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Hard and soft lighting in film: What are their differences

Lighting creates visual moods in the films, and there are hard and soft lighting in film. A skilled filmmaker should know the differences between them, what are their ideal uses, and how to get each in filmmaking.

COLBOR CL60 offers hard lighting to illuminate the subject

Hard film lighting example

Key difference in definition: They differ in transition from light to shadow

Light travels as waves, and how they are spread is determined by their softness. The shadows cast by a light indicate how soft or hard it is. Hard light in photography and film is extremely directed and throws distinct shadows on the subject. As the size of a light source increases, it starts to wrap around the subject. Because it is diffused across a larger area, the shadows grow softer because more points of contact illuminate them. In general, soft light is more flattering.

What is hard lighting in film?

Hard light is a concentrated, usually powerful light that highlights a particular area of a shot and creates severe shadows. The transition from light to shadow is well-defined and harsh. Your subject's silhouette will produce a clear, hard shadow while they are in hard lighting. It is similar to how an object appears when the sun is shining directly on it on a sunny day.

What is soft lighting in film?

Soft lighting in film is bright but balanced, with few strong shadows. The shift between light and shadow is significantly smoother and more gradual. There will be few to no shadows on your subject's face if they are bathed in gentle light. And if shadows exist, they will not be as dark as that in hard illumination.

Consider how things appear on a cloudy or overcast day, with clouds providing a diffusion between the sun and an item. The cloud diffuses the sun's light, which illuminates the item from all sides, providing soft lighting.

Hard vs soft lighting in film: What are other differences?

The difference in the transition from highlight and shadow makes the hard and soft lighting in film suitable for different uses. They are also different in ways to get them.

When to use: They are ideal for different film types

Hard lighting is a type of lighting that provides depth, intricacy, and dimension to your films. It can elicit more complicated emotions or create a feeling of mystery, drama, or something else entirely. Why is this the case? The contrast provided by hard film lighting lends a more serious tone to the scenes. This is why it works so well in a variety of genres, from horror to action. If you're going for a film noir style, hard lighting will give you a more edgy appearance than other types of lighting.

When it comes to avoiding tension, edginess, drama, or other comparable moods in your film, soft lighting is far superior to hard lighting. Because it is much warmer and bright, it may be a better choice for humorous films or ones that do not require such qualities to connect with the viewer (such as an action or horror picture).

It might also be a response to the fact that you need to utilize hard lighting in film. For example, if the faces of subjects don't appear quite right under hard illumination due to defects caused by the lighting and angles, employing soft lighting may help you improve the look. It has certain negatives, such as losing the texture of specific things or lightening the themes of a scene, but it's an excellent lighting method that you'll grow to love as you continue to produce films in a variety of genres.

Softboxes are used to create soft lighting in film.

How to get hard and soft light in film: They require different setup ways or equipment

Whether you get hard or soft lighting in filmmaking is determined by the following two factors:

  • The distance between the light source and the subject
  • The size of the light source

Based on these factors, you can get hard and soft lighting in film.

When the light source is smaller and farther away from the subject, you get hard lighting in the film.

  • When filming outside, the naked sun will provide harsh light. If you prefer harsher illumination, an unobstructed sun at high noon and the hours around noon can be your greatest source.
  • Inside, lighting coming through the window can be hard if it is coming in via exposed glass (i.e. no curtain) and the sun is straight outside the window.
  • Attaching a light modulator that narrows the light beam is another approach to creating and regulating harsh light. Snoots, barn doors, and grids are all excellent choices for this.

Light sources that are big (compared to the subject) and closer to subjects provide soft light. It can also happen when light goes through via a diffusion material such as silk, gauze, or diffusion gel.

  • When filming outside, on gloomy days, or when the sun is low in the sky, the sun offers soft lighting for filming.
  • When dealing with window light, drape some white or almost transparent window hangings over the glass to create some wonderful soft illumination. You can also wait till the sun isn't shining straight through the window.
  • Softboxes, umbrellas, and beauty dishes are all excellent modifiers to soften film lighting. Scims, diffusion gels, and other materials that disperse light out as it passes through can also be used.

You can see the below video by KN film to see how to get soft light in film by using COLBOR CL60 best studio light for video and COLBOR BL65 lantern softbox.

Video by KN film


While soft lighting in film may be extremely effective, it is not suitable for every scene or setting. In reality, there are several drawbacks to soft lighting, such as its restricted intensity, which can significantly lessen the tension in the scene. Soft lighting also lacks overall contrast, thus figures and components will be less noticeable. Most filmmakers agree that a combination of hard and soft lighting in film produces the greatest results on set. In truth, they are routinely utilized together to achieve the required results in a wide range of films.