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Recognizing the quality of light falling upon your subject is the first step towards controlling the outcome of your image. The quality of light in a photograph refers to how hard or soft the light is falling upon your subject. Hard light is considered to be direct, while soft light is diffused. A good way to begin identifying the quality of light is to look at the shadows. A soft light appears to wrap around your subject with a smooth transition from light to shadow, producing soft shadows. Soft light is even and very flattering, allowing your subjects to face the light without squinting.
And it provides a subtle gradation in tone. You can find soft light on cloudy overcast days and in open shade. A hard light creates abrupt sharp transitions between light and shadow, producing hard shadows and more contrast. Hard light comes from a single spot or source point and is very directional, think about all the pictures you've taken outside on a sunny day. Remeber those harsh under-eye shadows? You might be wondering, why does the quality of light matter? Well, light effects the mood of a photo. Shadows create depth, and can make the photo more interesting. A light's intensity or brightness determines your camera's ability to interpret the light and make a proper exposure.
I'll talk more about exposure later in the course. The two main factors that determine the quality of light are the size and distance of the light source in relation to your subject. For example, a big cloudy sky becomes a huge soft box of light and results in a very soft, diffused light. The smaller the light source in relation to your subject, the harder the light. For example, although the sun is 100 times the size of the earth, it's 93 million miles away, and it actually becomes a small light source, producing hard, well-defined shadows on clear days.
Now that you know how to identify the difference between hard and soft light, you're on the way to creative control.
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