Hard and soft lighting are opposite styles which can be used to give an image a different feel. The type and degree of the effect is dependent on a number of factors including the type of light modifier used and the distance between the key light source and the subject.
Hard and soft lighting conditions exist naturally in addition to the studio. An example of natural hard light would be a sunny day with clear skies. The greater the distance the harder the light will become. The sun is very far away and without any cloud cover it will shine directly onto the subject. The intensity of the light can clearly be seen by the definition and density in the shadows and the contrast. If it was an overcast day the clouds could act as a diffuser, scattering the light and making softer shadows.
Equally this can be re-created in the studio. Both hard and soft lighting can be produced by changing the distance between the key light source and the subject or using light modifiers. The further away the light the smaller it becomes and the beam will tighten up delivering harsher direct illumination. Conversely, by moving the light closer the illumination will spread, feathering into the shadows, reducing the contrast and smoothing the surfaces.
The style of lighting that is chosen will greatly influence the mood and personality of the shot. Hard lighting can come across as aggressive, confrontational and hostile whilst soft lighting is more typical of gentle, soothing and placid.
Vinnie Jones often played the quintessential hard man, a former professional football player it was a reputation he gained from his style of play. He now works as a Hollywood actor playing roles that cast him as an aggressive and often violent character. The portrait above by professional photographer Dave Willis has deep strong shadows and contrast; the use of hard light naturally lends its self to Vinnie Jones public image as a callous and brutal man. Jones Vinnie (nd) From the image I believe that his key light is in line with the camera and above. It appears very directional and controlled and I would suspect the use of a snoot or small open reflector as a modifier. Additional lighting would have been used to fill in the other areas and the background. Hard light lends itself well to Black and White images, the strong contrasts and long shadows work very well in monotone imagery.
Danny Dyer is an English born actor whose roles have become synonymous of the east London gangster. Dyer has also starred in movies where he has played a hooligan so his public profile reflects this. Hard lighting in his portraits such as the one here will help to perpetuate that image. Although in this portrait there is much less shadow the lighting is unsympathetic, Dyer features are sharp and defined leaving the image abrasive and uncompromising. I would suspect the key light to have been placed above the actor and at around 30° to the camera’s right side. A large reflective umbrella would have provided a large amount of illumination and may have negated the need for additional lighting on the subject with extra lights used to light the backdrop.
Soft light is often used for female portraits and youngsters. The soft gentle effect can represent incorruptibility and purity. Before Miley Cyrus took a ‘wrecking ball’ to her public image she presented the world with an unsullied innocence and incorruptibility. The above image was taken for a 2013 cover of Harpers Bazaar and this was made using a soft light that embodied her virtuous image.
Miley Cyrus Harpers Bazaar lighting set up.
Although the image would have been corrected in Photoshop the shadows are very soft and almost non existent. The lighting would have removed almost any visible skin imperfections before editing and I imagine it would have been taken using 2 large Soft Boxes at around the same height but 30° each side of the camera. This should have ensured an even light covering all the subject.