How Hard Light Can Be Just as Good as Soft Light for Portraits

Creating standout portraits hinges on understanding and controlling light. This excellent video tutorial illuminates how to balance bright sunlight with off-camera flash to sculpt dimension and mood and shows that hard light can be just as compelling as soft light.

Shooting on location, Jiggie Alejandrino positions his model where the overhead sun creates deep contrasts, but her face falls into shadow. By adding a single speedlight aimed directly at her, he replicates the sun’s hard quality to reveal her features while maintaining the quality of the ambient light.

He adjusts his light’s intensity to match the sun, letting the natural light work its magic. A variable ND filter allows him to overpower the sunlight with wide apertures for that signature faded background. Alejandrino explains matching the quality of added light to ambient light maintains a seamless look. The sun’s direction informs everything from positioning to his vertical framing, and as it progresses through the sky, it necessitates constantly re-evaluating the frame.

Hard light should be embraced as another tool, not avoided. Direct sun can transform subjects with striking dimensionality. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Alejandrino.

If you would like to continue learning about how to light a portrait, be sure to check out "Illuminating The Face: Lighting for Headshots and Portraits With Peter Hurley!"

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

Log in or register to post comments