What’s the difference between hard and soft light? This is a great question and one that can sometimes be a little confusing when you’re first starting out as a photographer.
Soft light comes from a light source that is relatively large to your subject. Hard light is from a source that is relatively smaller than your subject. But it doesn’t end there.
Soft light is often more flattering than hard light. It’s often thought of as more natural-looking and makes your subject appear welcoming and friendly. This is more forgiving than hard light and requires less retouching. It can help smooth the appearance of wrinkles and bring out the light in someone’s eyes. A larger light source closer to your subject is considered soft. Using light modifiers, like a softbox, can also diffuse and soften the light.
This type of lighting has few shadows but is well balanced. The transition between light and shadow is gradual and smooth. When the subject is bathed in soft light, there will be almost no shadow or very soft shadows. It’s great for portraits, fashion photography, food and even travel photography. Even natural light can be considered soft light, on a cloudy day or early morning, late evening or with window light. Just as long as it is not harsh direct light.
Hard light adds depth and dimension to images and gives a high-contrast sense of the dramatic. It can make your subject stand out and gives your subject a hard edge.
The transition between light and shadow is strong with little to no gradient in transition. A small spotlight or narrow-focused light pulled back from your subject will give a hard light. It’s great for adding drama, such as Film Noir or action shots.
So what’s my favorite?
I love soft light, beautiful for portraits and still life. Even creative portraits, I adore soft even and diffused light. My go-to favorites are my Godox AD400 Wistro Pro and my 36” Godox softbox. Although sometimes shooting hard light, especially with colored gels can be loads of fun too.
So next time you are out shooting, think about which light is more favorable for what you are shooting.
- Steam Punk: Alexia Frost
- Winter Wonderland: Jess Carolyn
- Film Noir: Harley Wright
- Portrait: Karen Watson