One important setting that can literally make or break the quality of a photo is lighting, and it’s one setting that is also very much under your control. The following video from Profoto provides great insight into the difference between soft light and hard light when shooting a portrait:
The comparison is done using the same model, the same background and pose, and only the light is different between the two shots. Even at a glance, the difference between the two shots is immediately obvious. Let’s see how the two differ.
First, the photo made using a soft light.
The main source of light was the Profoto 2′ x 3′ Off Camera Flash Softbox positioned above the model, while the B1 OCF Zoom Reflector was positioned behind her for a touch of rim light. Just below the scene the photographer placed a reflective surface to fill out any shadows that might have been left over in front of the chair.
The soft light results in a very uniformly lit image, filling in all the shadows and adding a pleasant ambient light around the subject.
Next, the photo taken using hard light.
The main source of light is no longer a softbox, but a light with a snoot and a 30 degree grid. This light source is much more directional than in the previous example. All the other settings remaining the same, the shots are totally different.
When you see the two photos side by side, you can see how the second shot gives off a more dramatic look and enhances the focus on all the textures.
Depending on the effect you want to achieve with a particular picture, you can orient yourself toward one type of light source or another. Which is your favorite?