Soft & Hard Shadows


Seeing and Shaping Light


Lesson Info

Soft & Hard Shadows

Okay. Photos, it's too far away, I can't see those catch lights. I can see the direction of the shadow but 'cause I can't see the catch lights, I don't know what the modifier was. Like, the catch lights usually give that away, I can't see it. So, then I go to the shadows, and one of the next things I do, is I look at the edges of the shadows, the edges of shadows tell me a lot. So, we already talked about this difference, the hard light. Hard light, immediately goes form shadow to highlight. Soft light, there's a gradient, it's much more subtle. So, I can look at those edges and try to figure out what modifiers there are. So, let's take a look and I'm going to try to group some things here. Going to do hard ones over here. Okay, so... I'm going to just sort some modifiers here and we're going to lay them out. Assuming you have choices over all of these. Let's do... Somewhere here, okay, so what I'm doing is, on this side, on this direction, I'm going with soft modifiers, so I'm going t...

o give you all the descriptions of what modifiers are soft, what would give you a more subtle gradient or transition. And then, we'll go all the way to the opposite direction and then, everything in between. What else we got here? I've got my umbrellas. Okay, perfect, so... And I do have a beauty dish that I'm going to stick in the mix here. It's nice to have all these toys. (chuckles) Alright. So, I'm just going to give you a general modifiers talk. Okay, so, this is roughly a layout of things from soft light, all the way over to hard or harder light. And these can, kind of, depends on how you use these. Yeah. (chuckles) And I'm going to put it, like, they're all kind of, they kind of depend on distance, kinda like, roughly. Alright, so. On the furthest side, if you want the most subtle transition from highlight to shadow, really soft, if you want the texture on the forehead to be very forgiving, if you don't want crisp lines, you want to go for larger modifiers which would include things like soft boxes. This is a three by four soft box. An octabox, there's three foot, there's five foot. Or, an umbrella with a diffuser. An an umbrella with a diffuser, this diffusion part makes it softer. So, anything that is white in the inside pushed it more in the soft direction. Anything is silver on the inside pushes it more in the harder direction. Anything that is bigger pushes it more in the soft direction. Anything that is smaller pushes it more in the hard direction. So, I've got, these are solidly soft light sources. Then, you've got the ones that are like, kind of in between. You've got silver umbrella here, a shoot-through white umbrella here, and a beauty dish. These are kinda in between 'cause they've got qualities of both. This is bigger, so it's going to give you a little bit softer, it wraps around so it's a little bit softer but it's silver, so it gives you more specularity. And it gives you a little more transition, so it's kind of in between, it's like the shadow/highlight transition is subtle but then, you've got a lot of texture to it. A white umbrella for shoot-through, well, this is really small. So, a really small light source isn't going to give you that much wrap and that much softness but if you took a big one of these, like a seven foot, it's moving it over in this direction, towards much softer. So, size is going to make a difference in the softness. A beauty dish, it's got like, it's kind of got it's hand in all of these worlds because it's smaller, so it moves it kind of over in the harder direction. But it's white, so it moves it back over this direction and it's reflected light, so the light hits this reflective panel, it bounces back in, so it moves it over this direction. I use the beauty dish all the time. And this is my little run-through of why I use it, it's 'cause I kind of feel like I get the best of both worlds. One of the reasons we like soft boxes is, the larger the light source is relative to the subject, softer light, it's big, it's diffused. So this is the most forgiving. It's forgiving on bad textures. It's forgiving on wrinkles, it's just nicest to your subject. But, it's kind of hard to control. You know, like, with that feathering, the light's going everywhere. Or, let's say that I want to have crisp Rembrandt light. It's harder to do that 'cause that shadow transition is really subtle. Okay, but if take a walk all the way over here to the hard light sources, for example, a zoom reflector, it's small, so it's going to give me hard light. It's silver, so it's going to give me hard light. So, it's moving over in this direction but what it's going to do is, it's going to show every wrinkle, every blemish, every texture, every hair, everything is going to show with one of these. But, man, I can get the most gorgeous, razor sharp Rembrandt light where I can carve out the cheekbones and jawline and I have a lot of control. But it's crappy on the skin. And so, it's like the beauty dish, it kind of takes the best of both worlds because it's white and it's reflective. It's benefiting from those but it's small enough that I can shape the light. I add a grid, I've got even more control 'cause the light can't spill everywhere. So that's why I use it often. I'm not saying that this is the light modifier to use, it's just the one that exists with a foot in both worlds. Kind of hard to place it. So, if we move back down to the far side with these, we've got zoom reflectors, this is moving in the hard area. There's different sized ones, there's telezoom ones that are big and deep, just silver, small light