Food photography is all about understanding and learning about the simple, yet complex concept of light. We learn early that light is the foundation to successful capture and engaging story telling. Capturing beautiful light really makes your heart beat a little faster and it really can inspire and motivate to capture more.
We have two types of light - Soft light and Hard light. Our soft light is what food photographers aim for as this diffused soft light allows total focus on the food itself and it creates dreamy, more gradual shadows. In this post I focus on hard light - the perfect light to create that summer feel in your imagery and to create some high contrast interest and focus points.
Regardless of your chosen preferences in the type of light or if you use natural or artificial - this is a post worth reading.
We are the light chasers,
creators of scenes of captivating light!
I love this exciting spring time when we start having some beautiful scenes of sunlight and we have a chance to create imagery with that perfect summer mood with late afternoon lunches and cocktails in the sun. And the best way of capturing that certain summer feel is with hard light.
I personally love hard light. Some call is harsh light and as a little site note - I don't like the word harsh when it comes to hard light. As "harsh" has a negative word association to it.
In my opinion hard light is positive thing as it can be manipulated in so many ways in our advantage.
This dramatic, illuminating light gives me amazing artistic opportunity to play with shadows and creating scenes with mood, intensity, atmosphere and all that WOW feel!
Hard light is a positive things - it creates depth, dimension and a strong story telling - it creates scenes of emotion and excitement. Hard light can also create a sense of calmness and zen ....
What is hard light ?
Hard light is when you will have a direct, undiffused light hitting your scene. This light will create crips razor sharp shadows, which are well defined. The light is very focused and shadows are clearly identified. While soft light would be the opposite, where the shadows are soft and the light seems to be wrapping around the scene.
As said - You can identify this high contrast light by its well defined, intense and graphical shadows where the transition from dark to light is immediate rather than soft and gradual like it is with soft diffused light. Hard light is created when you have a small intense light source and vice versus soft light is created when you have larger light source.
Larger light source will distribute the light evenly and widely in your scenes while smaller light source does the opposite.
When we work with natural light and want to create sharp shadows in our scene - we need direct sunlight. Sun being very far from us becomes a small intense light source creating those razor sharp shadows. All my images in this blog have been created by the nature's own hard light source - the sun.
Hard light can be created and manipulated to our favour. It can be diffused into soft light but you would not be able to manipulate soft light into hard light. So that said - think hard light as your new best friend.
The challenge hard light can present requires the understanding of the camera settings to balance the light coming into the scene and into your camera as well as your capabilities in post-production. I usually like to under expose the scene when using hard light so that I won't run into the risk of loosing detail in my image. You can use your "highlight clipping" indicator in Lightroom to show if there is loss of detail (indicated in red - #2). You can sometimes return this details by dropping your exposure or whites in post-production, but not if the original image was over exposed.
What emotion and mood will hard light achieve?
This intense directional light is perfect for capturing that relaxing summer outdoor food scenes and scenes with beach-y feel to them.
This graphic high contrast light is perfect match to shoot some colourful cocktails, especially if there is some interesting texture in the glassware. Try cocktails with hard light shining through the glassware and see the magic happening - the light will illuminate the colour of your liquid.
Hard light is known to create edgy and dramatic shadows which give your composition that additional WoW factor.
Scenes like this one delivers a message of warmth and relaxation, a late afternoon food scene shared with friends. Colour plays a big part creating that feel and emotion in my image. I have used an analogous colour harmony (greens, yellows, oranges) in my capture which delivers an organic, serene and balanced message. Do check out my sample e-book "Colour Theory in Food Photography" here .
How to use it right?
Hard light is a compositional element in your scene. The shadows hard light creates is part of your capture, so give them space, give them meaning and make them part of your story telling. Hard light is graphic and dimensional so when composing your scene is it important that you focus where and how the shadows land that you either give them space or they create guidance and a flow in the your scene.
In my images below the shadows have a purpose - Image #1 - the shadows create framing for the the dishes and they guide the viewer around the image into the hero dish.
Image #2 - the shadows create leading lines which guide the eye into the hero dish.
In both images the shadows create interesting compositional elements.
I truly hope you found this post useful. Do leave a comment to tell me what other aspects of food photography you would be interested in. I would love to write about it!
I would love to see your hard light captures with summer vibes. Do follow me in Instagram @delicously_captured and use #deliciouslycreativehardlight to share your hard light captures! Have a fabulous week!
Create a scene that baths in light and emotion, a scene that makes your heart sign. Capture a perfect moment that captivates and invites your audience in. Share that with me in IG #deliciouslycreativehardlight