Dramatic Storytelling | When To Use Hard Lighting

Understanding how different types of light affects your subject can be essential in creating a look that can help improve your skills as a cinematographer. Today, we will be discussing the characteristics of hard light, the differences between hard and soft light and best situations to utilize hard light in a scene.

The Basics of Hard Light

Hard light is a quality of light that produces hard shadows with crisp edges, revealing depth and texture on the illuminated subject. Contrary to soft light, which conceals depth and texture with soft edge shadows. Soft light is much better than hard light at wrapping around a talent’s face, but hard light is better at showing definition in your talents’ face or body. This characteristic is perfect for showcasing edgy features like a sharp jawline or muscular definition. More often than not, hard light is more commonly associated with male talent, but hard light can also be used with female talent to express feelings of mystery or intense facial features.

  Hard light

There aren’t specific hard and fast rules for using hard or soft light, feel free to be creative but keep in mind, hard light can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to illuminating your talent. So, keep in mind how your talent will look under your chosen lighting conditions with respect to wrinkles and blemishes. Hard light produces brighter highlights and darker shadows and will add contrast to your subject and scene. Because our eyes are drawn towards the brightest part of the frame, hard light is a great way to draw the viewers attention. With hard light creating more contrast and brighter highlights, making for more eye catching potential with crushed shadows making everything else less noticeable.

Hard light is essential for more creative lighting scenarios like using shadows, like in film noir with shadows of window blinds. The adaptation of this technique can be used for numerous different looks like the shadow of prison cell bars, trees branches, introducing mysterious or scary protagonist, like the example pictured above. For more volumetric lighting, like the example pictured below, hard lighting is the best way to achieve that look.