Hard, soft, specular and diffused lighting and how it affects your subject

Jul 18, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Hard, soft, specular and diffused lighting and how it affects your subject

Jul 18, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Understanding different types of light is important. If you don’t know how light works, then fixing issues that show up in your lighting during a shoot is going to be a pain.

In this video from Wolfcrow, filmmaker Sareesh Sudhakaran explains the different types of light, how they affect our subject, the problems they can present, and some tips on how to overcome them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2y-XA_aAYE

There’s really no right or wrong type of lighting, it’s all subjective. It’s up to you to decide which is going to give you the look you want, and the principles are the same regardless of whether it’s video or stills, continuous lights or flash.

controlling_hard_soft_light

It also doesn’t really matter what you’re photographing. Thanks to the inverse square law, the principles scale up and down extremely well. Whether it’s a person or a small product, how the light presents to your subject is going to change how the subject appears to your camera.

As Sareesh says, the key is to get out and practise. So, what are you waiting for? Go shoot, experiment, see for yourself!

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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4 responses to “Hard, soft, specular and diffused lighting and how it affects your subject”

  1. Yehoshua Derovan Avatar
    Yehoshua Derovan

    Excellent video in this article!!

  2. Doug Sundseth Avatar
    Doug Sundseth

    This video is an incoherent mess:

    It’s not the size of the subject that makes light hard or soft, it’s the apparent size of the light as seen from the subject. (Technically, this is the “angle subtended by the light”.) Now, a large subject will have different distances from subject to light in different places if the light is close, which has its own problems, but if you illuminate a gnat and a battleship with the sun (which subtends about 32′ of arc), the light will be equally hard on both. If you illuminate those same subjects with a

    Furthermore, it’s not the shadow cast upon the background that is important for most purposes, it’s the character of shadows cast from three-dimensional surfaces (like noses and cheekbones) that matters in almost every case.

    “Specular” means “having the properties of a mirror” and refers to reflections, not lights.

    Also, diffusion increases the effective size of a light source (the angle subtended by the light as seen by the subject, remember), so in most cases it will soften the light substantially.

    Finally, an LED panel can be a hard or soft light source even without diffusion. What matters is the angle it subtends as seen from the subject. (Where have I heard that before?) 30cm x 30cm is softer at a specified distance than 3cm x 6cm (or whatever your speedlight measures). If the light is far away, this will not be a significant difference. If it is close, though, the difference will be very visible.

    And if you do add diffusion, a 30cm x 30cm LED panel will be harder than any light in a 1.8m octabox at the same distance.

    In general, I don’t mind minor mistakes in articles so long as the result is better photography, but this video is the worst sort of misinformation and will actively harm anyone who believes it. I expect better from DIYP.

    If you want real information about the use of artificial light in photography, there are many good sources. Perhaps the best place to start is with the Strobist.

  3. Hector Macias Avatar
    Hector Macias

    I always go hard

  4. Siraj Muhammad Avatar
    Siraj Muhammad

    Yea.. its great explanation but can you explain a little bit more that how to set up diffuse and specular lights while taking photo of some object??