The Lokal Guide to Hard and Soft Video Lighting

By Nick Bridwell

One of the quickest ways to tell if a company has gone cheap on their video budget is to look at the video’s lighting. Bad lighting can break a good video faster than you can say “Lights, camera, action.”

The first thing you want to learn when it comes to lighting is the difference between hard light and soft light. “Lighting can each be utilized to create mood and tone, and to support a story arc,” says our Media Department Manager Sean Whitmore. “When done right, lighting adds texture to your videos and helps set you apart from your competitors.”

Hard Light

When you use hard light, you end up with a really heavy visual contrast between light and shadow. You’re going to end up with a lot of sharp edges, too. Hard light is often unwanted in video because it interrupts the clarity and consistency of the video. Viewers are more likely to focus on the contrast than the subject of the video.

Use of hard light can be extremely helpful depending on the mood and tone you are trying to set for your video. Think of the films that famously use shadows: horrors, noirs, thrillers.

Here’s a quick tip you can write down: The smaller the source of the light, the harder the light. So, a ray of sun overhead at midday is bound to be hard, whereas the morning offers softer lighting and a more subtle result. 

Soft Light

The opposite of hard light is, you guessed it, soft light. The goal for soft light is to have little-to-no shadows. Soft light comes from a larger light source or a diffuser sheet. Remember how hard light introduced edginess and contrast? With soft light, you are instead aiming for soft edges.

Soft light is usually preferred, because it offers more consistency and it’s easier to edit. Soft lighting also makes your talent look great, because there’s not an abundance of light illuminating their every human flaw.

Diffusion Paper

If you need help getting your lighting even softer, you’ll want to use diffusion paper. This is placed between you and your subject and acts as a filter. 

We hope this article helped you understand the difference between hard light and soft light. Now, what kind of video are you going to get out and make? Feel free to let us know if you have any questions. We’re here for your video needs.

If you enjoyed this article about video production, we know you’ll also dig How to Make the Most of a Small Video Budget


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