sources. Grids, they're basically going to be the bare bulb but then they just focus the light, so they're hard. And then, your snoot. It's the same thing, it's the bare bulb but focused. So this is all in the hard realm. So, this is giving you your choices when you're looking at a photo. So, what you have to ask yourself is, how soft is it, how much is there a transition there? If it's just so subtle, you know it's got to be real big or real close. And if it's really razor sharp, it's got to be one of these but is the light focused on the face, so maybe it's a grid or a snoot, or is it spreading everywhere? So, maybe it's just a zoom reflector. This is the realm of them. Feel free, if anyone has questions of modifiers they have, if you want to know, roughly, where. But again, it also matter how close you have it to decide where it fits in this realm. Yeah. I heard somewhere along the way that you would only use a beauty dish it was within two feet of the subject and farther away, there's no point in using it, is that true? So, that's partially true. You have more flexibility than two feet. But, I would say, after six feet. So, it's going to depend on what you're doing. But, at some point, this beauty dish, right now, next to you, is relatively big to your head. But very quickly, it's not relatively big anymore. But, I still will use it for full-length shots from five to six feet away. That's fine. But, yes, the concept is there, just the distance makes a difference. I usually probably shoot it right around three feet. Two and a half, three feet. We're going to pop on over here, so just reiterating some of that and talking about soft modifiers. Soft things would be soft boxes, large umbrellas, umbrellas with diffusion and shoot through umbrellas. If you've got one of those, that's pushing you in the soft realm. The difference why you would choose one over the other, how the light wraps and then, umbrellas, you don't have much control. So, it depends on the setup. So just taking a look, take a look at the shadow transitions with a three by four foot. As opposed to a four by six, that shadow gets longer 'cause it's not that it's longer, it's the transition gets longer from a four by six. And octabox, these are all roughly in the same category but I kept these all the same distance. So, notice, from a four by six how it's a more subtle transition to a three foot octabox, it's going to be harder 'cause it's smaller. But it's still, I mean, they're the same core pieces, it's just the size. And then, here's an umbrella with diffusion. As a side note, I use umbrellas with diffusion all the time. All the time, if you actually look, if anyone looks at my Instagram, LindsayAdler_photo there's several photos that I posted of plus sized models. Curved subjects the last few days and they were all shot with large umbrellas with diffusion. So, a great light source, nice and soft. But I can also control better than just a regular umbrella. And there's a shoot-through umbrella, nice and soft. So, hard modifiers, on the other hand, would be things like zoom reflectors, telezoom reflectors, snoots and grids. And then you have your in-betweens over there. So that would barehead, see how razor sharp that is. Zoom reflector, not quite as razor sharp but, man, it's pretty close. You wouldn't probably be able to tell if you couldn't see the catch light which one it is, it's just a matter of how focused the beam is. And you've got snoot, but the giveaway for the snoot is what the background does and how the light focuses around the face. Still, razor sharp lines. Yeah. What if you wanted to get a really razor sharp lighting pattern so that you'd be using one of the zoom reflectors but you want to get a square catch light that you would get, is that possible? John Carnicello? Mask off a reflector, you can cut a cardboard mask of a square. That's true. Oh, cinefoil too. Or cinefoil, yeah. 'Cause there's some soft boxes come with square masks to give that or round masks, so you can change the shape with a mask. And for those of you who don't know what cinefoil is, cinefoil is black tin foil that is intended to be used with strobes, or intended to be used for lighting purposes. So, it's basically, a way to block off light directly on the light without worrying about it catching on fire. So, if I wanted to, in your example, change the shape of the catch light, I could put cinefoil here but if I just used duct tape, masking tape, it'll melt, it'll mess things up or cardboard, because I did cardboard once and I caught stuff on fire. So... (audience laughs) So this is what cinefoil is right here and you can get it from B and H-- Cut a square in that. And put it over the-- Exactly, or just... Tape it, cut strips and tape it over. Perfect. You can get it from B and H but that's also, again, theater supply, that kind of stuff. I also will use that if I only have a zoom reflector but I want light that kind of looks like a snoot. Because then, I can take some of that, turn it into a snoot to focus the beam more. Or, if there's a highlight I don't like, I'll use that as a flag off of the background. Or, if there's a bright highlight on the forehead, you know, sometimes with people, it's just, the way you placed the light, you raised it up but they just have a shiny forehead here and it's just too bright, you can actually put cinefoil between them and the forehead and the light and it will just darken down the forehead a little bit. Yeah, so. Yeah, and then, he's got these, what do you call these clips? Multi-clips. Multi-clips, so you can clip these onto the side of the light and then narrow the beam of light, or you could block it off. Barn