Studio lighting: harder light = dramatic light
When I first started exploring bounce flash, and then off-camera flash and then progressing towards studio photography, my tendency was also instinctively towards softer light. A large light source gives you softer light, which is also more forgiving in terms of how you position your subject and yourself in relation to the light. A large light source is easy to work with because it creates softer light that easily wraps around your subject.
Soft light is flattering. But it soon became obvious that I was missing out on that dramatic element that attracted me to other images, and what I saw in movies. While soft light is flattering, it tends not to give dramatic results. (Of course, this depends on how you position your light.)
Working with video light in photography, I quickly got to love the light fall-off and the way that you only light a specific part of your subject, instead of just flooding your subject with light.
Working with just a speedlight in bright sunlight, we mostly have to get used to working with a harder / smaller light source … and make it look good! As an example, here is the photo of Molly K, our model during a personal photography workshop in New York, where we worked with direct off-camera flash.
In the studio as well, selectively lighting part of your subject, or just using a smaller harder light source as a single light, gives you more opportunity for different looks than just using one large light source. In photographing Anelisa recently for the promotional video clip for my studio, I used smaller light sources for several of the setups. This image above then, is from one of those setups. Here I used the Profoto 50 degree Magnum Reflector (affiliate) to concentrate the light, but still give a wide enough beam.
There are multiple edges to the shadows. The monolight itself will give the harder shadow, while the reflector’s sides will create the secondary softer shadows. I like it.
Here is the pull-back shot to show where the light was placed, and to see the spread of light.
Just for comparison, the available light shot which is a screengrab from the video. But by completely pulling the ambient exposure down with the settings chosen for the studio flash, the ambient light doesn’t register at all … and all that is left is the dramatic lighting.
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this shoot
- 1/200 @ f/8 @ 100 ISO
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR / Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS
- Profoto 50 degree Magnum Reflector
- Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws studio light
- Video clip: Photo session in the studio
- Anelisa – studio photo session
- Lingerie photo session in the studio – model: Olena
- Lingerie photo session: video light & studio flash – model: Olena
- Lingerie photo shoot in the studio – model: Carly Erin
3 Comments, Add Your Own
Thanks for sharing. I have always been drawn to dramatic lighting in images including my own. However, while learning as a new beginner, I got the impression that the shadowing was just an image with poor lighting. I was not confident or experienced enough to ignore all of the “pro’s” and follow my own instincts. I believe this has inhibited me from really settling in on my own “style”. My goal for this year is to look at less images of other and just post with my gut my images that simply speak to me. Afterall, rules are meant to be broken.
Thanks for sharing your thought process behind your images. It gives more of us rule breakers the ok to take more risks.
A most interesting article. As always you are informative and easy to understand
great photos. Might be worth mentioning that in order to use hard light, you really do need a model with good skin and good bone structure. You can create really dramatic lighting with hard light but if your model isn’t right, it will make them look really bad.