I finally gave it a go. Hard Light photography! WOW! I love this style. Not so long ago I wasn’t a fan of photos taken in hard light. “Why are they shooting in such harsh light” was what I was saying as I scrolled over a hard light photo on Pinterest. Fast forward three years later and I’m in love with this style! 

"The shadows created from undiffused light have very harsh edges and a lot more contrast.""

I loved it so much I thought I’d share my insights into Hard Light Photography.  I’ve binged tutorials, read up on shadows, observed the sun as it passes over. Now I’m sharing with you some information to help you better understand what Hard Light Photography is, and how and why you should explore it.

Hard Light vs Soft Light

To understand Hard Light we need to know what is meant with Soft Light and Hard Light. Often in food and still life photography we work with Soft Light, which is light that is passed through at least one layer of diffusion material. The light goes through that layer of material, and is then dispersed creating dreamy soft shadows that we often see in food & still life photography.


TIP: I use a diffuser that I’ve purchased, but you could use for example, sheer curtains.


What is Hard light?

Hard Light is undiffused light that is coming directly from the light source —the sun or artificial lighting. The shadows created from undiffused light have very harsh edges and a lot more contrast.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II :: 50mm 1.8 :: ƒ/4 :: 1/640s :: ISO 100
Canon EOS 6D Mark II :: 50mm 1.8 :: ƒ/4 :: 1/640s :: ISO 100

Understanding shadows

The CLOSER your subject is to your light source the BIGGER the shadow. This because the object is blocking more of the light. The opposite is true when your subject is FURTHER away from your light source, this because your subject is blocking less light.
When it comes to direction there are two things that will make a difference to your shadows. One is the height of your light source, and the other is the angle. The shadows will always face into the exact opposite direction of your light source. So as you move your light source left to right, or backwards to forwards, your shadows will move in the opposite direction. The higher your light source is the shorter your shadow will be. A lower light source will create longer shadows. Shooting with the sun as your light source? Then keep this in mind when choosing the time of day you will be shooting.
Shooting at mid day when the sun is at its highest you’re going to get very short shadows. If you want longer shadows, you’ll need to shoot in the early to mid morning, or evening.
Canon EOS 6D Mark II :: 50mm 1.8 :: ƒ/4 :: 1/640s :: ISO 100
Canon EOS 6D Mark II :: 50mm 1.8 :: ƒ/4 :: 1/640s :: ISO 100


A GOBO is a go between. This is something you can place near your scene that will cast shadows. I’ve used some palm leaves from a plant of ours, as well as some artificial plant leaves. The stripes you see are from our terrace railing You can get really interesting shadows using a GOBO.
I also tried out some water reflections for fun. My container wasn’t large enough to give me the look I wanted (I used a glass lasagna pan). This technique is something I am going to work on because WOW! It looks so cool, and oozes out SUMMER VIBES!



Canon EOS 6D Mark II :: 50mm 1.8 :: ƒ/4 :: 1/640s :: ISO 100

Natural, or artificial lighting. Size matters.

Natural light —using the sun as your light source

Using the sun as your light source can be tricky, but it’s absolutely gorgeous in my opinion. When using the sun as your light source you’ll need to move yourself, and your subject in order to get your shadows pointing in the direction you want. If you have an idea in your head and the shadows are intentional, then time is literally of the essence, if you’re not quick enough the shadow direction will change, and you’ll have to move things around again. 

Artificial light

If you’re working with artificial light you can simply move your light source up or down, backwards or forwards until you’ve created the shadow length and direction you like. 


Having Hard Light photography in your profile can show potential clients that you can stand out from other food photographers. The side lit, still life style is my favorite, but almost everyone is doing it. Adding a bit of variety to your portfolio is sure to spice things up, and help you stand out amongst the amazing photographers in the food & still life branch.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II :: 50mm 1.8 :: ƒ2.8 :: 1/1000s :: ISO 100

This for me was a fun project, and something I would like to do more often. It really took me out of my comfort zone but I loved it! 


Have you given it a try yet? Yes? Then tell me and the others reading what your experience was like in the comments below. 

Thanks for stopping by, see below the links to the free stock photos and video from this shoot.




This photo won third place on PEXELS!

I entered the Pexels Heroes ‘Your Style’ contest and won third place. Is this my style? Not only but it is something I would very much like to shoot more of!

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