Skip to main content

Quality of Light

Lesson 4 from: Understanding Light & Light Modifiers

Mark Wallace

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

4. Quality of Light

The foundation of understanding and describing light is knowing about the quality of light. We can define light as “hard” or “soft” by looking at the shadows that light casts. Mark first demonstrates the quality of light by examining some shadows, and then he creates hard and soft light with some basic light modifiers.

Lesson Info

Quality of Light

now it's time to start talking about the quality of light, specifically hard light and soft light. And we can understand if light is hard or soft by looking at the shadows that light casts. And so what we're gonna do here in this section is we're going to do exactly that. We're going to first look at some stuff back here on this white background and look specifically at shadows and understand those shadows. And we'll be able to define hard and soft light and then we're going to apply that to some portraits with Quinn. So we're gonna do some hard light portraits, we're gonna do some soft light portraits. Now this is pretty foundational one oh one lighting stuff but you have to know it because the majority of what light modifiers do is they create either soft light and specifically soft light that's diffused or directional or controlled or hard light and hard light that is diffused or hard light, that is very directional headlights being thrown. But we have to understand these two differ...

ent things and how they work and then we'll start digging into each one of those in depth to see really specific things about this. So what we're gonna do here is we're gonna do a little demonstration, I'm gonna move this out of the way and we're gonna be getting uh in the dark here a little bit. So what I'm gonna do is first, I'm gonna turn on a modeling light here and now all the lights are gonna go off and you're gonna see, I am in the dark and what we have is we have a shadow on the background and this shadow has some characteristics that tell us that this light is hard, specifically, we have this area here, this is our light. So this is the area that we would consider light falling on the subject. This area here is what we would consider shadow. And then on the edge and maybe even down here, this is what we call the transition area. The transition area is what defines how hard and how soft light is. If we have a transition from light to shadow that is very abrupt like this, it's a really, really crisp line that is hard light, the hardest light you can get. It's just light bam dark. And that is what we're talking about when we talk about hard light. Now, if you come down here sort of at this end of the shadow, you can sort of see this is pretty hard light, so it's not really well defined, but you can sort of see from the light to the shadow, there's a transition area, so it doesn't just go light shadow, it goes light starting to fade out and now it's in the shadow. So there's a transition area. The larger this transition area is, the softer the light is. Now, before we get to uh Well, let me just show you another thing here, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna move this light back just a little bit, I'll move that back, I'm gonna move it around if I do this just right, you can sort of see that when we move the light, there's a shadow and then there's this weird little shadow here, and then light. So we've changed the characteristics of this shadow. We're gonna talk about this a little bit more Well, a lot more when we get to the section about controlling shadows and what that is. But for now, the thing that is the most important to understand is hard light is defined by light, no real transition area and shadow. Now, what we're gonna do, we're gonna turn the lights back on so I can sort of, see what I'm doing, we're gonna turn this light off and move it out of the way. And what we're going to do is I'm going to move this light over, notice there's something that we already get a clue here, notice this light has this thing on it. This thing is called a soft box, and it's named that because it's a box and it creates soft light. We're gonna learn why and how it creates soft light, but that's not the point now, right now, we're just gonna look at what soft light is. So, what I'll do is I'm gonna move this over, turn on the modeling light here, I guess I have to turn on the light first, That is on. Okay, now, I'll turn on my modeling light, is that on, nope, Turn on the modeling light now that's not? Okay now we're gonna turn off all the other lights now ha it's totally different. Look at what is happening here. Um we have the same thing blocking the light but notice this is just sort of surrounding all of this we have right here is where we have a shadow but there's this really uh soft um transition area here, this is really soft light. Now if I move this light maybe a little bit farther back, maybe move it out and see if I can make a larger shadow here, something like this. Here we go. Yeah, so look if we look right here from the shadow area to the light area, you can't really see where the shadow starts and stops. That is classic soft light, it's soft because the transition between shadow and light is just really soft, it's sort of seamless and so it's really easy to see on this. The difference between hard and soft light. So we're gonna turn the lights back on and what we want to do is we want to apply that to a portrait and so what we're going to do is we're going to have Quinn come out and she's gonna stand in front of we have a second seamless background which is right here and we're gonna shoot some hard light portraits and some soft light portraits and we're gonna see how they look and we're gonna sort of figure out how to make them look good or bad. So one of the things that um some photographers will tell you is that hard light portraits should never be used. That is absolutely not true at all. You can shoot beautiful portraits with hard light if you know how to control that light. So right now we're just looking at the definition of what hard light is and what soft light is. We're gonna learn how to create those two things. Later on. We're gonna learn about all kinds of ways to control both of those things to make portraits and whatever you're shooting. Look exactly the way you want it to look. Okay, so to begin with, what I'm going to do is I'm going to bring out