How to Achieve Dramatic Lighting In Photography

Light in a picture creates a mood. However, photography jumps off the page with dramatic lighting.Dramatic lighting distinguishes the image by creating contrast, interest and mood.

It will also help you to shoot photography of your attention.

A thousand ways to illustrate a portrait and to understand your style and subject as you see it. We will focus in this article on dramatic lighting. It is very popular because it attracts more attention and weighs more than other types of light, such as open shade or very widespread lighting.

Dramatic lighting typically compares very well with tougher shadow borders and strongly sculptures the subjects’ face or shape. It will lend your photos a grave or even menacing mood depending on the word. Only get into it! Let’s jump into it!


What Makes a Light Dramatic?

Three key characteristics with dramatic light.

  • Hard light. This means a minor change from the light to the dark areas of the frame. The highlights transition to the shadow zones with a slight slope separating them.
  • Focused or patterned light.  It’s not an intense image in which every pixel is illuminated. A photograph of dramatic light centered on one part of the picture, but not on other pieces. The light source can be focused in a small area or an image pattern may be formed.
  • Full of contrast. full of contrast. Strong images have both dark and light surfaces. Dream of dramatic pictures in black and white! The picture includes, however, both dark and clear tones, also in color.

It is important that you consider each aspect of dramatic light. It will help you put the right amount of drama in your shot. If it’s a portrait or a view of a landscape

Creating Hard Light

Hard light has a touch of a transition between highlights and shadows. Abrupt change appears to be more dramatic than gentle light. Soft light is moving through a slow transition.

Hard light is emitted from small or distant light sources. Or, in some situations, both of them. So seeking hard light is as easy as walking out on a sunny day.

Remember, however, that clouds will soften the brilliance. And during the golden hour, you can also feel soft light.

You can replicate these conditions indoors as well. A window with the sun on the outside would also produce hard light. If the sun is on the other side of the house, the window light is dim.

It’s also very easy to produce hard light. Most artificial light sources are small—strobe lights, continuous lights, and flash heads are tiny, producing hard light.

Without a shift, the light from these outlets is going to be hard, and it’s going to leak everywhere. That’s why it’s also important to learn how to generate concentrated or patterned of the side view of a model with dramatic lighting

Directional Soft Light

When soft light is directional, it produces shadows that add dimension to your photographs. It results in more dynamic images.

Turn the subject to an angle of 90 degrees to the light source. The key is to provide a subtle graduation between areas of light and shadow, not clearly marked lines. Experiment by bringing the subject closer to, or farther away from, the light source until you have a decent mix between light and shadow.

In this portrait, the sun is placed 90 degrees to the right of the front. This produces shadows on her left hand which results in a picture of far more intense lighting than if she had specifically faced the sun.

This next shot, on the other hand, was taken with very flat light, by putting the subject directly in front of the lens.

Creating Hard Light

Creating Focused and Patterned Light

A hard light is produced by an unmodified flash. But the light from the flash will still wash over the entire scene without any modifications.

Creating light that is just on a small region of the picture brings additional drama to the photograph. The use of an illumination modifier will help to generate a concentrated or patterned glow.

The grid, snoot, or barn doors will concentrate the ubiquitous light from a strobe or flash. It would produce a thin beam of lighting that is closer to the spotlight.

You will use both of them to keep the light from reaching the backdrop to create more contrast. Or you can use it to attract attention to a particular part of the picture.

Although each accessory will rely on the sun, it is used in a different manner. If you want to generate light with a small spread, but also want some softness, imagine attempting to change a beauty dish.

Creating Focused and Patterned Light

Creating Contrast

Contrast refers to the contrast between the darkest and brightest areas of the photograph. You may use hard light and a modifier to keep the light from entering the background as well. It helps to create a comparison.

But there are other ways to create contrast in a picture as well.

Next, miss the light of the fill. Filling in the darkness causes less contrast and less drama.

You may also deepen the shadows by using a negative filler. Placing a black reflector on the shadow side of a portrait enhances the shadows. That’s what the black side of the 5-in-one reflector is doing.

This technique is like the use of a reflector. Instead of inserting a fill lamp, use the black side to make sure that no extra light is spilling into the darkness.

In post-processing, you can even improve the contrast. Brightening up the colors and darkening the shades would create more contrast. It appears to work easier than using a contrast scale.

You can also create a little more contrast by using the HSL panel to lighten particular colors. Dodging and burning is another strategy that you should use.

Also Read =>>ISO In Photography – Beginners Tutorial

Golden Hour Backlighting

Golden hour lighting is perfect to shoot beautiful portraits! It may also be part of a brilliant dramatic lighting technique.

