What is Hard Light, Soft Light and Diffused light?

Hi my name is Sareesh Sudhakaran and in this
video I’ll try to simplify hard and soft light, but also introduce two more types of
light into the mix: specular and diffused light. Many people confuse diffused light with soft
light, but we’ll get there in a bit. First, the difference between hard and soft
light is pretty simple. The answer does not lie in the light, but in the shadows. When the shadows are sharp and clear cut,
the light is said to be a hard light. When the shadows are blurry, the light is said
to be soft light. The softest light gives you the most blurry shadows, and you can’t
make out anymore the shape of the object casting the shadow. So is there a special light that gives you
hard light and another that gives you soft light? No. In fact, any light can be hard
or soft, depending on two things. One, the size of the subject, usually human
beings; and the second thing is the distance between the light and the subject. Before
we get into that let’s talk about wi-fi. When you setup wi-fi in your living room you
might not get good reception on one corner of an upper bedroom. But the miracle is you
still get some reception in the first place. Why? That’s because electromagnetic waves
can bend around objects. So if a ray of light, by the way, light is
an electromagnetic wave, so if a ray of light hits the edge of a wall, it reflects, reflects,
then pass straight on, and actually bend inwards. This is called diffraction. It’s due to
this property you are able to get wi-fi even behind closed doors. Some gaps are good enough
for the waves to bend into. Stay near the doors or windows, and the reception is better. The same thing happens when you hit a beam
of light on an object. If the size of the light is the same size as the object. The
rays will pass parallel and slightly bend inwards. So we’re borderline here. If the
size of the light is smaller than the object, the rays won’t bend in at all, and you get
well defined shadows, or hard light. When the size of the light is larger than
the object, the light bends in more, and the shadows get blurry and softer. If the light
is much larger than the object, the shadows from both ends merge and you can no longer
recognize the shape of the object. So if you want soft light, you need a large
source. But that’s not all. If you take this large source far away, its size relative
to the object becomes small, and you lose the softness. The best and most cited example
of this is the sun. It’s much much larger than the earth, and if it were close by, it
would engulf us in super soft shadowless light, just before we all burst into flames. But
because this humungous source is millions of miles away, it is now a point source or
smaller than the size of our head, and casts a hard shadow. When it’s a cloudy day, the sun’s light
spreads across the clouds and the source becomes larger again. So, to keep things simple, if you want a soft
light, get a large light source, and bring it close. If you want hard light, get a smaller
light source, and take it further back. Now we come to the other two types of light
– specular light and diffused light. When you shine a torchlight against a wall, you’ll
see the center is brighter than the edges. It tapers off to darkness. This is a specular
pattern. It’s the same specular highlight you get on your forehead when you light interviews.
People try to take it away with makeup and what not, but the easier solution is to have
a diffused light. A diffused light is an even spread of light across the width of the beam. By diffusing the light, you lose the specularity
and you get an even wash of light. Many people confuse diffused light with soft light. Soft
light is actually soft shadows, but you get that with a large light source close by. It
doesn’t mean the light will be diffused. To diffuse the light you need to add a layer
of diffusion material to spread the light evenly around so you get an even wash of light. You’ll find LED manufacturers falsely claiming
their panels give you a “soft light”. Even branded names lie about this, probably
they don’t realize they’re lying. You don’t get a soft light from these panels,
because after all, they’re only one foot by one foot. Adding a layer of diffusion to
the panel will not make the light softer. What it does do is just diffuse the light
a bit. What this does is, it might increase the surface
of the light and that’s why you might see slightly softer shadows. Don’t be conned. I’m going to stop here, because the best
way to really understand this is to practice lighting and see it for yourself. Remember,
it’s not just hard or soft light, but also specular and diffused light, four things,
and knowing the difference takes you one step closer to cinematography mastery. I hope you’ve found this brief video useful.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments below. If you liked
this video and want more, please subscribe and don’t forget to hit the like button.
To get more free stuff, visit the link you’ll see in the description or in my blog. Bye now.

66 thoughts on “What is Hard Light, Soft Light and Diffused light?

  1. What sort of lighting do you have on yourself when you are explaining it? How do you get the shadows across your face?
    Learned a lot, thanks for the video

  2. Hi, I want to have specular light (I like that look). how can I have that with a flash / small LED panel? do I need a custom diffuser that tapers off light from center to edges?
    I was told you can get specular based on texture of object?
    or do I need powerful lights so light will naturally taper off faster and that will have specular effect?

  3. Very nicely explained. Looking forward for more videos. Thank you

  4. Absolutely great quick tutorial about light quality. Even after practicing photography for so long even I get stumped at times at how some either natural or man-made lighting is being produced. I mostly find it difficult to determine placement or fixture type when you are seeing localized soft shadows (meaning the transition of lighter to dark edge tone is fairly smooth) with little to no specularity in an overall lower-key scene. This is tricky to think about as blasting large sources everywhere and then black flagging (as one would do in exterior shots) to get that contrast is not the solution here. As an aside – maybe a future video on combining multiple sources of light & color and enhancing specular with diffused light may be awesome as well.