this light. Now the first thing to notice is this light is really small. So the modifier on this light is really small. That's it. This is the modifier. So I'll bring it out there as you can see. It really is just this reflector here. And so what this is doing is it's pointing the light right at our subject and it's just not surrounding them. It's not wrapping the light around. Its doing none of that is just saying I'm a light bam and it's punching him in the face hard light and so we'll contrast this against the soft light here in a second. So let me turn this light off so it doesn't accidentally fire and what we're going to do is I'm gonna take this light, in fact, we're gonna look at this camera over here that's sort of looking straight on, you can see that my camera is going to be facing this way. And so one of the things that's really important is the direction, the relationship between the camera and where the light is placed and so right now, just sort of pay attention. We're gonna do an entire section on that, but for now, I'm gonna be moving that light around just a little bit from left to right and so it's important to sort of try to understand what's happening when I do that. We're gonna have an entire section on that specifically. But for now, just a little preview of what's to come. So I'm gonna move this out of the way, just so it doesn't bother us. And what I'm going to do is I'm going to take this light, I'm gonna put it up a little bit above Quinn. So if I put this next to Quinn, you can see it's sort of above her head, Sorry, I smashed your toe, Sorry about that. Um and then it's gonna be sort of coming down, just gonna be coming down, you can see the direction of the light, I'm gonna pull it back About six ft or so and then it's gonna be just to the side, something like that. So I'll turn on the modeling light and you can sort of see that. And even with our video lights, in fact, let's do this, let's turn off all the video lights just for a second and maybe Oh yeah, so even on the video, you can see a couple of things um and I don't know how close we can zoom, maybe we can zoom with the other camera. Yeah, so look at a couple of things, I love this shot, this is beautiful. So stay on this year, we're shooting live by the way, This is so fun. Um so you can see a couple of things in this shot and it doesn't matter if you see me or not really. Look at the shadows and look at Quinn. So one of the things that we can see are the light, the light that's falling underneath Quinn's chin and if I bring this up, you can see that light is extended down. If I bring this down, it goes up, you can really see that on the shadow behind her. Look at that shadow behind her. Whoa, spooky notice that it is really well defined. This shadow, you can see her silhouette really, really well, that is how you can see hard light. It's really well defined. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna meet her this light again, we're not gonna talk about metering in depth in this class, we think we're gonna touch on it just a bit, but what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna meet her this light just to see how to set my camera. I am shooting by the way at 1/60 of a second. Um shutter speed I. s. A. 100. And for this my aperture value will be F 11 F. 11. I'm tethering to my laptop. In fact if we go to the laptop you can see I need to go in here and I need to say tethered shooting, tethered capture, start tethered capture just looking for my camera. I'll turn my camera on. Here we go. Is it there? How about now? Okay they're just okay so I'll start my tethered capture. All right so what we're going to do here is just put your hand in front of your face just for a second. We're doing that so that you can see that we are indeed shooting this live. And my remote is not on for my flash and we'll turn that on you. I love it when stuff times out. I promise we set this up beforehand. Okay now let me see there it goes. All right so you can see that now that the tether tethering that we're doing is live and so I'm going to turn off that little bar there so you can see what we're doing. Okay what we're talking about hard light. So what we're gonna do is we're gonna shoot some hard light portraits. And so what I want to do with this. I know that hard light loves contrast, it loves black and white images and so we might play a little bit in um lightroom to convert these two black and white. But I just want to show you what hard light portraits look like. So take a look right at me. Quinn beautiful, just like that. I want you to look toward that light. There you go, gorgeous. Take a 1/2 step forward. There we go. So I had her do that because I want to get the shadow off the background and then also having her look toward the flash so that we minimize what those shadows look like. Beautiful and just lower your chin just a little bit and then with your eyes look at me. There you go gorgeous. Okay so now we're gonna do is we're gonna take a look at these really quickly in lightroom so if we can get some light in here really fast CIA. Um what we can do is let's take a look at what's going on here with these shadows, specifically the shadows that are underneath her chin. Notice that these shadows are really really crisp, really really crisp but also I want you to take a look at the shadows under her lips. And the shadow that's right here on her chin. So this is sort of beautiful. This light right here on her chin because it defines her chin very very well. We have a great definition of her nose, her eyes, her eye lashes. And so the beauty of shooting with hard light is that we can show details and we can show this is great for beauty photography. If you look at makeup photography stuff for things like Revlon et cetera. A lot of those are going to be mixed mixes of hard light and soft light. And so we'll do that a little bit later, but this is fantastic. So we really are seeing the form of Quinn's face and the beauty of her face. If we go in here and maybe um change this to black and white, let's just do a really down and dirty conversion by clicking this button here. Um maybe we can increase the shadows a little bit, take the blacks down and then we can go in a little bit closer and you can see how hard light just loves black and white images. It looks really, really great. Okay, so the point of this is to understand what hard light is and how it looks later. We're gonna learn how to control it and get all the bits