- Soft light is a type of light with few hard shadows, and the transition between the dark to bright areas is more gradual. When subjects are in soft lighting there will be little or no shadow on their face; if they have one it's not as harsh compared to when you're using hard lights for photography. In general, the larger and the closer the light source in relation to the subject, the softer the light source will be. Direct sun is an example of hard light, which is the opposite of soft light. Window light is a good example of soft light, depending on the size of the window.
LIGHT QUALITIES: SOFT LIGHT
On the other side, a soft light has a gentle transition from light to shadow. In the picture below, the change from light to dark is much more gradual and can be seen on the face and neck. A cloudy overcast day will also create a soft light all around the environment. So what specifically causes a light quality to be hard or soft?
The larger the light source, the softer the light; the smaller the light source, the harder the light. Also, keep in mind that distance also plays a big role in the size of your light. If you were to fire a flash into a huge reflector just a few feet away from your subject, your subject will have a soft and wrapping light. The reflector is a huge light source in comparison with the subject. Now take that same setup and move it 40 feet away from your subject. The light source now becomes small in relation to our subject and we have hard light. This is how the Sun, which is much bigger than us, can create such hard light. It is because it is so far away and so small in the sky. The distance from light to subject will affect the size and therefore quality of your light.
LIGHT QUALITIES: DIFFUSED LIGHT
A light that has its reflective qualities removed is called diffused light. When this light hits a subject, the reflective light does not bounce back into the camera. Showcasing a soft and diffused light quality, the image below was created using a diffused (matte) reflector. Because this type of light is not as reflective, it has less contrast. Out of the two, diffused light is a more flattering light for portraits as it does not direct attention to any one part of the subject. Typically, fashion photography use diffused light for it’s flattering and soft qualities.
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