Hard Light From a Softbox: Creating Compelling Portraits with Daniel Norton

Photographers love soft light and the “wrap around” quality that large modifiers can deliver. We contemplate the large parabolic softbox we need to purchase or the huge umbrella that will help us make window light anywhere. For impactful portraits that are just as compelling maybe it’s time you took a look at hard lighting.

So often big and beautiful lighting is the name of the game in portrait photography, but I believe you’re missing out on some of the most dramatic and intense portraits if you don’t use hard lighting in your work. Coming to you from Daniel Norton is a very quick and easy run down of a small softbox delivering soft and hard lighting in the studio. As Norton gives us his walk through you’ll notice how controlling the lighting with a simple small softbox can allow for a very contrasty image. The five to one lighting ratio leaves some mystery to garner more interest with a sliver of lighting going across the backdrop.

In follow up to the initial lighting set up we can see the reason to control even a hard light source from impacting the rest of the scene. Using modifiers, Gobos, and feathering the angle of your lighting can allow you to create dramatic and interesting portraiture with even the most simple and smallest modifiers. Norton states this as much when describing the use of the Profoto B1X 500 AirTTL light and the Profoto RFi 1x1.3' Softbox together and explaining that using a soft box can keep your lighting more directional especially when trying to keep the light from spilling on the background. 

Have you been working with hard light in your portrait work or do you prefer to go to a large modifier? If you haven't been, are you going to give hard lighting another go after watching Norton’s video breakdown?

JT Blenker's picture

JT Blenker, Cr. Photog., CPP is a Photographic Craftsman and Certified Professional Photographer who also teaches workshops throughout the USA focusing on landscape, nightscape, and portraiture. He is the Director of Communications at the Dallas PPA and is continuing his education currently in the pursuit of a Master Photographer degree.

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I'm at a loss as to why anyone would use a SOFTbox for HARD lighting. Just pull the softbox off, you may be surprised at what you see...

it's more about hard contrast than hard light or do I miss the point?

I usually don’t care much about looks but this guy probably has one of the worst hair styles i have very seen. I find it really distracting and almost painful to look at him :)

eventually you get over stuff... it's just a part of life. haha... i take it you've never sat in a daily scrum with a dude who's arm pit stains were the same diameter as a grape-fruit's. which btw would even be slightly better if it was closer to miller time, but scrums (as everybody knows) are usually mornings. by 3 pm his cheese wiz sweat would be on over drive and nobody in the office is accepting chat invites or email's during that time- fuck that. hahaha... one of these fuck tards literally dripped pizza sauce on his "work shirt" and just manned thru it. seriously, that ish really happened. i really thought he was going to just go "fuck it, i'm going chuck norris" and just start licking it off with his mouth or something... shit, i once had a dude sitting next to me on flight back home (sea --> lax) somewhere in the age range of 108, and he was a talker- seriously, he wanted to talk (to this day i recall our conversation). he also took a nap and snot was leaking out of his nose. like, a lot... haha. and if you've taken an uber in la recently, you've probably come across a few drivers where the smell of their cologne gags you only slightly less than their horrid breath and completely unsolicited thoughts on anything- absolutely nothing. haha... i think puffy said it best tho, "i could go on and on and on..." #gowarriors

Then you should see my hair style. It's a downright mess.