Hard Light Photography
Hard light photography can be defined as any photography where the light source is either very small, very far away or not diffused. Direct sunlight and flash without diffusion would both be examples of hard light photography.
The lines of shadow define the depth and modelling and the shadows cast by the vase itself add interesting repetition
Many photographers work with the assumption that there is only one good type of light and that is is soft diffuse light. The type of light that smooths out flaws and softens shadows. The ideal is usually considered to be daylight at around dawn.
Photographers are often brainwashed into seeing hard shadows as the enemy, something to be banished at all costs. Interesting that this is a point of view that is rarely questioned. The photographer should embrace shadows and this is especially true of any with minimalist tendencies as shadows always simplify, a shadow partially covering an object defines that objects solidity. Imagine this lamp without the hard stripes of shadow caused by the hard midday sun – the soft roundness would not jump out.
The alternating shadow and light really defines the form of the lamp
Minimalism can be seen as a form of reductionism and hard light and dark shadows cause a lot of the information in a scene to be lost but it is the information that can most afford to be lost. It could be argued that the best photographers are minimalists by default. One of the first thing that a photographer learns to do is to discard information. Someone with no background in photography notices a potentially interesting object and takes a picture. A more experienced photographer will think about how he or she can make the final image as uncluttered and as mentally focused as possible. The photographer is wedded to reductionism whether they like it or not. Photography 101 type books and courses teaches this need to reduce alongside the need to preserve every detail. Confusing.
The sun coming through our kitchen blinds and casting interesting shadows on the drawers
The cynic in me knows that there is a lot more money to be made from selling the soft lighting ideal than there ever will be in the hard light idea. If you just picked up a camera and fired off a shot it is a fair bet that the lighting would be hard, that is is the default and therefore free. artificial light and sunlight (other than dawn or dusk) are hard light sources. They need modifying to be turned into soft light sources and this costs money – often a lot of money.
Setting up a hard light photography project in a studio is also ridiculously cheap, a few construction lamps and stands and you are good to go – under $50 last time that I did it. If you did this the photographic industry would not benefit. This includes the blogger who gets his four percent from Amazon for touting a photography book or a camera that he has just ‘reviewed’ to the big names who release shiny content-free books that claim to allow the beginner to take the same type of photographs as the expert but that can be read and absorbed in the time it takes to drink a coffee. Remember that these writers are not detached observers above the fray, they have skin in the soft light game.
This is also true of the stupidly expensive lens and camera body game but that is the subject for another day where I will look at alternatives to $1,000 lenses – hint: software and ISO settings.
An imperfect glass globe in a window alcove. The light and shadow defines both object and flat surfaces
If you are serious about photography, see all lighting conditions as a potentially good and appreciate hard light photography for its ability to reduce visual clutter and add impact to an image.