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“Photography is 50% photographer, 40% light, and 10% equipment.”

Let’s look at that 40%, shall we?To keep it simple, we’ll say there are two kinds of light: hard and soft. What’s the difference? It’s like comparing a sunny day to an overcast day. Soft light reduces shadows, texture, and contrast while hard light does just the opposite. Hard light has harder edges, a more abrupt transition between illumination and shadow, and heightened contrast.





Clouds, overcast skies, and fog act as diffusion making broader light.

How do you get soft light? How do you get hard light?
– Broad light source
– Light from more directions
– Closer light source
– Narrow light source
– Farther light source

5 Tips for lighting a portrait:

1. Use indirect sunlight

Position portrait subjects in a bright area that is out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight intensifies shadows and causes the subject to squint.

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2. Keep the subject close to a light source when indoors

Take indoor photos closer to a light source for more complimenting lighting. When the distance between a light source (such as lamp) and the subject is farther, the light is narrower and casts harsh shadows. When a light source is closer, it is broader.

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3. Diffuse the light

Use a diffuser such as white fabric to lower the intensity of a harsh light source. You can place a diffuser in front of an artificial light or use a tent-like diffuser when outside under the sun.

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4. Angle the light for texture

The greater the angle at which the light is positioned to the subject, the more texture is revealed and the greater the sense of volume. Lighting from the side, above, or below creates dimensionality.

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Bonus tip from a pro: Sunset photography

From professional photographer, Jesse Lash:


“It’s impossible to ignore the biggest light of all… the sun! Head outdoors right before sunset and position your model in front of the sun. Try and get the sun either directly behind them, or slightly off-axis behind them for a nice rim-lighting effect. Bonus points for using a reflector (cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil works) to bounce some of the light back onto their face.”

If you have experimented with portrait lighting, we would love to hear your thoughts! Tell us on Twitter!

The sweet light diffuser photo is courtesy of Alison Christine.


The Author

Drew Allen

Drew Allen

Besides being the managing editor of this blog, I'm also a drummer, a husband, and a father, not necessarily in that order. I love good stories, and great design, and I probably quote the Office more than I should but less than I could.