that we can possibly get out of it. Now, what we wanna do is we want to contrast that to soft light and see how that looks and see the differences on a similar portrait of Quinn. So what I'm gonna do is I'm just going to really simply turn off this light and we're going to get rid of it. So let's move this over here and now what we're going to do, so I'm gonna zip this guy Over here. Okay, so this is the same kind of light. So these are both Ellen Chrome ELC 500 lights. The only difference between the two is the light modifier, the thing that I have on that. So what we're gonna do here is I'm going to put this to the side, so similar kind of setup that we had before this camera, Sorry. And what we're going to do is keep it, the light is about the same level as as Quinn and again to the site. So I'll turn on the modeling light so we can sort of see that and let's kill all the lights around us. So that is um, is done and you can immediately see a couple of things. So look at the shadow behind Quinn, notice that now that shadow on the background is very soft, the transition area is very soft. I'll take a couple of pictures here, we'll look at uh what Quinn looks like. So let me just get a meter reading here of Quinn. So, my light meter keeps shutting off. All right, so we'll do that and I have the wrong light turned on, let me go back here and shut this light off. Okay, now, there we go. So this light is metering at 36, which means it's not bright enough, I'm gonna break it up quite a bit. There we go. And I'll meet you that again, It's too bright, it's F 18. Come down a little bit. Try to get around F 11, so that is pretty darn close. F 11. Okay, so now they're equivalent, so these both are at F and so we can take another photo. Okay, so Quinn, we're gonna do another vertical shot similar to what we did before and yes, perfect. And then what I also want you to do is to look again into that light like you did the last time. Beautiful and then eyes toward me. There you go. Excellent. Okay, what I want to do now is to compare these to the shots that we did earlier. And so here is the soft light. I would need to change the white balance a little bit on this, I'll just do that really quickly so notice right off the bat. Something that I love. So look at the shadows on her chin. So one of the things that I love about this is we still have this definition on her chin, sort of, this highlight around her chin. We're still getting form on her face, we still see her cheekbones, we still see the shape of her nose. We don't have the shadow underneath her lips anymore. We can still see her eyelashes. Also notice in her eye we have a square shape, we're gonna talk about that a little bit later on. But we still we still see the form of her. It's just not as defined as before. So I want to just open up the shadows a little bit on this. I think my metering was just a tad off and then we'll fix that. So what I'm gonna do here is I'm gonna contrast this shot and this shot will put those next to each other and you can clearly see here now on the shot on the left. Really, really hard shadow under the chin shot on the right. Almost no shadow. You can see the form of her neck. That's the thing that's important. You can see this uh this tendon here. I don't know what it's called but that extension here from the collarbone coming up, we can see that form. You can see that over here, but it's just being interrupted by this big blocky triangular shape. So for me, this soft light is a much more beautiful portrait than the hard light that we have over here. But we can make beautiful portraits with hard and soft light. We just have to be intentional with it. The thing that's important to understand is what hard light and soft light look like and which modifiers create hard and soft light. So let's talk about that just a second. We're gonna turn the lights on. Thanks Quinn, we're gonna have to come back in the next segment. We're gonna do some more stuff. So the thing that is important to understand is what did we put on our light to make it hard or soft. And so the thing that we did with the hard light notice we have this metal reflector and it's sort of round, it was small, and this is sort of the characteristics of most hard light reflectors. They tend to be metallic, they tend to be round, and they tend to have uh sort of a silver or white interior, because what it's doing is it's just throwing the light straightforward at the model or the subject, whatever that happens to be without diffusing it. And the opposite of that soft light is this thing right here, so notice we have a really, really large source of light and so that tends to be what soft light needs. I'm gonna turn this off. So things that are larger with this thing right here, this is called the diffusion panel. So soft light tends to be diffused, scattered large, and it doesn't have a single source of direction most of the time. So you're gonna start seeing that as we go forward, the size of the light is really gonna matter to determine if it's hard or soft. The other thing that's gonna matter is the shape of the light. So, if it's round, square uh octo box, if it's parabolic, whatever we're gonna talk about that. So now that we know what hard light and soft light is. Let's dive a little bit deeper into this thing about size and specifically effective size. So we're gonna do that next.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Bonus YouTube Videos.pdf
Frio Grasp Mini Discount.pdf
Pop Quiz.pdf
Sample Photos for Pop
Tether Tools Pro Kit Discount.pdf
Tether Tools Starter Kit Discount.pdf
Understanding Light and Modifiers-presentation.pdf

Ratings and Reviews


Wow, Impressive with lots of information on light modifiers. Lots of variations of use and the bonus material. Mark is very good as a teacher. Glad I purchased the subscription plan so I can see the other Mark Wallace classes. Now to go to work and use the information.


I've heard much of this before, but this class really does a good job explaining and demonstrating the principles and techniques it covers. Mark is certainly quite knowledgeable, and he makes the material accessible and easy to grasp. It does cover quite a lot of ground, and while others may go into more detail, I think this class is great for building a good foundation.

Mario Furtado

Mark and his crew did an excellent job in this class. Now I am eager to see Go-To Lighting Setups and Studio Lighting Essentials. Congratulations.

Student Work