Hard Light - The Black Sheep

I'm back from shooting what I hope to be the last few shots for the next Lighting field guide. Overall it was a pretty good session. I just uploaded and went through what I shot Monday to confirm I had what I needed and a few thoughts crossed my mind to share before I get out to a job this morning.

The first thought has to do with the title of the post. Hard light seems to be the black sheep of the lighting family in terms of how many dispersions are cast upon it either directly or indirectly.

You never hear someone say - and look at that nice hard light. You hear nice soft light constantly. Everyone's proud of the golden haired child - nice soft light. In describing light used, light found, whatever it's alays "and there was this nice soft light. How many times has the advice been given over and over to avoid hard light. Sometimes it's even referred to as harsh light. Things are said that amount to "avoid that wild child of hard light - it makes everything look absolutely horrid"

I am here today to point out that hard light - the black sheep can be really nice to. It does some amazing things that soft light just cannot touch. Yes it can be a bit unforgiving if used carelessly. It's definitely not the kind of light that you just let it do it's thing unsupervised but oh when it's on the money it has moments of greatness and genius that will never ever be approached by that boring conformist nice soft light.

The shot at the top was obviously shot with extremely hard light. If you can ignore the photoshop composite trickery (about my limit) and the Adobe engineer's bug - that black line that's not actually in the PSD but seems to manifest itself only on resize the light looks pretty nice. Actually flattering. The photoshop trickery is limited to me pasting two other random images from the same session into picture frames to play with a concept that I have to do for another job = no messing around with the skin or anything else at all. Let's take a bit of a closer look at how this black sheep of the lighting family looks on skin and people's features a little closer…

If you open the above image in a new window you can see all of the pixels from a 100% crop. This is not pixel peeping - it's light peeping. Light peeping is okay. A couple of things to note. First is that this is an unmolested image that has VSCO 400H applied on import, cropped, converted to jpeg - done. I didn't touch the skin. No healing brush, no cloning, nada. The second thing to note is that I was shooting high ratio images - in other words, not much fill. You should see what hard light can do with a broad close ratio fill source.

Just for good measure, here's another one.

and another…

They all look kinda like this right out of the box and I wasn't even doing anything remotely close-up and optimizing for a tight head shot. Of course I was paying attention to lighting angle on facial features but makeup, and everything else here was optimized for full length shots. Just the mood I was in that day. I used my 50mm to shoot everything either full length vertical or horizontal. I may have made a few three quarters length shots to.

I say go have a great time with that wild and crazy muse hard light - paint the town red while the other photographers are safely tucked in to bed early with a normal boring suburban life and good ol' "nice soft light". To hell with "nice" give me that bad girl.

The other thing that I noted has nothing to do with light and everything to do with shooting digital. No matter how hard I try I over shoot when I am shooting with digital. Not in any sort of spray-and-pray type of way but more in a keep-shooting way way after I nailed what I wanted type of way. I cannot seem to stop this. Other photographers seem to confirm the same thing. With film I may have shot a few frames after I knew I had the shot in the can. With digital I just keep going and going somehow hoping it will get even better - it almost never does. I can see it clearly with every session. I see exactly where I had thought - okay this is it and then 100 more shots after that that may be just as good - not better, usually worse. When somethings not working I change it up. I am probably worse with the overshooting when things are working and then horrible when I actually nail what I wanted.

At this point I should move on and shoot something else - the problem with that overshooting after you nail your shot is the lost opportunity to shoot something completely different.

One last thing. The VSCO film pack give-away is officially over. I will be picking a random winner from the first months buyers of the Window Light field guide as soon as I get home this evening and hopefully announcing that winner tomorrow.


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