  5. Awesome job Sarish. Very informative and concise, how education should be! 🙂

  6. Thank you. That was very informative, but, cannot agree with the wifi example. Lol.

  7. Excellent description of how light behaves. I learned something new today 🙂

  8. Sareesh, I have to say that your educational videos are at the very top of my list of favorites. I have been a professional photographer for more than 35 years and have been a professional video producer for more than 22 years, and even with all of that experience, I have learned SO much from your videos. Your simple and direct explanations are absolutely perfect. You make sense with your humanistic approach to teaching, but you don't overwhelm the viewer with needless science or insult the viewer by dumbing it down. Perfect balance. I am a big fan of yours now and am hitting that subscribe button as soon as I post this.

  9. You have a strong Indian accent yet you don't say your name right? 😛

  10. question: is diffused light like fill light? I didn't quite get what diffused light is. help?

  11. Greetings, first time commenting, but wanted to thank you for taking the time to produce all your videos. I always learn something new and enjoy the way you deliver with great technicality and theory.

    Keep up the great work and thanks again for spreading knowledge!

  12. This is the most creative physical properties of light interpretation I've ever seen 😛

  13. Just to split a hair, hard and soft are qualities of the light source. Diffuse and specular are qualities of reflected light.

  14. thank you wolfcrow I am new to this do i need white balance setting every time i shoot

  15. sir can you please differentiate between GC and GATEWAYS and OPAL.. ?? how do we use it.. ??

  16. Can you soften the light by bouncing it from the large objects like wall or reflector?
    Great video, thanks!

  17. Wondering where does beam angle of a light source come into play?
    Does a small LED panel with a wide beam angle becomes more diffused (less specular) + emulates a larger source (softer shadows) + less light fall-off (even lit background) vs the same panel with a narrower beam (think Aputure 672"W" vs. 672"S") at the same distance from the subject?

    Also, I think light intensity should also be a factor esp. for speedlight photographers.

  18. After watching your videos, I've came to the conclusion that you explain things better then my film mentor at school that I went to. Could have save that money… Keep it coming! Proud subscriber

  19. I recently bought a small "shadowless" LED panel; it has perforated diffusion built in. It creates a beautiful soft & diffuse light; I use for fill on faces & is super easy to set up and use.

  20. If i want to do noir lighting where i need to define clear shadows, but at the same time i dont want a specular light keying my talent. will it be possible for me to diffuse my spotlight and get a diffused but hard light on my talent. that would mean even lighting but clear cut shadows? P.S its difficult for me to practice lighting, since the only way i can have my hands on some is by renting it out.
    btw i love your videos. very informative and precise. If you did a video on the lumens, lumens per watt of various light, from tungsten bulbs to arri l7. that would be awesome. Just like your different light fixtures video. For people who dont have access to free and easy lighting, this will help us out to choose what we need and dont. because our budget doesnt involve in "controlling" light but rather emitting enough light.

  21. can you demonstrate hard and soft lights with real life examples.

  22. Thank you SO much Sareesh for all your efforts. You're a fantastic teacher and I'm very grateful for all your lessons. So happy I found your channel. Keep going, and wish you the best. Cheers.

  23. dear wolfcrow – good analysis and explanation … but in one point i disagree:
    the specular light is emitted by a more or less point light source – therefore lines of equal light intensity are circular. on a wall you get a bright spot dimming to the edges. i wouldn't call this opposite to diffused light. with diffusers the light just gets foggy. your icon doesn't show the spot of diffused but very focused light resulting from a convex lens or parabolic mirror with barn doors or a grid.

  24. "It would engulf us in a super soft shadowless light… just before we all burst into flames" ?

  25. This is excellent! I thought soft and hard light was actually the light. So if I understand correctly, a soft box has nothing to do with soft light, since the hardness/softness of the light will depend on the size of the subject and the distant of the light. Your videos are great!

  26. But isn't soft light more or less diffused light? When we usually use a softbox or any other big modifier to diffuse light, we make the light source larger as well so the light we get is diffused/soft. If we use one of those small plastic diffuser things, the light source remains relatively small still and we still get fairly specular/hard light. If we bounce a flash off a wall, we aren't using any diffusing material for the light to pass through and yet the resulting light is diffused/soft, is it not? Is there such a thing as soft specular light or diffused hard light?

  27. That are linear and tonal light characteristics just it) If you get it deep, it's much easier to understand. To simplify: hard-soft (linear) is about light edges (corners, frame). And diffused-specular is about what is inside these edges – how it is spread inside these gaps.

  28. The picture you selected for specular light is just wrong and does not show what specular reflection is. Should have used hard edge glossy ball with hard light reflection instead.

  29. So i got the aputure 120d with the light dome does that mean its diffused and soft?

  30. Great video. Knowing that diffuse, soft, specular and hard light are differente things, is it possible to have a diffuse and hard light at the same time?

  31. Please translate in hindi. ???and thank you for information it's help me ???

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