Hard and soft light
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Hard and soft light are different types of lighting that are commonly used in photography and filmmaking. Soft light is light that tends to "wrap" around objects, projecting diffused shadows with soft edges. Soft light comes from a light source that is large relative to the subject, whereas hard light from one that is small relative to the subject.
The hardness or softness of light depends mostly on the following two factors:
- The distance between the light source and the subject: The closer the light source and subject are to each other, the softer the light becomes.
- The apparent size of the light source: The larger the light source appears, the softer the light becomes.
The softness of a light can also be determined by the angle between the illuminated surface and the direction of the light source. The steeper this angle is, the softer the light.
Uses of soft lightEdit
Soft light use is popular in cinematography and film for a number of different reasons:
- Cast shadow-less light.
- Fill lighting. Soft light can reduce shadows without creating additional shadows.
- Make a subject appear more beautiful or youthful through making wrinkles less visible.
- Supplement the lighting from practicals. This technique is used to perform "motivated" lighting, where all light in the scene appears to come from practical light sources in the scene. Soft light does not cast shadows that would be a giveaway of a supplementary light source.
Hard light sources cast shadows whose appearance of the shadow depends on the lighting instrument. For example, fresnel lights can be focused such that their shadows can be "cut" with crisp shadows. That is, the shadows produced will have 'harder' edges with less transition between illumination and shadow. The focused light will produce harder-edged shadows. Focusing a fresnel makes the rays of emitted light more parallel. The parallelism of these rays determines the quality of the shadows. For shadows with no transitional edge/gradient, a point light source is required. Hard light casts strong, well defined shadows.
When hitting a textured surface at an angle, hard light will accentuate the textures and details in an object. This will also increase the 3D-appearance of the object. 
Light intensity tends to dim with distance. For a point source of light, intensity decreases as distance increases. Intensity (I) is inversely proportional to the square of the distance (D), as expressed in the formula I = 1⁄D2.
For a thin infinitely long light source, intensity is inversely proportional to distance. For a light source of infinite area, intensity does not decrease at all. Generally, a soft light source does not drop in intensity as quickly as a point light source would (as distance increases).
Certain lensed lighting instruments (e.g. ellipsoidal reflector spotlights) have a good deal of "throw" and do not lose much intensity as distance increases. These light sources tend to be more effective at large distances than soft light sources. At large distances, an effective soft light source would have to be very large. The (mostly) parallel rays of such instruments tends to cast hard shadows, unlike soft light sources.
Softness/hardness of various light sourcesEdit
Most light sources have a non-negligible size and therefore exhibit the properties of a soft light to some degree. Even direct sunlight does not cast perfectly hard shadows.
In "hard" light sources, the parallelism of the rays is an important factor in determining shadow behaviour.
The quality of light can be altered by using diffusion gel or aiming a lighting instrument at diffusing material such as a silk. When shooting outdoors, cloud cover provides nature's version of a softbox.
- An explanation of hard and soft light and its usage in photography, additional text.