Hard vs. Soft Light: A Quick Refresher

You might know by now the difference between hard and soft light. But the concept may still be a little fuzzy. Either way, this small refresher video should be able to answer any niggling doubts that you may still have:

Photographer Robert Grant uses two different light sources to demonstrate the effect of hard and soft light on a subject. As a matter of fact, he uses the same light source and just tweaks it a bit to create two different light types.


A clear incandescent bulb—the type you would commonly find in any household.


The background used is perfectly white.

Light Source

The source of light is another clear light bulb held in position on a stand. No reflectors or beauty dish or any other modifiers were used. What you get in this setup is a hard light source.

Equipment and Settings

Grant uses a 70-200mm zoom lens set to about 138mm. The exposure settings are 4 seconds at f/18. The idea is to have everything in the frame tack sharp, including the shadow and the edges of the light bulb.

hard light vs soft light

Hard Light

A hard light predictably creates a strong shadow, as is depicted in the image above. Notice the small, dot-shaped highlight on the bulb. Also notice the strong shadow on the white foreground.

soft light for table top photography

Soft Light

Grant now puts a sheet of vellum paper in front of the light source. In an instant, the nature of the light changes and becomes soft. The vellum is a translucent material which diffuses the light, making it soft. Notice that the exposure was increased to 8 seconds to compensate for the loss of light. Also notice that now the shadow is almost non-existent.

These examples should clear up the difference between hard and soft light for you!

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