Lighting does more than just expose your image. It's one of the very basic tools that filmmakers have at their disposal to create an atmosphere for their story. While you need a certain quantity of light to give your movie the proper exposure, it's actually the quality of the light that creates the look for your film. If you're looking for a basic lesson in the differences between hard light and soft light, and what they can do for your image, look no further than the tutorial below.
While some of you may be familiar with the finer points of lighting, I think it's always helpful to get a little bit of a refresher. If you look at Hollywood films, there are various uses of hard lights and soft lights, but most often hard lights are used to fake daylight (since the sun itself is a hard source). There are certainly other instances when a light is left unfiltered and hard, but very often, most lights on a set are going through some sort of diffusion or are being bounced off of a surface -- unless, of course, you're making a film noir, in which case, everything is a hard source with hard shadows.
Even though you can learn a lot about lighting from watching movies, I've found it far more helpful to observe the way light interacts with surfaces in real life. Unless a bare bulb is hanging indoors, many of the lights we interact with on a daily basis also have some sort of diffusion material, whether it's a lamp shade or the plastic housing of a fluorescent fixture, or even shades on a window.
What are some of your favorite uses of hard or soft lights? What do you prefer in your own shooting?
[via Notes On Video]
Disclosure: Zacuto is a No Film School advertiser.