Hard Light vs Soft Light

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for any camera
Understanding the different qualities of light is fundamental. Hard and soft light sources produce such different results that most all photographers spend a great deal of time thinking about (obsessing about) quality of light. Generally, we spend our time trying to find ways to soften light by diffusing light through surfaces or bouncing light off of surface — or my favorite, shooting on a cloudy day.

Bottom Line: Hard versus soft light is the most basic concept in lighting; get the light source larger and closer to get a softer light.

For this sequence we placed a 24" softbox 16 feet away from Nicole, then moved it closer and closer. The closer the lightbox, the larger it looms; hence the softer the shadow it creates. Every shot was done at f8.

More about this sequence: the first time we shot this in a white room we got a result that proved the exact opposite of my theory: the further away the light box went, the softer the look! This happened because the white walls and low white ceiling bounced the light, creating a larger light source as I moved away. Duh. Finally, we shot this in my dark-walled basement.


24" lightbox at 200"
24" lightbox at 130"
24" lightbox at 60"
24" lightbox at 36"
24" lightbox at 24"
24" lightbox at 16"
24" lightbox at 10"
24" lightbox at 5"
24" lightbox at 200"
24" lightbox at 130"
24" lightbox at 60"
24" lightbox at 36"
24" lightbox at 24"
24" lightbox at 16"
24" lightbox at 10"
24" lightbox at 5"
24" lightbox at 200"
24" lightbox at 130"
24" lightbox at 60"
24" lightbox at 36"
24" lightbox at 24"
24" lightbox at 16"
24" lightbox at 10"
24" lightbox at 5"
Left
Right

24" lightbox at 200" from Nicole produces a fairly hard light, though not nearly as hard as sunlight, which though a very big light source, is pretty far away: 93 million miles.

24" lightbox at 130", light getting softer.

24" lightbox at 60", light getting softer.

24" lightbox at 60", light getting softer

24" lightbox at 36", light getting softer

24" lightbox at 24". It seems that this is THE point where the light turns more soft than hard - which is when the size of the lightbox is about the same as its distance from Nicole.

Probably a reasonable guideline - get the softbox to be as close as it is wide.

24" lightbox at 16", light getting still softer.

24" lightbox at 5", as close as we could get it. The only reason you can can't get as close as you might like is that it becomes uncomfortable for the subject to be that close, or the light starts to flare the image by hitting too directly into the lens, though you can generally block the lens from the light.

24" lightbox at 200" from Nicole produces a fairly hard light, though not nearly as hard as sunlight, which though a very big light source, is pretty far away: 93 million miles.

24" lightbox at 130", light getting softer.

24" lightbox at 60", light getting softer.

24" lightbox at 60", light getting softer

24" lightbox at 36", light getting softer

24" lightbox at 24". It seems that this is THE point where the light turns more soft than hard - which is when the size of the lightbox is about the same as its distance from Nicole.

Probably a reasonable guideline - get the softbox to be as close as it is wide.

24" lightbox at 16", light getting still softer.

24" lightbox at 5", as close as we could get it. The only reason you can can't get as close as you might like is that it becomes uncomfortable for the subject to be that close, or the light starts to flare the image by hitting too directly into the lens, though you can generally block the lens from the light.