Learn 4 Different Types of Light and How to Use Them in Your Films

Whether you're the all-in-one filmmaker or strictly work in cinematography, knowing the differences between different types of light is essential to shaping it.

In this helpful video, Sareesh Sudhakaran of wolfcrow gives us a quick lesson on 4 different types of light: hard, soft, diffused, and specular. He details the special qualities of each, as well as how to get each one using different techniques—and yeah, he also explains the distinction between soft and diffused light.

This video is a useful primer on the subject. It's easy to follow and there aren't too many complicated concepts for beginners to get tripped up on. But the important thing to take away isn't necessarily the knowledge that there are different types of light out there for you to use when you light a scene. Instead, it's about learning how to utilize those types of light to serve your story.

Take hard light for example—it basically became one of the most notable trademarks of film noir. Films like The Maltese Falcon and Double Indemnity took the hard shadows and fast falloff created by its famous chiaroscuro lighting and turned them into visual indicators of impending doom.

So, the next time you watch a film, take note of the shadows as well as how the light spreads over the subjects. Then ask yourself how these things affect the scene—do they create a sense of tranquility and happiness or anxiety and fear? Do they make the subjects look glamorous and beautiful or rugged and harsh? With enough study and practice you'll start to really be able to identify the different types of light Sudhakaran discusses in his video, as well as how they contribute to storytelling.

Credit: wolfcrow

Your Comment


What Nonsense

July 17, 2016 at 1:14AM

Arun Meegada
Moviemaker in the Making

Ignorance at its brightest.

July 17, 2016 at 5:14AM

Martin Brewer
Director, DOP

Umm. I hate to get all nerdy here but I really don't want people watching this and learning incorrect information. Hardness and softness of light has nothing to do with anything besides the directionality of the light rays emitting from the source. If the light rays coming from a source are parallel, that creates a hard light - and it does not matter how close or far the light source is from the subject.

For example, if you place a light source right in front of a subject, which creates a softly-defined shadow on a surface behind that subject -- they are still being hit by a hard light: the proximity of the source does not change the behavior of the light rays emitting from it.

Soft light is simply created by non-parallel light rays, whether because they are bounced or going through some diffusion material. That's really all there is to it. I know the intentions here are good but I would be remiss if people were gleaning any false information here!

July 17, 2016 at 8:30PM, Edited July 17, 8:35PM

Oren Soffer
Director of Photography

Where/what would you recommend to learn to light? Novice here.

July 30, 2016 at 7:05PM, Edited July 30, 7:10PM


Thanks for the video.

July 18, 2016 at 12:13AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Indeed, this is false information.

I can take a 2k ARRI light and put it in front of an actor and get hard light.
I then can move a diffusor between my actor and the light and get soft light,
because the light is now spread.

Neither my distance nor my light size has been changed in this example.
And the video tells that hard and soft light depends on light size and distance.
This is not true.

Any clean light source produces hard light as long you don't use a diffusor.

July 18, 2016 at 8:07AM

Steadicam Operator/Owner

Where/what would you recommend how to light, for a beginner?

July 30, 2016 at 7:08PM, Edited July 30, 7:10PM