Softening light is a process in which light is made to evenly fill the viewing area. This can be done in many ways but often the simplest methods are the best. Soft-light is not only about adding light, it also involves making sure that the natural light in your shot is not too concentrated in one place.
Basics: When lighting a surface it is important to light the surface evenly to prevent overlapping coverage. Light is a key element to showing the rise and fall of a surface. So as you can imagine, if a person’s face has areas of their face better lit than others it can give them a very strange appearance.
Softening the light can be done basically two ways by either diffusing the light or reflecting it. Diffusing the light uses a direct light on the subject with a partly transparent piece of material between it and your subject. Lighting companies sell “soft boxes” which fit over the light making it easier to soften the light than holding a diffuser in-front of it for every shot.
Reflecting the light is indirectly lighting your subject by bouncing the light coming from your light source (sun, porch light, strobe, flash, etc) directly on your subject. Indirect or reflected light will not be as “harsh” as it would be from the light source but can still be too harsh if physically placed too close to your subject. So use distance (close or far) to your advantage here as well!
Listed below are some examples of diffusers and reflectors. Have fun and use your imagination! This is the stuff of artistic shooting!
- Umbrella (Great for artistic element in a shot too!)
- Translucent fabric (not darkening fabric)
- Plexiglas (colored Plexiglas)
- Disk (sold at any videography and photography lighting store)
- Fill card (Light or dark-colored – darker colors absorbing more light)