Hard light and soft light

I think most people will understand the difference between hard light and soft light when used in the context of photography.

We know, for example, that a photograph taken outside in the midday sun will have a ‘hard’ light; very bright highlights and very dark shadows, whereas a photograph taken outside on a cloudy day will have a more softer, diffused light. So why is this?

Well, there are three reasons:

The size of the light source

The distance of the light source from the subject

What’s between the light source and the subject.

Although the sun maybe huge in actual size, the fact that it’s about 93,000,000 miles away it appears as a very small light source to the photographer. This small relative size of the sun makes for hard light.

Clouds between the light source (the sun) and the subject, will cause the suns rays to be be scattered by the minute water droplets in the clouds. So in effect, the clouds spread the size of the sun to make it relatively larger, which produces softer light.

Creating soft light indoors

A simple way to create soft light indoors is, perhaps for a portrait shot, would be to place the subject near a window, preferably north facing away from direct sunlight. The softer, more diffused light will be more flattering. the skin tones less harsh.

Using a flash

‘Beginners guide to using flash in your Photography’

Light Modifiers

There are two main groups of modifiers:

Modifiers that attach directly to your flash

Modifiers to which you attach your flash (external flash)

Umbrellas, Softboxes, Beauty Dishes and Diffusion Panels


If you want to create a soft diffused light with your external flash, the simplest and least expensive way is to buy an umbrella. They can be divided into two categories: translucent (shoot through) or reflective.

A shoot-through umbrella is made of thin white materiel. The shaft of the umbrella is pointed away from your subject and the flash is fired through the fabric.

A reflective umbrella normally has a white or silver lining or sometimes gold.The shaft of the umbrella is pointed at your subject (so the flash is pointing away)  that the light bounces off the inside of the umbrella onto the subject.

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While umbrellas are a good option to soften the light, softboxes are even better. Whereas an umbrella tend to spray the light over a wide area, a softbox provides better control of the light due to their opaque side and flat front allowing a more condensed soft light.

A softbox typically consists of a black nylon box that’s lined with either a reflective white or silver fabric. They normally have four sides. The front of the softbox is made of white nylon fabric and can be removed. The box is held open by metal rods. The rods come together into a plastic or metal ring. The light source attaches to or is inserted through the ring.

To get the softest light, place the softbox  as close as possible to the subject; this will increase the area of light making the light ‘bigger’ and therefore softer.

The softbox comes in many different sizes. The larger the softbox  the softer the light.

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Beauty Dish

A beauty dish is basically a broad, shallow dish with a hole in the centre. A reflector in front of the tube scatters  light out to the sides of the beauty dish before it can move forward. This creates a small field of soft light ideal for portraits.

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Diffusion Panels

A diffusion panel, in simple terms, is a semi transparent sheet of fabric stretched across a frame. It’s used to diffuse and soften any direct light source. This can include flash light, studio strobes or harsh sunlight..

The more professional ones will be listed by the amount of light they block eg 1/4, 1/2 3/4 and full stop.

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Featuerd image by: *CQ*