Thursday, 2 August 2012

Quality of Light

The quality of light is broadly classified into two “Hard light” and “Soft light”. A thorough understanding of what this means is necessary as you will find these two terms popping up in your discussions more often than you might imagine; especially if you plan to excel in your photographic abilities or wish to become a professional photographer.

Hard Light

What differentiates Hard light from Soft light is the amount of contrast. Hard light has high contrast and as a result colours in your scene appears very bright and it also casts deep, dark shadows. In a picture taken in hard light you will have sharply defined edges.

Eg; Hard light is the type of light that we usually see on a bright sunny day with little or no cloud cover.

Soft Light

Soft light on the other hand has very low contrast. Colours in your scene appear muted and there may be none or very little shadows. A picture taken in soft light will have a very soft look with even light falling across the frame. Soft light also has a wrapping effect and as a result edge definition will not be very sharp.

Eg; Soft light is the kind of light that we generally see on an overcast day. (The clouds act as a huge diffuser softening the otherwise harsh sunlight).

It pays to analyse the quality of light in any given photograph, find out if it is taken in hard light, soft light or a combination of both. Look at the shadows, judge the contrast, the direction of light, wrapping effect etc. Try to imagine the same scene in a different light and judge which of them will be better, eventually you will get better at determining which type of light suites your scene.

What is it that makes light Soft or Hard?

Now that we have a general understanding of the quality of light, let us find out what it is that makes light Soft or Hard.

A. The size of the light source

Remember when we talk about the size of the light source we are not only talking about its size, but its size in relation to the subject that we are shooting.

Quality of Light - Size of the Light Source
Quality of Light - Size of the Light Source
A light source that is small in relation to the subject being photographed will result in hard lighting effect and vice versa.

B. How close is the light source to the subject

Other than the size of light source what affects the quality of light most is the distance from the light source to the subject.

In the picture above even though both the light sources shown are of similar size, due to the distance from the subject the second light source appears as a much smaller one and casts hard light.

Quality of Light - Distance from Subject to Light Source
Quality of Light - Distance from Subject to Light Source

Remember we talked about sunlight being hard, but isn't the sun quite large, oh yes but its millions of kilometers away and that makes sunlight hard. When a light source is nearer the subject, it is relatively large and the farther away it is the smaller it gets in relation to the subject.

So the closer the light source is to the subject the softer the light and vice versa.

In the next article we will discuss about Light and Colour.

Related Reading

  1. Wavelengths and Colours
  2. What Happens When Light Falls On a Surface
  3. Light And Colour
  4. White Light And Primary Colours
  5. Shadows