doors, I hoped to have a sample later, I don't know if they came in yet. Don't know. Yeah, me neither, no. Dun-dun-dun. Okay, so barn doors are one other thing that we'll talk about real quick for quality of light but we'll, eventually, get to this for back lights. Two most common background or rim lights, most common rim lights are going to be strip soft boxes, zoom reflectors or barn doors. And these attach to the side and then, you can open and close the beam, so you can narrow it down to the tiniest of highlights. You can use one of these on the face, have the barn door and narrow it down so you have a strip of light across the face. I just know, since this is so brutal, I can get my focused light but I'm going to have to retouch. Just so you know, when I think about it, I've got plenty of shots where it is just like the narrowest of beams but it showed every pore, and every blemish, and every texture, so I retouch it and then it looks perfect and dramatic. I'm going to save that one for later, 'cause I touch on that one. Thank you. Alright, so let's take a look here. The distance affecting hardness. So, one more time. Watching that forehead shadow, right. So that's another thing that could be a giveaway. Harder, shadows from the nose. So that's what I'm looking at too, it's like, alright, I'm looking at the shadow from the cheek to figure out if it's hard or soft. Shadow from the nose. Shadow underneath the neck and, then, I'm looking at the highlights on the forehead, the nose or the cheek. That's how I'm saying, alright, let's take a look, is this a hard light or a soft light or something in between. Okay, next part of this, so, I'm going to run through my questions again, okay. So I do the whole catch light thing, alright, how many are there, where are they in the eye, are there other multiple, is one high, is one low? If it's high up, how small is it, how high up might that light be, can I see what the catch light is to give me an idea of what the modifier is? Then, I step back and learn as much as I could from the catch light, then step back and say, okay, what can the shadows tell me? The shadow are going to be able to tell me, okay, direction of the shadow, side to side, how far off to the side of the subjects face, how long down to tell me how high up that light is, okay. I can also figure out, is it a soft transition or a hard one to give me an idea of what modifier it might be. But then, the next thing I've got to say is, okay, I've paid attention as much as I could to that main light. But if I back in the catch lights, was there a fill light? Or, if I look at the shadows, is there something filling in the shadows because, if there's a shadow, technically, it should just be solid black, right. There should be no fill. So, if it's not, why isn't it? And how filled is it in. So, this if for all of you that I was saying before, if you've got shadows and they're not solid black and you're not filling them, it's probably because you've got white walls. It will absolutely affect things, especially, let's say I'm shooting here, I'm lighting a white background and there's a white wall behind me, I mean, the same thing, it's gonna bounce and then, it's going to fill in the shadows on the face. So that's why you want to try to control your space a little bit. So, let's take a look at shadows, what we're really examining here. So, let's have, can I have a reflector, is it our here still? Thank you. Alright, so, silver and white reflector. This is a 33 inch reflector. The difference when you're using this for fill, silver or white. Silver fills in more. It captures more light and it gathers it. But, also, if you look at the texture, let's say, you put it underneath someone's chin and you look at the texture. There will be more texture and more specularity. So, just more brighter highlights. Even if it's not, even if it's used really dimly, you see more texture in those dimly lit areas than if you used white. 'Cause white is softer, it doesn't increase contrast. So, my point is this, is that even if the silver is not being used to catch a ton of light, it'll still add more contrast, it just might be in shadow area. Whereas, the white, it's usually softer and then you fill in the shadows that way. So it's got a little bit of a different look and I'm going to be able to show that to you. So, let's take a look a the silver fill. And we're going to take a look at the silver fill from the side. So in this very first photo... There's no fill at all. So I've got a solid shadow on the left hand side of the face which we already know by look at this that the shadow's got to be to the right hand side. And it's got to be raised up to cast that shadow down. It's in a loop but not quite Rembrandt position. Alright, catch light. I mean, it depends on how close you can get. I don't know about online if you could tell, I can see there's a bit of a circle. The sharpness of the highlight on the forehead and the nose, it's not razor sharp but it's also not super soft. So, it's going to be something kind of in the middle. I know beauty dishes well, just because I use them all the time, so I'm going to think it's kind of got that beauty dish feel to it. That's my checklist. Could be an octabox, a little bit farther back if I couldn't see the eye. So, let's add, on the left hand side, a silver reflector. So that first silver reflector fills in the shadows a little bit. When I bring it closer, it fills in the shadows a lot more, but I want you to notice is that highlight on the forehead there. You would not get that with a white reflector. It's because the silver creates that texture, that's what you're seeing. With