WEEK 24: Soft Light

Photography is all about light. As such, it should come as no surprise that lighting is one of the most important aspects in creating a great photograph. The quality of lighting can make the difference between a mediocre shot and a fantastic one. This week, we will focus on one particular type of light: Soft Light.

Soft Light is a diffused, even light that comes from a large area. Examples of soft light include a cloudy day, light diffused through a large curtain or sheet, outdoor shade, etc. Because these light sources are relatively large, they tend the light the subject very evenly, providing very smooth, gradual transitions from lighter to darker areas. This soft, smooth light can make for very pleasing photographs.

Let’s start with an example, comparing the differences between harsh and soft light:

Gisel – Eric Minbiole

In the example above, we have two shots of the same cat, in front of the same window, taken with the same camera. The main difference between the two is the lighting.

The top picture was taken in direct sunlight, which gives a very hard light. Note how harsh the lighting is: The bright areas are a bit too bright, and the shadows are a bit too dark. Compare the eyes: The eye on the right is in direct sunlight; it’s so bright that she needs to squint. The left eye, on the other hand, is so dark you can’t see any detail. The photo lacks a nice middle ground– everything is either too bright, or too dark.

The bottom picture, on the other hand, was taken on a cloudy day, which provides nice soft light. Because of this, the lighting is much more soft, even, and graceful. While there are still lighter areas and darker areas, the difference between the two is much more gradual and subtle. As well, while the bottom picture still has shadows, they are much softer, and less distracting than in the top picture.

Dutch Masters II – Eric Minbiole

This photo was taken for Maaike’s “Dutch Masters” challenge a few years ago. When taking the photo, I wanted a soft, painting-like quality. As such, I used a “soft box” light– basically, a regular light with a large piece of white cloth in front of it. This setup creates a soft, even, diffused light.

The soft light is really what makes this photo. (After all, it’s just a few pieces of fruit sitting on a piece of wood– hardly the most exciting of subjects.) With the nice light, the photo works well. However, imagine this same setup sitting in harsh sunlight: The photo would lose it’s painting-like quality, and wouldn’t have nearly the same impact.

B&W – SHAPE – Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

This photograph is stunning. I’ve photographed flowers thousands of times, but don’t know if I’ve ever captured one quite as beautifully as this. The biggest reason that this photograph stands out so well is the beautiful, soft lighting. The light transitions gracefully and smoothly from lighter areas to darker ones, making for a wonderful photograph.

This photo was taken outside, in the shade of a large tree. Shade can be a fantastic source of soft light: The sunlight never hits the subject directly. (Doing so would give very harsh light.) Instead, the sunlight bounces off of everything around the subject, lighting it indirectly. Because the light comes from seemingly everywhere, it produces a soft, even light on your subject.

Longwood Home – Eric Minbiole

This photo was taken for Eadie’s “Straight Out of Camera” challenge. Because I wasn’t allowed to make any edits to the image, the subject itself had to look as good as possible. To help with this, I took the photo shortly before sunset, on a nice, cloudy day. Doing so gave the image a soft, relaxing look.

The Challenge

This week, I want everyone to take a photograph using soft light. The actual choice of subject is up to you– still life, portrait, indoor, outdoor, or anything that you like. The only restriction is that the light should be as soft and smooth as possible. We don’t want to see any harsh shadows or overly bright spots; just nice, soft, even lighting. (As Jeanie taught us last year, make sure to keep a close eye on your histogram; even with soft light, you still want to include a wide range of dark and light tones in your photos.)

Note that you don’t need any special equipment for this challenge. Most of the sample photos above were taken using cloudy days, sunset, or natural shade– all free. If Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, you can create your own soft light by placing a curtain or sheet in front of a light source. As always, you should feel free to ask the group if you’d like suggestions or assistance– we’re all here to help.

Creative, out-of-the-box ideas are always allowed and encouraged. Get your camera, be creative, and have fun!

The friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to our active community on our Facebook GroupFlickr Group or 500PX group (or all three). Tag the photo:  #10thanniversaryphotochallenge #2018photochallenge #photochallenge #tempusaura
  • The shot should be a new shot you took this week, for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2018 Trevor Carpenter Photo Challenge is fun and easy.

About Eric Minbiole

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with anything technical– electronics, computers, cameras, gadgets, etc. Growing up, I loved taking things apart to see what was inside. While I couldn’t always put things back together, I loved trying to figure out how things work. Because of my love for all things technical, I pursued a degree in Electrical Engineering, and currently work as a Software Engineer. I’ve been fascinated with photography ever since borrowing my parents 110 film camera when I was young. It’s been a great hobby ever since: I love experimenting with photos, and trying new things. I especially love technical and/or trick photography. (“Gimmicks!”, as my wife jokingly calls them 😉 ) While I’m comfortable with the technical side of how to shoot, I struggle more with the artistic side of what to shoot in the first place. This is one reason I quite enjoy this group: There are fun, interesting ideas each week. I joined PhotoChallenge as a participant in 2014, and am amazed at how much this group has helped me learn. Each week, I look forward to the fun, creative challenges that Steve, Trevor, Gary, and Jeremy put together. Most importantly, the weekly challenges give me the motivation to get out there and take photos each week. (Otherwise, I suspect my camera might be gathering dust on the shelf.) As well, interacting with the fantastic members of the group– discussing suggestions, techniques, what works, what doesn’t– has been an invaluable help. I am absolutely thrilled to join the PhotoChallenge team– I’ve learned so much from the group, and hope that I can give back a little bit. If you’d like to see some of my photos, please check out my flickr page.

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