Four types of studio light

By Oleg Ti,   March 20, 2015,   Views: 5111,   Comments:

I guess you have already read about hardness of the light. But the theory will be just a theory without practice and I decided to write an article about using of different types of light in the studio. Let’s repeat that hardness of light depends on the size of lighting unit and on the distance to model. So it doesn’t matter what kind of modifier we use, the matters is how we are using it. You know that softbox can be harder than standard reflector sometimes. And that is the greatest knowledge we have to know about studio lighting.

I distinguish 4 types of light. Superhard, hard, soft and supersoft. And let’s consistently move from on to another discussing all question about each of them.

SUPERHARD LIGHT

Superhard light produces such kind of the edge of shadow where we don’t see any gradient between light and shadow. It looks like thin, harsh line. And what kind of light does it look like? The Sun! Very very hard light of the Sun!

How can we get this type of light in out studio?

There are two ways.

The first one is to use special lighting modifier focusing light. Profoto Spot Small for example. This lighting modifier has lens and it can focus light. And also make it very very hard. If you use it without gobos (the purpose it is made for) you will get spot of very hard light.

The second way is to use reflector but move it to very big distance from the model. Dozen feet at least. Only in this case it will be hard enough to look like the Sun! And sometimes you can use lighting unit even without reflector, just open. It will make light more hard. But in this case you will get a lot of reflexes from the studio walls and this will strongly reduce contrast of lighting picture.

That’s why it is better to use honeycomb grid with reflector if you need contrast picture. To escape reflexes making lighting spot more narrow.

Look at these pictures.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

The left picture is made without reflector, the right one with reflector. You see difference.

Where do we use this type of light? It looks like the Sun! And if we use this kind of light in the studio everything in the picture will say that it is made with the sun. And usually photographers use this type of light to create pictures sun-style pictures.  

Or maybe when the shape of shadows is so interesting and so important that you need to have it very harsh. To show the shadow, to concentrate attention to this shadow.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

HARD LIGHT

Hard light is a type of light when the shadow is hard enough but its edge doesn’t look like harsh line. It has small gradient and sometime this gradient removes small details in shadow showing us shadow only like silhouette but not like exact shape of the model.

This type of light is associated with standard reflector. Which stands very close to model. Just several feet. Or sometimes with soft modifiers like softbox, standing to dozen and more feet from the model.

Take a look.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

The left picture is made with standard reflector, the right one with softbox. The distance makes the size of the shadow larger when lighting unit is more close to the model.

You see that the left shadow has not smooth and feathered edge of shadows. When you use standard reflector you are getting one part of the light coming directly from lamp and another part bouncing from inner surface of the reflector. This makes the shadows untidy. How can we correct this?

Using gels. Diffusion gels.

Take a look again.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

The left picture is made with open reflector, in the right picture the reflector is covered with diffusion gel. You see the difference. I don’t think I need to make any comments.

When do we need hard light?

When we need dramatic, contrast, harsh pictures. When we need volume picture. When we need to show texture. When we want to show shape of the object. When we need to show the beauty of the model. So in all situations where we see the shadow and we try to force it to play on your side.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

SOFT LIGHT

The most useful light in the studio. The edge of the shadow has soft, wide gradient and now the shadows looks like dark spot behind the model barely copying her shape.

You have to get large lighting modifier to get this type of light. Look at these pictures.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

They are made with softbox, umbrella and large beauty dish respectively. You don’t see any great difference among them. Maybe the edges of the shadow are more feathering in the picture made with softbox. That is because the construct of the softbox. It has two diffusion layers and it makes the light more feathered (but not more soft).

The soft light is very useful in situation when you don’t need harsh shape of the shadow. Where you don’t need to concentrate attention to shadows. When you want to make your picture more smooth, mild, gentle. It is more easy to cover whole model with this type of light. Some mistakes of lighting will not be seen in this type of light. So it is more and more easy to work with this type of light. But! At the same time your picture will be more flat, you can loose the volume of picture and sometimes it will be harder to put distinct, precise lighting picture to the model.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

SUPERSOFT LIGHT

And at last the supersoft light. This type of light is so soft that doesn’t have shadows at all. Or maybe barely visible shadows behind the model without any spade and edges.
To get this type of light we need very huge lighting unit. Several times larger than the model itself. Where can we find so huge modifier in the studio? The ceiling and the wall. Of course if they are white or maybe neutral grey.

Take a look at these pictures.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

I directed standard reflector to the wall and moved the lighting unit from this wall (which works as a wide white surface). The lighting spot on the wall becomes larger and larger and you see the light becomes softer and softer. In the first picture the lighting units stands only 3 feet from the wall, in the last one 18 feet from the wall. You see and fell difference. Yes! We got supersoft light. We don’t see the shadow.

Supersort light would be great when you don’t need shadows, where you need very smooth, low-contrast pictures. Moving lighting spot we can get different directions of light over the model and that is more and more easy to operate with light that you could imagine.

Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light Oleg Ti 4 types of studio light

Every time you are starting to create lighting setup in the studio you have to understand what type of light you need and what tools do you have to achieve it!

Good luck!

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