that little extra highlight. So, to fill in with a reflector, the closer you get, the more if fills but with silver, it's going to create a textured fill. And study the shadows in that way. And then, take a look at the difference with white. So, we've got no fill. We add in the white and, then, I bring the white real close. See how it's not got that same, it's not got that same specularity. You can still get a lot of fill with white but you usually have got to bring it really close, it doesn't kick the light as far. The next thing I want to show and I don't know if the camera can see this, is if you watch my face and my neck, every position that I move this light or this reflector, it changes what the light looks like. So, if you're trying to duplicate this at home and you're just like, oh, I see a reflector, and then you pass it to your subject and they hold it, it might just be a little bit of a different angle that catches the light. What I like to use, is I like to use a tool called a Lastolite triflector. And a Lastolite triflector, I think, it's under $200. It holds three reflectors. One underneath, one on the left and one on the right, it's got three arms. And so, what's really nice is I don't have to worry about passing it to my subject who, then, let's say I get the reflection right and then, I ask them to put their hand to their face. The light changes completely. So I use the triflector very often and it's got silver and white, so I can do silver underneath white filled to the side, if I'm looking at a photo instead of needing multiple assistants which most people don't have the luxury of having. And then, also, Westcott does make a stand and a grip for reflectors, but the triflector for headshots is great because it hold multiples. You can also use things like the multi-clips or use big clamps to clamp them to stands, it's just then you've got multiple stands, you're moving stuff around, just try to keep it simple. Alright, silver versus white fill. White's just a little bit softer but it can still, just because it's white, doesn't mean it can't totally fill it in. It doesn't really affect the strength, it's just a matter of the texture and the way that it looks. So, just taking a look here at the difference. Silver is just giving me more specularity. And I could fill in the shadows even more but the whit still lets me fill them in softer. Not a right or wrong answer, just a different look. One other thing that I actually use quite a bit is something called negative fill. In my studio, I have all white walls because I was avoiding the dungeon feel, honestly. If you look at high-end rental studios, they're all white, all the walls are white. It opens it up, it makes it look brighter but it makes it extremely hard to control the light. So, sometimes you use something called negative fill. And what negative fill is going to be is a black piece of cardboard, some reflectors, the three-in-one or five-in-one actually have black on one side for this reason. So, if you take a look, watch the before and after. Here's when, and I'm not, I wasn't faking this. This is just my own studio, the wall that is to the left of the frame is a good, it's still a good 10 feet away. Like, it's far but watch when I add the black foam core in the way. It makes it significantly darker. So, sometimes, if you're looking for that drama, you actually use black foam cores. John, you want to negative fill? Okay, yeah, bring it in nice and close. That's it, that's all you're doing. You're just blocking the light from bouncing around. What I like to do, is I like to actually use negative fill with natural light. Because, sometimes, let's say you're out on location and they actually will do this a lot of photographing men's fashion or men's portraits, is there's just a lot of light bouncing around everywhere. Bouncing off the floor on a sunny day, the walls, and it fills in underneath the guy's jawline and it softens it. And maybe you want a little bit more definition, so they'll actually put a black reflector underneath the chin and it brings the shadows and back and just carves out that jaw a little bit more. What I like to do is I like to face my subjects towards a window, so, in this case, I would be the subject. I'm faced towards window light, so it's streaming in and illuminating me. And then, now let's say, I'm the photographer. I like to put the subject within the a black V-flat. So there's black negative fill on either side. 'Cause what it does is give me beautiful, glowing light from the windows that's really flat on the face, so brighter and it's flatter and it tends to be a little bit more beauty light. But then, sometimes, it just washes the person out, like, they lose all of their shape. They lose all their definition. So, when you put them in that V-flat, what happens is it's the negative fill on either side, the same thing I showed you here and it just, kind of, eats up the shadow, it darkens them down and, all of a sudden, you've got the cheekbones back and their jawline but they still have that beautiful glow in their eyes. So you may see that where you're looking and you look in, you're like, oh, that catch light. That looks like natural light to me, I can see a window in the eyes but, man, how are they getting such really sharp jawline, how'd they do that? Probably, negative fill on either side. So that's something to add to the repertoire. Alright, so let's take a look of some other things that might mess everybody up. Okay. You can have hard light with soft fill. And so, when I look at work, there's several famous photographers that do this all the time. 