Usually, when we start using studio lighting, we are more than pleased with soft boxes as a start, and sometimes we can get stuck with them. While it is true that soft lit portraits look great most of the time, there is also a place for hard shadows.
For instance, if you were to showcase a rugged male model’s face with a stubble on it – the rough look…hard light would accentuate the feel more than a soft box any day. Hard light has its place in fashion photography as well. Take for instances these images by KAPA mentor Karthik Srinivasan (shot on Sony Alpha 7RII with SAL 24-70mm). The hard shadows on the right create a stunning contrast in an otherwise high key image. Also, notice the texture on both walls, which would have been totally lost if soft lighting was used (especially the texture on the white wall towards the left).
So, when you are deciding on using a light modifier – ask yourself what it is about the composition that you’d like to highlight? Look at the elements within the composition. If there is an out of focus background with the model’s face predominantly in the frame, maybe soft lighting would work well. But are there other elements in the frame? Walls with stucco, antique furniture, tree trunks, wood, metal? Some of these are given much better texture with hard light…Also keep in mind, the further away a soft box is, the harder the light becomes, and vice versa!