Using Hard Light for Portrait Photography

By the request of a photographer seeking tips on how to do portrait photography with only hard lighting due to lack of equipment, this video gives tips and tricks for using basic hard lighting for portrait photography, with and without modifiers and reflectors.  Outlined are the benefits of each form of lighting and accessory. Mark Wallace tells us when to avoid shadows, and when to use them to our advantage. At the end of the segment, we see how to use shadows to create depth and contrast in black and white photography. The results are stunning!

First, Mark uses two Pro Photo D1’s to light his studio area. He explains that most people immediately take the reflector off when they first get these strobe lights, to replace with a soft box. Instead he takes the reflector off and creates a very basic, hard light with no modifiers. He places one light directly in front of his model and the other off to the side behind to light the background. This does create shadows, and he explains that he moves the model and the camera and also sometimes moves the key light (the light in front) to avoid these shadows. However, he recommends moving the key light in such a way as to move the shadow completely off of the background and out of the shot instead of moving it directly behind the model to hide it.

hard light options

With hard light, you’re still going to have facial shadows, but Mark says,

“Shadows are not something that you have to avoid altogether, shadows can be pretty awesome!”

Next, he uses a reflector to restrict the light and create a sort of vignette effect on the scene behind the subject. This eliminates the unsightly background off of the shot that may show up with other forms of lighting.

hard light using shadows

“One of the benefits of using hard light, you can use these shadows to eliminate things you don’t want in the photos.”

After this, he adds another modifier, a reflector behind the subject to fill light because his model’s hair was disappearing into shadow. This effect highlights her hair so that her head does not blend into the background.

hard lighting use of reflectors

Finally, he shows us how you can use shadows to your advantage for black and white photography. Shadows create depth and contrast when shooting in monochrome, so you want more of them.

black and white photography with hard lighting

This video is very educating, especially if you’re just getting started with studio lighting and are short on equipment.

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One response to “Using Hard Light for Portrait Photography”

  1. Ryan says:

    Thanks. needed this info for school work. :)

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