates shadows that gradually transition from light to dark. The lines are soft, and the gradient is larger.

hard vs soft light in food photography

The size of the light source is the greatest factor that determines whether the light coming from it is hard or soft. Typically, larger light sources produce soft light, and smaller light sources produce hard light. Therefore, if you’re looking to create an image with hard shadows, go for a smaller light source.

Hard Lighting with Natural Light

We have only one natural light source, and it’s gigantic. However, it’s so far away that it appears and behaves like a small yet powerful light source. Therefore, when you place the food to be photographed in direct sunlight, you’ll notice the formation of hard shadows.

food photo with hard light from sun

Hard light from direct sun

However, keep in mind that if the sunlight isn’t hitting your food directly, you’ll still end up with soft shadows. The same is true for a cloudy day. The layer of clouds will act as a diffuser and soften the light.

food photo with soft light from indirect sun

Soft light from indirect sun

“If you’re trying to achieve the hard light look with natural light, you want to make sure that your subject, your scene is in direct line of sight of the sun.”

Hard Lighting with Artificial Light

The principles are the same when working with artificial light. You want to use small light sources with small modifiers when going for a hard light look. If you feel that using diffusers on your small light source is producing softer shadows, you can shoot bare-bulb.

soft shadows in food photography

Although the light source was small, shadows are a bit soft as a diffuser was used.

hard light food photo using a bare bulb flash

Using a bare bulb flash to create hard light

If you always use soft light in your food photography projects, how about giving hard lighting a try? This will take you a step out of your comfort zone and give you an opportunity to study your subjects and light differently.

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