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Photography Lighting Quick Tip #1 – Soft Light vs Hard Light

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Example of a broad, soft light. © 2010 Gina Genis

When your light comes from a broad source, such as a big window, it is a soft light. When the light comes from a narrow source, such as a flashlight, it is considered a hard light. When you utilize a broad light source, your shadows, texture, and contrast will be softer because the light is distributed more gradually across the subject. A hard light maintains a narrower angle of light, focusing it in a smaller area, thus making the places outside of the light path darker and textural.

Now let’s talk about the distance of your light in relation to the subject. When a light source is close to your subject, it will be softer than if it is far away. Why? Because the closer it is, the broader it will become.

When would you prefer one over the other? If you are taking a portrait, lighting is most flattering when it is broad and close to your model. It smooths out wrinkles, and makes flaws less noticeable.

However, if you want to emphasize the character of a well-lived face, such as a sailor or athlete, use a narrow light from a good distance away. This will give more texture and contrast with shadows to the planes of the face. Click on this link to see an example of a hard light portrait.

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About Gina Genis

Hi Friends, I'm a photographer and artist who lives in Washington DC. I have two blogs. The Gina Genis Blog is about art and photography. My new blog, DC Discoveries is dedicated to showing you everything from fashion to art, food to entertainment in all sections of the District. I hope you will take the journey with me. I exhibit my work in museums and galleries across the U.S. I'm included in the permanent collections of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the Otto G. Richter Library Special Collections Division of the University of Miami, Hard Rock Casino, Orange County Transit District, IBM, and the Sarah and Adam Markman Collection among others. My series "Window Peeping" was included in OsCene 2010 at the Laguna Art Museum, Truman State University, Fellows of Contemporary Art, Biola University, and solo shows at Gallery 825 and Cypress College. The "June Gloom" series was exhibited in a solo show at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The "Kala" series has been exhibited at MPLS Photo Center, Cypress College, and Gallery 825. "Economy Portraits" was created as an Artist In Residence project at the Huntington Beach Art Center, and was awarded "Best Art Show of 2011" by the OC Weekly. I curated Wide Angle View, an exhibit of 16 international, award-winning photo and multi-media journalists at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art to much critical acclaim. Recent reviews of my work have appeared in the Huffington Post, Art Scene, OC Weekly, Orange County Register, New University, Riviera Magazine, Coast Magazine, Huntington Beach Independent, and appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, and more. I lead the Gina Genis Photo Workshops where I show beginning and intermediate photographers how to jump to the next level with their work. I also teach online photography courses through The Compelling Image.

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