97 — How to photograph with hard light

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast #97 is a primer on how to use hard light. Hard light is trick­ier to use than soft light but there is NO rea­son to avoid using it. It just needs to be used appro­pri­ately. Part of using hard light and shadow in pho­tog­ra­phy is being very aware of where the shad­ows will fall and chang­ing your posi­tion or your light­ing if you don’t like where they fall.

Here’s a cou­ple of basic points when using hard light in photography:

- Hard light comes from a small light source rel­a­tive to your sub­ject. The sun IS a small light source in this respect because it is 93 mil­lion miles away from the earth.
- Hard light pro­duces hard shad­ows which are good in many cases espe­cially to reveal form.
- The far­ther the light source is from the sub­ject, the HARDER the shad­ows.
- The far­ther away the light source is from the sub­ject, the SHORTER the shadows.

To prove this to your­self take a flash­light into the bath­room and shut off the lights. Shine the light on your fin­ger in front of the wall. Move the light around and you will learn a ton about shadows.

Hard light demo

Hard light demo — The image at left shows a shadow from direct hard sun­light. Moments later some very light clouds dif­fuse the sun­light to cre­ate a softer shadow at right. Had the sky been com­pletely over­cast (very soft light) almost no shad­ows would be present and this image would lose its punch and be totally bor­ing. © Marko Kulik

Image by BzdegaPhotography

Image by Bzde­gaPho­tog­ra­phy — The hard light totally works in this image despite the flare.

Carmy Working

Carmy Work­ing by Marko Kulik — One hard light at cam­era left cre­ates a shadow that adds to the gritty flavour of the shot

Their Objects by Marko Kulik

Their Objects by Marko Kulik — Can­dle light is hard light. This shot took quite a while to set up due to think­ing about where the shad­ows would fall.

Judy Garland by George Hurrell - 1944

Judy Gar­land by George Hur­rell — 1944. This strik­ing por­trait was shot 67 years ago by light­ing mas­ter George Hur­rell. The very dark shad­ows attest to the hard light used here.

Links /resources men­tioned in this pod­cast:
June’s reg­u­lar assign­ment on the Photography.ca forum — Break­ing the rules
June’s level 2 assign­ment on the Photography.ca forum — Cre­ative self portraits

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Thanks to forum mem­bers North­Stone, Wicked Dark, Howard J,  KawarthaBob and Jonny Hot­shoe who posted  blog com­ments about our last pod­cast. Thanks as always to every­one that sent com­ments by email about our last pod­cast. Although ALL com­ments are appre­ci­ated, com­ment­ing directly in this blog is pre­ferred. Thanks as well to all the new mem­bers of the bul­letin board. Most of the links to actual the prod­ucts are affil­i­ate links that help sup­port this site. Thanks in advance if you pur­chase through those links.

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You can down­load this pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast directly by click­ing the pre­ced­ing link or lis­ten to it almost imme­di­ately with the embed­ded player below.

Thanks for lis­ten­ing and keep on shooting!


  1. Heather B says:

    Wow I am just get­ting around to read­ing this, thanks so much for adding one of my photo’s I’m honored!

  2. Brendan says:

    Hey Marko, i finally got around to lis­ten­ing to the lat­est pod­cast this evening. I found it fas­ci­nat­ing and help­ful. It inspired me to turn on the cam­era and flash to give it a go!
    While I am sure I have used hard light in the past I took the a shot know­ing what it was called! Thanks for all the inspi­ra­tion and education…

  3. scorpio_e says:

    Fan­tas­tic pod­cast Marko. I too was afraid of hard light but I have found it can be very dra­matic. As always thanks for all of your efforts in cre­at­ing a super pod­cast with strong content.

  4. Jimmy says:

    I learnt quite a bit from this pod­cast thanks for putting it together.

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