Hard and soft light


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
...Read More

Hard and soft light

14 Nov 2020 8:23AM   Views : 611 Unique : 388


One of the things I find I have to keep fighting on workshops is photographersí love of soft light. Yes, soft light is often lovely, and very flattering, but itís so boring after a whileÖ

You can simply run across lovely light (of either type) but the challenge is to create the effects for yourself. Hereís a relatively-simple way to get both kinds of light at home, with cheap equipment, or using domestic light sources. The first workshop I ever ran on my own account was about using IKEA lights with modelsÖ


I apologise for the lack of finesse in the backgrounds, and the lack of sex appeal in the model. Options are limited during lockdown. I shot self-portraits with a Serious Readers lamp (top) and an IKEA DuderŲ (immediately above) , which uses two LED lamps inside a wire and tissue diffuser. With either source, moving the light backwards and forwards in relation to the subject changes where the shadows are, and can do so radically when the light is focussed, or close in. A larger light source is more forgiving.


Itís important to turn off other light sources, and draw the curtains if youíre shooting during the day.


I repeated the exercise with a small Elinchrom unit, with a small softbox and a reflector with a honeycomb grid: modelís eye views of these are attached. Note that even with the softbox, if you position it so that itís aimed past the subject youíll get quite definitely and dramatic lighting. The key is to experiment, and to try moving the lights a bit at a time.

Iíve recently suggested that lighting diagrams can be useful for understanding things. Now, I canít construct these in Photoshop, so I may end up photographing sketches, because itís hard to get sufficient clarity in a photograph. (Note: I take photographs because I canít drawÖ)

In the pictures above I was sitting right up against the background, which means that there are shadows on the background. One solution is to use a separate light for the background. But a better idea is to separate your subject from the background, so that whatever is behind the subject goes dark, like this:


Note that using a softer light source makes this harder to do, and you either need to aim more carefully, or to increase the separation from the background. Itís around a metre for these shots.


Recent blogs by dudler

Focus scales

If youíve been taking pictures since before autofocus arrived, youíll be very familiar with focus scales Ė they are one of the primary controls on an old-school camera, and just one more of the things that you really needed to get right. With autof...

Posted: 27 Dec 2022 7:01AM

Porcelain processing

People commented on the look in my last post and it seems like a good idea to share the secrets for Christmas. I learned the technique several years ago: a modelís boyfriend told me about it, and a website that described it in detail: I tried it, l...

Posted: 23 Dec 2022 10:47AM

You develop your own films donít you?

If you have your own darkroom, or if you use film cameras regularly, there are always a few people who mention the attic. As in ĎGrandpaís cameras are in the attic. I donít even know if they have film in them!í This leads me to ask if I can have a l...

Posted: 16 Aug 2022 11:17AM

Choose your pond

Thereís an old saying about being a big fish and a little pond. Do you want to be the most important person in a small organisation, or are you content being a relatively small cog in a big machine? Itís the same in photography. With relatively mo...

Posted: 3 Jun 2022 2:25PM

Graduated filters

This is for Hannah, and anyone else who has come across the casual way that a lot of togs talk about one or two types of filter that landscaper photographers use a lot: graduated filters and neutral density filters. A graduated filter is one that i...

Posted: 25 Apr 2022 12:18PM


dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
14 Nov 2020 8:26AM
This is a massive subject, and there's a lot that isn't in a short blog. But I hope it's a starting point, and that it shows that you can use lights you can find around the house for portraits, within limits.

Please ask questions, or make suggestions - and if you really know about lighting (I know there are quite a few EPZ members who know more than I do) please add something that will help people who are starting out...
JuBarney Avatar
JuBarney Plus
12 36 7 United Kingdom
14 Nov 2020 9:34AM
In the top three you seem to be frowning against the bright light; I guess that is an important factor. I think the model did really well, especially in the bottom two.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
14 Nov 2020 10:39AM
I frown a lot, Ju...
kaybee Avatar
kaybee 19 8.7k 28 Scotland
14 Nov 2020 10:47AM
I have been know to really upset camera club members by using hard Rembrandt lighting on female models in the past.
Screams of "You can't do that" have been known to change to "That actually works".
It all comes down to 'Rules are made to be broken', 'suck it and see' and 'personal likes and dislikes'.

Keep up the good work Sir.
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
14 Nov 2020 12:19PM
Cheers, Roy!
chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.5k 682 England
14 Nov 2020 1:00PM
I love playing with light, different lights give different effects and, of course, colours.
Separation from a bg can be hard to achieve but when you get it know.
Jas2 Avatar
Jas2 6
23 Nov 2020 12:49AM
I love the second last one !
Love the fact that can see both eyes ! Conveys a message that you know everything even though you are seemingly in the dark!!LOL
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
23 Nov 2020 4:59PM
It's a matter of positioning the light carefully - slight movements matter a lot...

That's relatively easy to adjust in the studio (harder with a self-portrait, though!), but beyond control with wildlife and natural light, which is your territory, Jas.

You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join for free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.