The Prettiest Way to Light | Soft Lighting 101

The Prettiest Way to Light | Soft Lighting 101

Zane Gong |

Soft light is a quality of light that tends to wrap around the subject being illuminated, casting diffused shadows with soft edges. Soft light characteristics are the opposite of hard light, which doesn’t wrap around the subject as well and cast very hard shadows with sharp edges.

soft light effect

In today's episode of Ask Aputure, Ted from the A-Team takes us through soft lighting, how you make a light soft, and when you would use soft lighting.

How To Use Soft Light

When using soft light as your key light, you’ll notice minimal or fewer shadows on your subject because it wraps around a subject so well. A good reason to use soft light in a scene is when trying to hide undesirable or unflattering textures. Layering of shadows and bright spots creates depth, soft light deemphasizes depth, filling in layered shadows. In beauty lighting, which is a type of soft light, it’s used to hide wrinkles, curves and other typical signs of aging. That’s why soft light is used to illuminate women so often in film and commercial advertising.

softlight effect

Soft light is also the go to choice for ambient or fill light needs because it casts a less noticeable shadow which is great in relation to a key light, raising the exposure of your shadows. Another way of looking at key and fill light is primary and secondary light, where the primary is the key light and secondary is fill light. The secondary light should have a lower intensity or output than the key light, thus avoiding double shadows.

1:1 lighting ratio of key and fill

As seen in this example above, a 1:1 lighting ratio of key and fill produces double shadows in the far right portrait. The reason why double shadows should be avoided is because as humans we are used to seeing one shadow from the sun, so multiple shadows is not a normal occurrence to see. Rules are made to be broken especially in the name of creativity and many have found many ways to break these rules effectively, but it’s good to know the rules so one can understand how to break the rules.

Additional examples of ideal uses of soft lighting are white cycloramas, green screens, where shadowless lighting is ideal. Shadowless, minimal shadows or an omnidirectional light is a very useful characteristic of soft light and is also great for moving lighting with cameras. Below is an example of a soft bounce light that is following behind a moving camera, maintaining that beautiful, soft illumination of the characters as they move around in the scene. The biggest giveaway of movement of light are the shadows of the moving fixture, so if you’re gonna move light with the characters off camera, a china ball or space light is a great soft lighting solution.

How To Create Soft Light

Creating soft light is a very simple process as long as you remember the basic rules of soft lighting as mentioned in the beginning. The bigger the source of light in relation to the subject, the softer the light, that’s why by comparison if you bring any source of light closer to a subject, the result will be a softer light with more diffused shadows. Quick solutions for creating soft light are using a softbox with one or two layers of diffusion like the Aputure Light Dome, pictured below. A larger silk or diffusion with multiple lights being shot through, to make one huge source of light, as seen below. 

diffuse shadows with light dome

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