Soft Light Versus Hard Light for Portraiture

Lighting dictates an enormous amount about your final image, from mood and feel, to exposure and color. However, whether the light is hard or soft can also make a significant difference, and knowing when to use each is crucial. In this video, learn different lighting setups for each and the benefits of them.

When it comes to lighting any scene — but particularly portraits — there are some considerations. One of the biggest elements to decide is what sort of light you want to hit your subject. I used to gravitate towards soft light because I saw it as more flattering and the images tended to be more pleasing. However, over the years, I realized that soft light was selling my ideas short at times.

Hard light is difficult to get right, far more difficult than its softer variant, in my experience. To get the punchy, high-contrast results that hard light offers is relatively easy, but for them to work within the scene and to look pleasing is trickier. I often opt for harder light when I was a moodier scene, which is counter-intuitive in a way; blasting harsher light at your subject for an image with more shadows that are more pronounced. The key element to remember is that you want to control where the light falls and what any supplementary lights are doing in the scene.

How do you decide when to use soft light over hard, and vice versa?

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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