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Hard Light vs Soft Light: How to Create | Which One to Choose?

March 7, 2023

Photography can't exist without the right light. Photographers talk about lights a lot and it is the heart of photography and affects every photo that we see. Light in photography has two qualities, "Hard" and "Soft" light. Many novice photographers don't realize that lighting plays a huge role in great photography. A skilled photographer knows exactly what type of light is needed for a specific photograph. There are certain situations where you can use hard light and soft light. It really depends on the mood of your photograph. Let's get started and see what's the difference between the two lights and how they can improve your photos.

1. What is Hard Light?

Hard light occurs when there are significant and distinct differences between the dark and light parts of an image. There is an immediate and abrupt transition from highlights to shadows. The shadow's edge will be defined and noticeable. An easy way to know if you have hard light on your photo is to look at the transition between shadow and light. If there is a high contrast where the light stops and the shadows begin, your photo has hard light features.

man walking in dark room with lights through french windows


The beauty of hard light is that it creates depth and dimension in your photo. It creates a strong sense of drama unmatched by other lighting techniques. It makes your subject appear strong and capable. It's the best choice when you want an edgy and gritty feel for your photographs.

2. What is Soft Light?

Soft light features a gradual transition from light to shadow. There are subtle shadows in the image and the transition from dark to bright is less noticeable. You'd want to use this scenery if you want to make your photo appear calmer and more peaceful. There's no abrupt change from light to dark and there is less contrast. You can expect your photo if it has soft light by also inspecting the transition between the light and shadow in your image. Soft light in photos looks very even and has almost zero or minimal contrast.

female's headshot with soft light


A natural-looking effect is a result of using soft light in your photos. This lighting is more forgiving and beginner-friendly. It requires fewer touch-ups and can even hide imperfections in a photo. A great application of this light is when taking travel photos where soft light can create an appearance of a cozy atmosphere.

3. Soft Lighting vs Hard Lighting

Soft Lighting


  • Warm and cozy photographic appearance.
  • It is flattering and comforting for most people.
  • Soft light is used for a variety of scenarios such as landscapes, products, portraits, family pictures, face photos, and many more.
  • It is a versatile lighting that can be applied to most photos
  • .Soft lighting can also reduce skin blemishes and can make anyone look great in close-up photos.

purple flowers in the wind with soft edge



  • Although soft lighting is forgiving, it is not able to provide the scenery for intense, dramatic, and tense situations.
  • It lacks the drama that is commonly seen in hard light photography.
  • You can't emphasize the emotion that comes with the photo.
  • Because soft light is subtle and flat, the photo may appear uninteresting.

Hard Lighting


  • It is great for creating dramatic, mysterious, and intense photos.
  • If you want to have a sense of unease, hard lighting is perfect for your photos.
  • You can also create shadow patterns with the use of hard lighting.
  • When used in landscapes and cityscapes, hard light is suitable because it shows high contrast which can show the beauty of sceneries and skyscrapers.

glasses on the table with lights and shadows



  • Since hard lighting creates a high contrast, it can accentuate skin blemishes and imperfections.
  • You don't have that forgiving softness that soft lighting provides.
  • It can also create intensity and harshness that may be unflattering to some people.
  • Because hard lighting can be somehow complicated, it requires a high degree of precision and accuracy when using lighting adjuncts.

4. How to Create Hard Light Photography?

  • When creating hard light, the size of the light and the distance of the light from the subject is important.
  • With a larger light, the effect is an even transition from highlights to shadows.
  • We'd want a smaller light to have an immediate transition from light to dark and vice versa.
  • If you're in a situation where large light is the only option, you can distance the subject far from the light to create harder shadows and light.

woman's portrait with harsh light and shadows on face


  • An easy way to create hard light is by the use of a camera flash.
  • A camera flash is abrupt and sudden, creating a sudden transition from light to dark.
  • A great example of hard light is the sun, it is the most distant light source there is and when we stand on a sunny and bright day, it creates hard light. . 

5. How to Create Soft Light Photography?

There are several methods to create soft light.

  • You can have a bigger light source or fill in the shadows.
  • In contrast to hard light where you'd want the subject far from the light, soft light can be done by bringing your subject closer to the light source.
  • You can also use light modifiers such as scrims, softboxes, and umbrellas to have a bigger light source.
  • A reflector is also a big help to help to bounce the light back to the subject.

little white pumpkin on fluffy blanket


  • Using another flash can also fill in the shadows and can create even and soft lighting for your photograph.
  • Creating soft light is easy, you just set up a light and bounce it off by using a reflector or diffusion panel.
  • Natural light can also be used as soft light but be sure that the sun isn't too harsh as it will create hard light.

6. Hard Light vs Soft Light Which One to Choose?

Choosing the best lighting for your photograph can be difficult and time-consuming. We may not know what's the best light for our goal but in this tutorial, you'd be amazed at how hard and soft light can make an impact on your photos.

Why Choose Hard Light?

Hard light provides an abrupt and sharp transition from light to dark. It is a focused bright light that draws attention and importance to a specific portion of a photo. It creates shadows that emphasize the subject. There is a noticeable difference between the light and dark areas of the image. The photo will have high contrast which can make the scenery dramatic and intense. It is useful if the photographer wants to have a mysterious and dark effect. Hard light can also create creative shadow patterns which can make the photo unique and interesting.

girl standing behind plants


An example is when you'd want a person to be formidable, harsh lighting can be used to portray intensity. It can be used if you want the main character to be strong and intense. If you want to tell a story that has mystery and suspense, hard light is perfect! Hard light is very useful for emphasizing dramatic situations. It can also be used for landscapes to show the high contrast of buildings, roads, people, sidewalks, and many more.

Hard light is great if you want:

  • Mesmerizing effects and if you'd want drama or intensity in your photo.
  • Excellent black-and-white photo features
  • Defined shadows
  • Strong subject appearance

Why Choose Soft Light?

Choose soft light if you want to create soft and flattering photographs. It is one of the most versatile types of lighting used in photographs. It is also beginner-friendly as it doesn't touch-ups and it is not technique sensitive. You can use soft light if you want to hide skin blemishes and imperfections on a person's face. Soft light is great for products because it creates an inviting scene for customers. It makes the product appealing and attractive. If you want your photo to have a friendly and inviting mood, soft light is a perfect choice.

creamy ice cream balls on blue desk


Soft light can create a neutral photo since it doesn't have the harshness of hard light. Creating a peaceful and calm photo is easy when you use this type of light. Because the transition from light and shadows is gradual, you can make a photo appear friendly. This is useful when you want your subject to appear warm and inviting.

Soft light is great if you want:

  • Smooth and gradual lighting
  • Make skin blemishes and imperfections less noticeable
  • Inviting product photos
  • Warm and cozy travel photo impressions

There's no standard in choosing the right to of light in your photos. Hard and soft light has their own advantages and disadvantages. Novice photographers can utilize both lights and use both of their advantages blending and making creative photographs. Hard light is great if you want a unique and eye-catching photo but it requires experience and practice. Soft light is great for most photographers because it is more forgiving and requires fewer touch-ups.

glass with red wine on wooden desk



With this guide, we hope we help you find the perfect light for your next photoshoot. Learning about hard and soft light is a great way to boost your photography skills. Create that perfect photo you have always been dreaming about!

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