Are you hard enough or a big softy?
The words soft or hard light often make those new to photography think that it refers to how bright or dim the light source is. What it actually refers to is whether the edges of the shadow that it casts has a hard, abrupt transition from dark to light, or whether it has a soft, or gradual transition. An extreme example would be, a studio with black walls and a single unshaded light shining directly on the subject (e.g. someone’s face), can be described as hard. The nose will cast a strong harsh shadow, and the eyes will look deeper set and all the blemishes on the face will be accentuated. Not flattering at all, but there are certainly situations in which you will be able to use it, such as photographing Dracula or your Mother in-law ;)! Soft light refers to light that tends to “wrap” around objects, casting shadows with soft edges. The softness of the light depends mostly on the following two factors:
- Distance. The closer the light source, the softer it becomes.
- Size of light source. The larger the source, the softer it becomes.
We can safely assume that “Big light” and “soft light” have a lot to do with each other. The softness of a light source can also be determined by the angle between the subject and the light source when using off shoe lighting or by different light modifiers e.g soft boxes, snoots etc . There for big light isn’t always soft light.
You can plainly see the difference between the lighting. The top ball is classic “hard light” with a hard defined transition between light and shadow. And the bottom is “soft light” with a gradual transition into the shadows.
Let there be light.
General speaking the easiest way to make hard light is to simply use your flash on camera, pointed directly at your subject. The easiest way to make soft light is to bounce your flash light off something. We can’t always be in the perfect spot to bounce our flash off a nice white roof or use our flash off camera. But there are a lot of light modifiers that can give us the exact light in the exact place we want and/or need it. It doesn’t matter if you use a flash on camera, off camera, or a studio flash. How they work is very simple and once you understand it, lighting will be a lot easier.
Such light modifiers either channel the light into direct beams (so it is only coming from one direction and create hard edges to the shadows), or reflect the light rays so that they bounce around the place (and fall onto the subject from different directions causing the edges of the shadows to soften).
Next time I’ll talk more about light modifiers, how and what they do. And maybe some D.I.Y light modifiers.