'Cause what they'll do is, they'll use a hard light to shape the face but then, it's kind of brutal, so they'll fill it in with a little bit of soft light. So that could be a zoom reflector carving out the face but then, maybe a soft box to fill in the shadows. So they still get the shape they want but it softens it up a bit. I can tell you couple people that I like that do this. If you go look at a lot of their work, one of them is named Dan Winters. If you look at his work, he does a lot of hard main, soft fill and he uses a lot of flags. Another one is Chris Knight, if you look at his photos, hard main light, soft fill. You'll see it over and over again, 'cause they can use that main light to carve out the cheekbones, the jawline, get Rembrandt light, whatever it is and then use a big soft light source, really dim, to fill in those shadows. So, look at their work if you want to see a more refined way to do it, I'm just going to show you the teaching slide so you can see my point. Here's an example where I'm just going to use a reflector. So, you've got super hard light, and it is Rembrandt light. It's a hard light, so I would think, that's razor sharp but the light's kind of going everywhere. I can see it on the background, so I'm going to think it's probably in the zoom reflector, telezoom reflector range. And there's no fill. But I could and white fill to it. So, you get this weird, like, it's still hard light but then, the shadow's not super dark. So you've got to kind of look for those things. And, can you see the texture in the shadows? Is it soft, maybe filled in by white, is it more textured, maybe silver or did they use another modifier? And, usually, if they used another modifier to fill in those shadows, usually you can see it somewhere in the eye, you can see some catch light, so that's your giveaway that it was another light source instead of a reflector. So that would be hard light but with a soft white fill. So you've got to train your eye to realize light can be hard and soft at the same time. It can be both of those things combined together. So here's soft light. And then, with a white fill. So like, it's just very, very different looks. I will keep popping in through the shadows of a couple things I'm looking at. So you can have your fill from your left or your right but you can also have it from underneath. And so, if you can see the catch lights, you can see if it's silver, if it's white, whatever, but sometimes you can't see the catch lights. And so, bottom fill. This was with no fill. Let's go back, no fill. Okay, no fill. And then, here, is when I've added silver. Okay, here's the giveaways for silver. First of all, you can see it in the catch lights. Let's say you can't see the catch lights, the next giveaway to me is, a lot of times, when they use silver, it completely gets rid of the shadows or, see the texture under the neck? There's texture on the neck and, sometimes, the chin is bright. White won't do the same thing. White won't give you as much texture underneath and it'll be softer on the chin, so let's pop over to the white. See how it's not the same thing? The silver, it completely eliminates shadows and here, it's actually casting shadow from the lips 'cause it's so strong. White, much more subtle, doesn't fill in quite as much. So that's kind of my giveaways if I can't see the catch lights. Alright, so, I'm going to pause for a second. John, will you help me move some of this stuff just out a bit and then, we'll do some demos? So let me see if there are any questions and, then, grab a drink. Cool, yeah, what was the name of the trireflector holder? Yeah, that one is called a Lastolite triflector. Okay. They did sell them at B and H, I don't know if they're still there but they're around, Lastolites. How can you tell the difference between the actual lighting and a dodge and burn tool used in post? Okay, so the question really is saying, you can fake stuff in Photoshop, so how can you tell? Here's the thing, later on, at the very end, I'll show you some examples of Photoshop making it complicated and the answer is, you can't always tell. Usually, if you can see the catch lights, you can tell, 'cause they're usually not going to move the catch lights, you can see if they change the shape. If they're not a good retoucher, like, not good at it, you'll be able to tell instantly, but the really good ones, they can completely, completely change the direction of light on a subject. And then, the point of that is, if you're trying to emulate them you'd better learn retouching. So it's like, you just got to identify what's retouching, what's not. Okay, I'm going to ask another one. For rim or hair light, is a hard light source or a soft light source better, I seem to struggle with rim hair light. We're going to do rim light in the next section. Okay. And just so everyone knows, when we come back in the next section, it'll be rim lights, background lights, and then, I'm going to talk about natural light and then, we're going to talk about complications, the things that mess this whole theory up. Like, unique modifiers and retouching and the things that can trick you, so that you try not to be tricked. And then, in the very end, we'll do a bunch of setups where you can piece it apart. The answer to that is, neither or both. It could be, depending on what you're trying to achieve, so the question asked in the beginning, what are you trying to achieve. Dark and dramatic, maybe you want a razor sharp hair light which would be great to have barn doors, something a little bit harder. Whereas, if you're going for soft, and glowing, and high key, maybe something from a soft box would be more appropriate. So, either.

