Embracing Hard Light

Embracing Hard Light

Soft, shadowless light has become the general direction that a lot of portrait photographers take, attaching fast lenses to their cameras, opening up the aperture as wide as their lenses will go, in order to blur everything behind the subject and I have been just as guilty of this technique myself.

I recently I watched Damien Lovegrove’s Lumen video that makes use of Godox Equipment and in particular, hard light. What really grabbed my attention apart from his images, was the limited amount of gear he used to produce images with so much impact, which got me thinking about embracing hard light, rather than steering clear of it.

I have been using Godox equipment with various softboxes and umbrellas for location shoots for just over three years now and although I am far from being a master of lighting, I am always looking to develop new skills and ideas in relation to lighting.

This weekend I decided to experiment with the Godox kit that I have and see what I could produce using hard light instead of using the light modifiers I normally use, so kindly Fran agreed to leaving her camera in her bag, so that I could experiment with hard light on her and stand around whilst I moved a light stand from one location to the next.

Godox AD200 with 5″ reflector

For much of the Lumen video, Damien uses 2 lights and two light stands, he does use a few lighting modifiers, but for the majority of the shoots that he walks through, he is using either 5” or 7” reflectors, so his kit is minimal. Apart from uniqueness of the hard-light images Damien produces, what really appeals to me is the simplicity and the reduction of the amount equipment he uses. Lighting modifier’s all have to be packed and carried to locations, so the idea of creating more edgy images with limited kit, is really appealing for numerous reasons. I also thought that learning to make use of hard light will also enable me to offer something different from my current equine work.

I am used to scouting out interesting backgrounds for horse portraits where I can make use of a shallow depth of field, but I decided to set myself a challenge, not to blur out backgrounds, so from the outset I would doing something different.
Damien takes no longer than 10 minuets for the placement of his lights to create dramatic location portraits, which is down to a combination of his experience, knowledge and skills, but also his creativeness as a very talented photographer. However, it took me a little longer, “but hey, we all have to start somewhere in terms of learning”.

I think the first thing I experienced and learned is that the placement of your lighting with hard light is more critical than when I have used larger modifier’s and made use softer light.
As I was not intending to blur the backgrounds, I thought I would try using different focal lengths and apertures to my normal 135mm to 200mm at f/2 to f/2.8, so the next thing I started noticing were textures and shadows, which I had up until experimenting with hard light overlooked.

There are numerous resources on the web that talk about soft and hard light, but when you start exploring and playing with soft and hard light, you start noticing many differences that you may have overlooked or even be aware of. By exploring and embracing the differences of hard and soft light, it is enabling me to further develop a better understanding of light and how it can be applied to create different types and styles of images. Playing with hard-light is rewarding and enjoyable no matter how many mistakes I make and I intend to keep practicing and learning.

Personally I think the Lumen video by Damien Lovegrove and his team provides more than just a look at how he creates images using hard light, it gets you to think about trying and doing things differently with light, and that’s what good education should do, inspire you to learn and try new things.

You can find out more about Damien Lovegrove and his training videos via the link below.

Training Videos

Understanding Light Falloff

Understanding Light Falloff

If you read my blogs it won’t come as a surprise that I’m particularly interested in off-camera flash, especially for lifestyle portraits.

I have been experimenting with Speedlight’s over the last few years, which has dramatically improved my photography and my understanding of light and lighting, but I am far from being an expert and continue to hit hurdles in relation to lighting. Understanding light, natural or artificial is integral to photography and can make a huge impact on an image.

Many aspects of photography take time to learn and improve and in my opinion, lighting is perhaps the most challenging to master. However, by practicing, one gains experience and you are the able to start to learn what you did not know.

The importance of understanding light falloff can have immense practical implications for photographers, but when you start out on your flash lighting journey, Inverse Square Law examples (Distance = 2. Inverse = 1/2. Squared = 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/4) for me was more of hindrance than a learning point and I just did not understand what I was reading.

In this article I will be sharing the important principle of light – Light fall-off, in a visual way that I hope will make the basic principles of Inverse Square Law easier to grasp.

One of the best ways to begin to understand Inverse Square Law and how it works is to take some images with your flash against a wall. The two images below were taken with a Godox TT350 flash, zoom head set at 24mm and the same TT350 flash, with the zoom head set at 105mm. You can see clearly the difference in both light falloff and spread (angle of the light)



Whenever we use a light source to illuminate an object, that object is being hit with multiple “rays” of light. Some of those rays are hitting the object in the place which is nearest to the light source, and some of the rays are hitting the subject where is furthest from the light source.

The light that falls on the closer side to the light source will be brighter then the light hitting the furthest side. This is because the light will scatter more when it makes its long journey to the far side. (This is not true for focused beams and laser, but this thumb rule can be applied to most studio lights and strobes).

In portraiture, when you are taking a portrait using only a key light (i.e. a single light). Your subject will be more lit where the light is close and darker where the light is far.

Example Of Godox AD200 Bare Bulb with Normal & Wide Reflector



What Effects Light Falloff?

The distance of light from the subject
the closest the light source is to the subject, the stronger light falloff you’ll get.

The Size Of Light:
The larger the light source the more diffused the light it produces and the less light falloff you will experience. For example, a large softbox will produce less light falloff then a small softbox; a bare flash will produce more light falloff then a flash shot through an umbrella.

The further one takes the light source from the object being lit, the less light fall of one can expect.

How far should you place the light source? That depends on your lighting vision, but here are some considerations:

The furthest the light the less light falloff and less drama.

If you increase the distance of the light source from your subject the light is getting “smaller” and harsher. The effect will be more noticeable if you are using a smaller softbox.

Experiment with the light falloff, you’ll be surprised how effective and useful it can be in photography.

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