In photography, the golden hour applies to the gloomy light that we receive late in the day and early in the morning when the sun is low in the sky. It washes our subjects with a warm glow and brings a soothing softness to our pictures. It also causes the stunning halo effect (also known as rim light) that we see in the images below.

However, backlighting can be difficult to learn, since the camera can have a rough time figuring out how to properly expose the image. It’s easier to practice this approach after you’ve mastered how to use your camera in manual mode.

For a dramatic portrait impression, expose your subject’s face to the best photographic effect. Often, make sure that you can see the light bounce back into your subjects’ eyes from the open sky behind you. If you can’t see any lights in their eyes, make small changes to their location (or yours).

Over all, make sure that the sun is set right behind the participants, in order to avoid hot spots of light on their faces.

Experiment with the direction of the light source

In order to build a sense of drama for your portrait photography, you must also remember the location of your light. You can be imaginative and experimenting if you wish, or you can use common portrait lighting techniques that help you create that dramatic effect.

Split lighting is a common way to construct emotional portraits. If you chose this strategy, one half of the subject’s face will be illuminated. The other half is already in the dark. This approach illustrates the details of the skin’s face and texture. Read our post on split lighting to learn how to set up this strategy.

Rembrand lighting is another powerful way to add a touch of drama to your portraits. In this style of illumination, the target has a classic small triangle of light on one of their faces, and the rest of the same face is in the dark.

This approach is a little more difficult to obtain, but the results are worth the effort. Check out our full guide to this configuration here.

If you have more experience with different lighting environments, you can even be innovative and attempt to put the lights in different ways. Play around with their positions before you get the answer you’re looking for.

Top 5 Equipment to Create Dramatic Lighting


The snoot is a folding cylinder. It is positioned over the light to make an even smaller circle of light.

Think of the snoot as a flashlight. They are available in various sizes depending on the height of the light opening.

A snoot for photography lighting


The grid looks a lot as the name suggests. It’s a grid or honeycomb pattern that you put directly above the sun. The pattern limits the illumination, producing a smaller beam.

The grids are determined by degrees. The 10-degree grid would produce a much closer light spot, while the 40-degree grid will have a larger range.

Place the light and then put it. Be sure you have the correct location because the restricted beam leaves little space for error.

A grid for photography lighting

Barn Door

Barn doors also work to create a smaller beam of light. Yet they’re more customizable than grids and snoots. This light-modifier positions four ‘windows’ on either side of the light. You may open or close it to change the shape and brightness of the sun.

A barn door for photography lighting

For all four doors closed, the light is as narrow as a snoot. But you can still close two doors for a small strip of light. Or you can change each of them individually to add more variation.

The zoom setting of your flash will also play a part in how the light spreads. A higher zoom, like 105mm, produces a smaller field of light than a lower environment, like 24mm.

In portrait photography, producing patterned light is achieved by positioning the key light in such a way that it produces a particular pattern on the face.

But this is not the only way to construct a patterned glow.

In natural environments, you can also find patterned light. Look for a pattern formed by the lights and shadows in the scene around you. See the shadows formed by the goalposts in the soccer picture above.

Hard sunlight filtering through window blinds often produces an intriguing pattern that can contribute to some excellent pictures.

Photographers may also imitate the effect by making a DIY cardboard cutout or applying gaffer tape over a softbox. There are infinite possibilities to create a custom form with DIY photography.


Dramatic lighting requires combining hard, concentrated or patterned light with contrast. Dramatic videos should have at least one of those attributes.

Note, you can create even more suspense if you use more than one of the lighting techniques listed above!

Do you ever wish that you had all the simple lighting instructions on your way? Why don’t you check out our Fast Capture Cheat Sheets next!

Olajide Towoju
Olajide Towoju

Towoju Olajide is a technology writer who covers topics ranging from consumer tech to the latest developments in artificial intelligence. Born and raised in Nigeria, Towoju developed an early fascination with technology that led him to pursue a degree in Computer Science. After completing his studies, he worked as a software developer for several years before transitioning into tech journalism.

Towoju's work has been featured in various publications, including TechCrunch, Wired, and The Verge. He is also a regular contributor to several technology blogs and podcasts, where he shares his insights on emerging trends and breakthroughs in the tech industry. In addition to his work as a writer, Towoju is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing the beauty of nature and wildlife in his spare time.

Over the years, Towoju has written several books on technology and its impact on society. His writing has been praised for its ability to break down complex concepts into simple, easy-to-understand language. Whether he's exploring the latest advancements in AI or discussing the future of smart cities, Towoju's goal is to make technology accessible to everyone.

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