Class Description

"It is a great course! Lindsay explains every possible lighting issue!" - Ayse Christo  

Light is the key element to any photograph. This class will teach all levels of photographers to see light in a whole new way. By understanding the science behind the lighting, you will learn to shape and create more dynamic photographs.

Lindsay Adler is a successful New York fashion photographer and one of the most popular educators in photography. She will help you understand how to decode and recreate the light in images:

  • Understand the terminology of lighting
  • Study the direction, length and depth of Shadows
  • Understand necessary considerations for natural light


Kaltham Ali

Wow wow wow- I finished the entire class in a day! I feel like owning and buy right away all her trainings... this is what a real trainer is al about.. I went from zero in light understanding to really looking to lights/shadows etc.. awesome thanks Lindsay .. the best purchase ever

a Creativelive Student

Lindsay is a talented teacher. She is very knowledgable of what she teaches, but also can teach it well (which is not something all talented people are gifted with, whatever the field). She is humble, dynamic and her courses are interesting to study. The one small improvement I would have liked would have been a little more emphasis and theory on the shaping part. However, this not being the most important, it is better that more emphasis was put on seeing (if you can't see it, you can't make it). Finally, I will say that to study and understand this course, or Lindsay's methodology, you are then equipped with an understanding—you could even say partly knowing the language—of light, which gives you a huge set of tools and advantage, allowing you to progress quite substantially with your studio or out-of-studio photography.