Hard flash lighting for masculine subjects with subtle fill

It’s often written that you can use hard lights for strong masculine subjects, this post shows some examples of just that and the effect of combining some subtle fill lights with the harder main lights.

Hard light gives deep shadows with the face merging in to the background

Starting off with a single hard light and a black background. It was necessary to position the light a little lower than normal to make sure to avoid big shadows from the hat across the eyes, but the result is effective for this kind of male portrait shot. Elinchrom studio flash was used and a standard 18cm reflector with a honeycomb grid was fitted to limit the spill of light. I’ve found that when training about studio work it’s often good to start with hard tightly controlled lights since the effects of each light is easy to see in the pictures.

Hard lighting with an added subtle fill light

Addition of a fill light restores definition to the shadow side of the face

For this second shot another light was added to the side of the model. The light was fitted with a beauty dish also with a honeycomb grid on it, I love the combination of the grid and the beauty dish for so many kinds of shots. Keeping the power on the light to almost minimum it’s effect is just to put some light in to the shadow side of the face and makes an ideal contrast to the main hard light. The keen-eyed will have noticed that the model also removed his scarf as it was warming up in the studio. My approach with this kind of fill lighting is to build it first in the shot. Since I already knew the exposure for the main light I just switched it off and then took a meter reading and some test shots to ensure that the fill light alone is simply doing the fill-in task of bringing the shadows up. Once the fill light is right switch on the main light and start shooting. Putting the lights a little further back from the model will give you a bit more flexibility with where to position the model on the set.

For a lot of the shoot I used the black background and kept the lighting simple with only two lights being used. To keep things simple I had a choice of Elinchrom 18cm reflector with honeycomb gids, 21cm reflector with honeycomb grids and a small 40cm beauty dish also with a honeycomb grid. As the shoot progressed there were several changes of reflectors and grids for different effects.

A quick change of outfit and I opted to use the white side walls of the studio instead of a specific background, and switched to a single hard light. The first shot was with he 18cm reflector and a tight grid to give a small spot of light on the wall.

Model lit with single hard light against white background

Single flash fitted with a small reflector with honeycomb grid

I really liked the look of the single tightly controlled light and shot several images with my model just seated on the floor against the white studio wall. It was clear from the images that to get a very sharp edged shadow on the wall needed the lights to be moved far enough back from the wall that they would be in another building. Remember the sharp edged shadows we see naturally outside are due to the sun being significantly far away and hence a much smaller sized light source. Odd to think of the sun as small and my studio lights as big.

Changing the height of the light will change the shadow position on the wall

Single light positioned just above the models head

Higher light position moves the shadow lower on the wall behind

Raising the light will move the shadow down behind the model

To give a different and brighter result the honeycomb grid was removed from the reflector making the spot of light on the wall much larger.

For these last two shots I changed two things between the first and second shot. I moved the single light up to a higher position having the effect of moving the shadow down the wall behind the model, and I also had a lie down, on the floor of the studio, to give the model a harder look with him being above my camera position.

The shoot was great fun and the choice of the hard lights did give a great set of pictures. Of course this lighting is not just for male models, it looks great on female models too but I’ll save that for another post.


About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag