Portrait Photography with Hard Light

Soft is the universal favorite when it comes to shooting studio portraits, because it’s so flattering. But hard light can be a pleasantly effective and interesting light source, too—provided you know how to use it. Daniel NortonĀ from Adorama, with ample help from his puppet, explains how to pull off some interesting keepers using hard light in a studio:

What is Hard Light?

Before we move forward, hard light is a small light source (relative to the subject) which can produce abrupt and sudden shadows.


Norton used a Sony A9 on a tripod, paired with a 24–70mm lens set to f/8. The 24–70mm allowed Norton to shoot full length and then zoom in for a tight crop when necessary.

hard studio lighting


For the first shot, Norton used a beauty dish placed at a considerable distance from the subject. When it comes to creating a hard light source, distance is an important factor, as distance makes the light source relatively smaller.

beauty dish portrait lighting

A beauty dish can limit the amount of light fall off. But in this case, the studio walls were painted white, which increases the chance of spilling. So, Norton used a grid to further limit light spill, which darkened the shadows.

For the second shot, Norton used a basic 7-inch reflector, which is standard with most strobes. He also used a black background behind the model to accentuate and focus on the shadows on her face.

portrait photography with hard light

The result is pretty revealing. It proves that although soft light is the choice when it comes to shooting studio portraits, hard light, too, can be an interesting light source.

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