Creativity Exercise: Hard Light

Light is the core of photography, as without it we wouldn't be able to make photographs! Once we become aware of the different types of light, we start seeing the light everywhere, and many people (myself included!) become obsessed with it. As photographers, we get to choose what sort of light to shoot in and we may develop a preference for shooting in a particular type. But life happens in all types of light at all times of day, so it is important to be adaptable and prepared to work in any lighting situation. 


This week we're going to focus on and work with Hard Light. Hard light is found where the light is direct, undiffused, and is not bouncing or being scattered by objects or conditions. It is characteristic of very dark shadows with a sharp edge. It is often associated with being very high contrast lighting (the difference between the brightest bright and the darkest dark in the image). 


Examples of hard light sources are the sun on a cloudless day, a lightbulb without a shade, a spotlight, overhead fluorescent lights or a direct flash. Hard light is light without diffusion. It comes from a small light source that is far away from the subject. Think of the beach on a sunny day with no clouds in the sky at midday, or a spotlight on a musician up on stage. 

Not to confuse things, but you can have darker images with lots of shadows that are created with soft light. If you have a gradient of light going into the shadow that would be soft light, but if you have an abrupt stop from light to dark than you have hard light. If you're struggling to tell which light you're in, try converting your image to black and white and look at the shadow edges. 

A few things to keep in mind:

  • The smaller and further away the light source is from the subject, the harder the light will be.
  • Hard lighting is generally high off the ground. 
  • It can be great at accentuating certain aspects of an image (colour, an object, a body part), but it can be unflattering to the skin as it can highlight and accentuate blemishes and wrinkles.
  • Watch out for hot spots. 
  • It can be indoors or out. 
  • It can add a bit of an edgy look to your subject. 
  • You will focus more on what is in colour and well lit as opposed to the shadows.  

As always, have fun with it and get creative! We'd love to see the images you make, so be sure to tag #unscriptedmentoring on Instagram.

- Jenny

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