Six Ways To Create Soft Light

(Cinematic Lighting 04)

Summary: Soft light can be some of the most attractive and natural looking light to use as a key light. In this video Ryan shows you six ways to create soft light, what the final results look like, and then he covers issues you’ll run into with each approach.

Length: 8:17 minutes

Video Lesson

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Soft light is a helpful tool to make your talent look their best. But what are the options for creating soft light? What do they look like? And how does it affect production? In this video I’ll answer those questions with six different options.

Option #1: Move Source Closer

As I mentioned in the last video on hard and soft light, it’s the relative size of the light to the subject that determines how soft it is.
Light close to subject (LC104)
So that means that the quickest and easiest way to make soft light from any light source is to get it close to your subject; just move its position. As you move the light closer, you are increasing the light levels. And that increase may be unbearable to your subject, or it may overexpose your image. If either of those are the case, then you’ll need to scrim the light, or fly a net in front of it.

Although moving the position of the light closer to the subject is the quickest and easiest way to make your light source softer, it doesn’t create the softest light. Fortunately we still have five other options available to us.

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Lighting Diagrams

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Tools We Used

How To Cinematically Light A Corporate Video (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 20)
How To Light Quickly (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 19)
Lighting For Extreme Frame Rates (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 21)
12 Crucial Questions Before Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 15)
3 Strategies For Lighting Your Night Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 14)
5 Essential Strategies To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 12)
10 Tips To Lighting Day Exteriors (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 13)
How To Light A Small Commercial (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 23)
Where To Begin Lighting Your Set (Cinematic Lighting Lesson 18)
26 replies
  1. Brunoinacio
    Brunoinacio says:

    Chimeras are also an option for soft light!
    Soft has a frame with the same diffusion value, and you don’t lost light that is reflected backwards!

  2. Kacap
    Kacap says:

    Yeah, we’ve been recently experimanting with book light and we realy found it awesome to use. Whenever there is a space and time – definitly an recommendation 😀

    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      Awesome! I love that light. Right now I’m trying to figure out if there is a way to create that same look using a different approach that doesn’t take up so much room, and time to control. (I’m hopeful that LED technology might provide a solution in the near future…) In the mean time I keep experimenting… 🙂

  3. njthomps65
    njthomps65 says:

    Have you ever had much luck using the ‘book light’ type method outside? Bouncing the sun through a diffusion grid? Bouncing direct sunlight is often harsh and uncomfortable for the talent, so I’ve been trying to keep that method in mind when shooting outside with a crew.

    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      Yep- using a book light outside is a great technique to use to do exactly what you are talking about. 🙂 In fact, we have a whole lesson coming up that shows how to light outside, and using a book light is one of the things we’ll be showing. 🙂

      The most important thing with using a book light outside, is that you have to continually adjust it as the sun moves- so having that extra crew there to keep an eye on it is a must- like you said. 🙂

  4. abatayola
    abatayola says:

    Hi Ryan. I’ve watched this video a dozen and learn something new every time– such great info! I have a question, maybe a stupid one… Is there such a thing as a “backwards” book light? Can you diffuse first and then bounce? I guess my idea would be to go through diffusion clipped to the barn doors and then bounce that light off of a bead board. Mixing the “Diffusion on Lamp” and “Muslin Cloth Bounce” set ups. I’m sure there would be a different result than the actual book light set up, but it take up a lot less space.

    Your thoughts?

    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      Thanks- I’m glad it continues to be helpful to you- that’s my goal with all of these videos. 🙂

      There are no stupid question here- just stupid answers- so I’ll do my best to no give stupid answers. 😉

      You are correct- you can do exactly what you just talked about to create a soft source that doesn’t take up a lot of space. The main difference between what you are doing and what a book light does, is that a book light will be softer. That is because when the light bounces off of the board, the board becomes the source- a large soft source, and then you diffuse that, making it even softer. With your approach (which is a good one if you like the look and want something that is smaller and easier to setup), the diffusion becomes the source, which is softer then the lamp itself, but since it is smaller then the larger bounce of the book light, it will be a little harder than the book light.

      Hope that helps. 🙂

    • Ryan E. Walters
      Ryan E. Walters says:

      That is a great question, unfortunately I don’t know… I buy all my stuff through US distributors… maybe someone else knows… $300 for delivery seems steep… Have you looked into CVP? (I haven’t checked them out for lighting gear, but I have bought some a7s accessories from them…)

      Here is a post I did on how to build your own, maybe that would be a cheaper alternative?

      • Rich49er
        Rich49er says:

        Yes, I have used CVP as my main supplier along with WEX Photographic. I found a better frame on the internet which is less for postage, probably because it fits in a smaller box. I shall look at the link too. If it is easy I may have a crack a building one. I think buying one is probably best for me. I have some Dedolights from CVP, one DLH1 with a medium soft box with egg crate and two DLH4s and a Gobo projector too.

        • Ryan E. Walters
          Ryan E. Walters says:

          Awesome! Glad to hear it. 🙂 My preference is to always buy the gear rather then make it myself. But I’m not opposed to making something when funds are tight, or when what I need doesn’t exist on the market already. 🙂

  5. Filmmaker1979
    Filmmaker1979 says:

    Hi and THANK YOU for that great pice of information!
    I´m using LED light a lot. Are the any softball covers for LED lights available wich you are aware of?
    I hope my question fits here.

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Many LEDs brands sell diffusion that fits their specific lights. However, for diffusion to work best it has to be a bit away from the light. Any easy, self-contained way to do this is with a softbox, which are often used by photographers. I just looked on Amazon for various softboxes for LEDs, and there is a bit of selection. Chimera is a reliable brand that makes a lot of softboxes, although they tend cost the most of all softboxes since their reputation and quality are so high.

      Film sets often require a lot more flexibility than photography sets, so softboxes are only really seen with on-location sit-down interviews, such as for the news or documentaries.

  6. christopherpike
    christopherpike says:

    I have some round 5-in-1 reflector screen kits. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. They are about three feet in diameter. Inside is a round netting thing. I wonder if that would make a good diffusor for a led, or what it cut down to much light?

    • Tim
      Tim says:

      Netting is only for cutting down light and doesn’t act as a diffuser. A diffuser needs to spread the light out. Often this is done by having the fixture light up the diffuser, and then the diffuser acts like a “light.” Unless your reflector kit has a translucent fabric in it, most likely you just have nets, reflectors (white, gold, and silver), and flags (black). Or does your kit have a different assortment?


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