When lighting our scene, we have many different ways of doing so we can use a traditional 3-point lighting setup, with a key, fill and back light or you we can add or reduce the number of lights to create a specific mood or look. One major decision is the use of hard or soft light to achieve our look. The difference between hard and soft light is the relationship between the size of the light source and the distance between the subject. The closer and smaller a light source is to the subject the harder the light will be, whereas the further away and larger a light source is, the softer it will be. You can easily see this effect by making some shadow puppets with a torch! If you move the torch closer to your hand, the shadow becomes much more defined and as you start to move it away you will see the shadow becomes blurrier and less defined.

Hard light creates sharp shadows and does not wrap around the subject. This often used to create very moody looks with a good example being film noir. The high contrast and sharp shadows are a key part of creating the overall feel of the scene.

Soft light tends to wrap around the subject creating less harsh shadows. This type of lighting is much more common in productions as it is more natural looking to the human eye. Soft lighting used to create a sense of realism or in beauty work to reduce skin imperfections and evenly light the talent.

It’s always worth remembering that it’s very easy to make a hard light softer, but it’s very hard to make a soft light hard. To make a hard light soft, we can use something like a softbox, scrim or reflector. These are also known as light modifiers and are used to change the properties of the light hitting your subject. Using a softbox or scrim we can soften light by diffusing it across a large surface before it hits our subject.

Whilst with a reflector we can bounce light from our source onto the subject in a very controlled manner.