Soft light

Filmmaker's Dictionary Jan 22, 2021

What is soft light?

Soft light is a type of lighting commonly used in photography and filmmaking. Soft light wraps around the subject, casting only diffused shadows with soft edges, often producing stronger colour and lower contrast, as opposed to hard light. Soft light is the perfect choice for photographers who prefer a natural look.

How is soft light created?

Soft light comes from a light source that is

  • Relatively large compared to the subject, and/or
  • Close to the subject, and/or
  • Hits the subject at a steep angle.

Sunlight on a cloudy or overcast day, provides excellent soft light to photo- and film shoots. Taking pictures after the sun has set or in the shade might also provide great soft lighting.

Effects of soft light

Soft light in general is flattering, warm, and natural. It’s especially forgiving when it comes to shooting with human subjects, as it helps smooth wrinkles and hide imperfections, making the subject appear youthful. For more portrait photography tips, check out this article by National Geographic. Besides portraits, it’s often used for fashion, travel, and food photography.

From a practical perspective, soft light allows the camera to handle the brightness range of the subject and image, which means less or no clipped shadows and highlights. It can also “hide” the light source by not casting obvious shadows.

How to do lighting yourself

If you want to use soft light, but can’t take it to the great outdoors, you still can achieve it with many different modifiers. Remember, a larger light source means softer light. To increase your light’s surface area you can use diffusers, umbrellas, or softboxes. You can also use a reflector or a white wall to bounce a harsher light and experiment until you reach your desired effect.

If you are shooting indoors in an area with window light, the sun can still provide perfect soft lighting, just make sure it isn’t directly shining in the window. You can find out more about how to set up the perfect spot at home for your social media content on our blog.

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