Playing with Light – Part 3 Hard Light / Soft Light

When it comes to studio photography, there are a lot of terms thrown around.  Some of the more interesting are:

  • Hard Light
  • Soft Light

What is Hard Light, what is Soft Light?  In Physics light has a frequency (colour), Intensity (brightness) and direction.  These are the only things a photographer is bothered about.

But then we get the sales pitch: Light modifies, to shape the light, make it hard, make it soft, give it wrap!  These are possibly meaningless terms, and I have had many a debate with photographers over the purpose of light modifiers.

Studio photographers want light that makes their subjects look their best.  In general we use terms like soft light to describe this.

Take a naked flash head, place it at one end of the studio.  Place your model at the other end and shoot.  The result is hard flat light.  Totally even light across the subject and boring.  Yes you can produce a good photo but its difficult.

But lets turn this around, hard directional light coming from behind the model, what does that give us?

In the picture above, we have a flash head fitted with a snoot.  Hard directional light coming from behind the model, the light is just hitting her.

Interesting and dramatic.

Possibly not to everyones taste but I like it.

What about soft light and wrap?

Fitting something like a softbox to the flash head is the recommended option to give soft light.  How does this look.

Well something to remember is, if we go back to the first scenario.  Flash head with softbox fitted at one end of the studio and model at the other.  What is the result, well to be honest not much.

The key to using a softbox is to get it as close to the subject as posible, this then gives the effect termed soft, and also wrap.

This is where the inverse square law really comes into place.  With the model so close, you have a huge source of light flooding onto your subject but as the distance increases from the light source the light drops of quickly, giving wonderful soft shadows.

What also helps in this shot above is the large aperture used on the lens to limit the depth of field available.  A very beautiful model enhanced by some lovely soft, wrapping light.

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