Good light is an essential tool in the hands of a photographer or filmmaker. Even those people who only know cameras from their smartphones and use them mainly on vacation know this. “Don’t stand against the light” or “walk more into the light” are slogans that we can hear even from total amateurs. The next step of initiation at the basic level is hard and soft lighting. Intuitively, everyone guesses what it’s all about, but it’s definitely worth discussing the topic a bit more extensively. And this is exactly what we will deal with in our article today, smuggling in a few additional issues.

Although the main subject of the text will be soft light, we would like to treat the topic a bit more cross-sectionally. That is why, in the following paragraphs you will learn:

  • What types of light do we encounter in photography and film?
  • How do we divide the types of light in studio photography?
  • In what situations do you need soft light?
  • Where is hard light useful?
  • How to soften the light?
  • What can you use to soften light with the DIY method (for free)?
  • What modifiers can be used to soften light?
  • How to obtain soft light without any additional accessories?

Hard and soft light

One of the basic divisions of light in photography or film is the one related to its characteristics. Hardness and softness is something that we usually determine with our sense of touch, but in this case our eyes are enough. It is enough to pay attention to the shadows…

Hard light

Hard light, also called harsh light, is easiest to recognize by its distinct and strongly defined shadows. It is most common when the light source is small compared to the subject. Photographers (especially those who do portraits) often avoid hard light. This is because it highlights facial imperfections, such as scars or wrinkles. To work with this kind of light, you need to have a specific vision in which sharp contrasts and shadows have a specific purpose.

Soft light

Soft lighting, also known as diffuse lighting, is much more commonly used in photography and film. To obtain it, you will need a kind of “filter”. In nature it is created, for example, by clouds that reflect the sun’s rays in many different directions. On a smaller scale, diffuse will be achieved by diffusers, which allow you to achieve softness. This is due to the fact that the light passed through the filter falls on the subject at different angles, which allows to achieve uniformity and deprives the frame of sharp shadows. Cons: In some cases, soft light can be a little too flat.

Other types of light in photography and film

As you explore more books, articles and video tutorials, and listen to other photographers, you’re bound to come across the names of many other types of light more than once. To make it easier for you to join the conversation, understand some of the relationships, and use the different options yourself, we thought it would be helpful to bullet point a few additional terms.

Ambient light

Ambient light is otherwise known as ambient light. It was not added to the scene by the photographer. It can be created by the sun, but also by streetlights or light bulbs used indoors.

Added light

We talk about added light whenever a photographer or filmmaker decides to use light other than the ambient light. So in this category we find flash and studio lighting.

Reflected light

As we mentioned earlier, getting soft light involves bouncing it off some surface. It can be a reflector, an umbrella or a diffuser, but also a white ceiling. We will use reflected light to soften shadows and minimize glare.

Flat light

Excessive diffuse lighting can lead to a situation where we lose detail and depth in the frame. We then refer to this as flat light. There are situations when it will be desirable, but in general it is considered boring and uninteresting.

4 types of light in studio photography

There is another popular division that you may come across. This time it relates to the role that different light sources play. Every photographer who wants to develop their skills sooner or later starts thinking about their first set of lights. Of course there are those who start with only 2 devices and only with time expand the possibilities of their home studio. However, it is worth remembering that when working with artificial lighting, we can distinguish 4 basic types of it:

  • main (key) light,
  • fill light,
  • cut-off (contrast) light,
  • effect or background lighting.

This is the set you will most often encounter when you sign up for a course or start watching tutorials on YouTube. Having 4 lights with different purposes is fortunately not mandatory. We believe that by trial and error you can create amazing photos and videos with just 1 or 2 lamps. Each additional device means new possibilities, options and connections. However, many say that it’s best to learn how to consciously work with light from a small setup that can be expanded over time. You’ll find some basic setups with different light sources in the tutorial below:

We will return to this topic in the near future on our blog. We will also talk about the different directions of light. But now let’s go back to soft light.

How to soften the light with home-made methods?

The magic of photography is that before you get to the level of a full frame with a set of several lenses and a professionally equipped studio, you can create amazing things by experimenting with what surrounds you. To soften the light, you can use some interesting patents that don’t require visits to a photo store. Here are our suggestions:

CLOUDS – Just leave the house when there are clouds in the sky, and you won’t need any diffuser to take advantage of the diffused light.

WALLS AND CEILINGS – A large white surface will work well to reflect sunlight or added light.

GOLDEN HOUR – The time after sunrise and before sunset is the best time to take photos with beautiful soft light. You also get its distinctive golden hue for free.

BREAKFAST PAPER – If you need a softbox, but instead of a photo store, you only have access to the neighborhood Frog, buy breakfast paper. Place it in front of the flash and enjoy softened light for pennies!

Professional light modifiers

Assuming the weather isn’t remote-controlled, golden hour doesn’t last all day, and the Frog may be closed, we’ve also considered some slightly more professional solutions. Here’s what accessories and modifiers you can reach for to soften the light:

BLENDS – An expandable hoop on which a white fabric is stretched will allow you to freely reflect light (sunlight and stagnant light). Very often we can also find blenders in other colors. Gold reflects the light, additionally warming it, and silver adds a bit more contrast.

DIFFUSER / REFLECTOR – If you are working with a flash, you can use a special tool that helps reflect light. A small circular diffuser made of milky plastic (other colors are also available here that offer additional features) is placed over the flash to soften the light.

UMBRELLA – Umbrellas are available in many different variations, as are blenders. Lamps often offer a special hole in which to place them. Umbrellas make the light “spill” to the sides.

SOFTBOX – Colloquially speaking, this is simply a blender in the form of a square or rectangular box. Light is reflected inside it, and you can use different number of layers of fabric, through which it penetrates, illuminating the subject later.

OCTAGONAL SOFTBOX – Octagonal softboxes are popular in portrait photography. They provide a nicer reflection in the model’s or model’s eye.

How about a lamp with a built-in diffuser?

If you don’t feel like playing around at home building diffusers, and limited space keeps you from investing in softboxes, grids, and blenders, there is a third way you can go. Yes, soft light can be achieved without additional accessories. Just buy a lamp that already has a diffuser built in. This will be the best and most convenient solution when you care about showing up on set and having everything ready within minutes.

We wouldn’t be ourselves if we didn’t smuggle a small recommendation here. But we do it (as always, of course 😇) in good faith – you’ll really have a hard time finding a device offering such a large area of soft light, at such an affordable price! Meet the Air Artha lights: the Lampa LED Newell Air Artha and the slightly larger XL variant.

Newell Air Artha: A great way to get soft light without a blender

The Lampa LED Newell Air Artha XL offers enormous creative freedom when working with light on film or photo sets. Its angle can be set thanks to a movable dial that can be locked with strong screws. The device also has a built-in diffuser, which provides pleasant and soft light without the need for additional accessories. You can easily adjust the color temperature from 3200 K to 5600 K. What else? Remote control, 3 group and 40 channel operation, AC power or NP-F rechargeable batteries, and a zippered carrying case. If you are looking for a versatile lamp that offers soft light, be sure to consider this model. You won’t regret it.

We hope that today’s article will help you better prepare for working with light or inspire you to new experiments if you have already taken the first steps in this field. As always, we encourage you to visit our social media and share your photos and videos. We look forward to seeing your work on Instagramie and Facebooku, along with our fantastic Newell community!

Credits: Sven Brandsma, Ray Hennessy, Pawel Czerwinski,Nicolas Lafargue, Alexander Dummer, Maxime Bhm, Kenny Eliason

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