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3 Basic Tips for Creating Soft Light

Noam Kroll

Soft light can give you top-notch results when shooting talent, but many amateur DPs struggle with the basics. Use these illuminating tips to soften your shadows on set.

Top image from New Slate Films

There’s no exact science to lighting talent, although most often soft lighting will be preferable over hard lighting. The reason, of course, is because hard, undiffused lights will cast harsh shadows on faces, exaggerating imperfections and flaws. Soft lights on the other hand, do the exact opposite.

Many first time DPs struggle to understand differences in light quality. As a result, they overlook some of the most basic fundamentals when on set for their first time. If this sounds like you, then read on! These three tips are essential to know when trying to create soft light.

1. Diffusion is everything.

3 Basic Tips for Creating Soft Light: Diffusion is Everything
Image from Pro Video Coalition

This first point is probably the most obvious one on this list. Diffusion is one of the simplest and easiest ways to soften your light source. Whether you use a professional silk or simply clip some diffusion paper to your light, the quality of light you’re producing will change immediately. Just remember, adding diffusion is a great start — but it’s not the only way to affect the softness of your light.

2. Get your lights close to your talent.

3 Basic Tips for Creating Soft Light: Get your lights close to the talent.
Image from Westcott

The proximity of your lights to your talent has a huge impact on the softness of the shadows it produces. The closer your lights are to your talent, the softer the shadows will be. This is surprising for many first time DPs as they often assume that pulling the lights further back will soften the light. Though, in reality, that will only expose the talent less, while creating harsher shadows.

3. Make your source bigger.

3 Basic Tips for Creating Soft Light: Make your source bigger.

The third main factor to consider about soft lighting is the size of your source. A large light source will always be softer than a small source. So whenever you can, use the biggest light source possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need huge lights, but rather that you create a huge source — these are two different things. For instance, you may point a small light at a large piece of diffusion, which effectively makes the diffusion your new source (not the light) and the overall softness will increase dramatically.

Hopefully these tips will help you out the next time you’re lighting a shot. Now here are a couple of handy videos that delve a little deeper into the points above.

Video Lighting Technique: Turn a Hard Light into A Soft Light

This clip from izzyvideo offers really good insight into the differences between hard and soft light and presents ideas on how to best create softer shadows.

Soft Boxes 101: A Lighting Lesson

This video from The Slanted Lens covers the basics of working with softboxes and touches on several of the points discussed earlier in this post.

Here are a few more PremiumBeat articles on the subject of lighting:

Got any bright ideas or helpful lighting tips to share with the community? Let us know in the comments below!