Is Subtle Mild the Similar as Comfortable Mild?


Subtle and mushy gentle are sometimes used interchangeably amongst photographers. Certainly, to an untrained eye, the 2 can generally look like the identical. Moreover, modifiers equivalent to softboxes that give each mushy and subtle gentle make it arduous to identify the distinction. Nonetheless, subtle gentle is just not essentially mushy, and mushy gentle is just not essentially subtle.

As a photographer, I beforehand used subtle and mushy interchangeably with out ever giving it a lot thought. After all, it’s a lot simpler to inform a distinction between mushy and arduous gentle. However subtle and specular not a lot.

Everybody has their very own definition of this gentle kind, so earlier than I begin, let’s all agree on what these various kinds of gentle are.

Onerous Mild

Onerous gentle is gentle produced by a small gentle supply relative to the topic, and the shadow to spotlight transition will probably be very sudden. Shadow edges are outlined.

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Comfortable Mild

Comfortable gentle is gentle produced by a big gentle supply relative to the topic, the shadow to spotlight transition will probably be gradual. The shadow edges are wider and fuzzier.

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So, the one option to inform if the sunshine is mushy or arduous is by wanting on the darkish shadow edges. If you consider it, it is sensible. Onerous gentle denotes arduous shadow-highlight transitions, whereas mushy denotes mushy shadow-highlight transitions. It has nothing to do with distinction or another property of sunshine.

A Phrase on Diffusion

Including diffusion will change the scale of your gentle supply and make it even. It is because the sunshine transmitted by means of the material will strike the floor from a wider household of angles, lowering distinction. Furthermore, diffusion will negate the lots of of hotspots on a reflector, which can technically make the sunshine supply bigger. That is finest seen in small rooms with white partitions the place the sunshine can bounce.

A Phrase on Specularity

Photographers are likely to confuse specular gentle and name it a bunch of issues it isn’t. In truth, there isn’t a such factor as specular gentle — there are solely specular reflections.

Specular reflections are merely often called direct reflections. They’re extraordinarily vibrant and might solely be seen from a specific angle. Subsequently, a specular gentle will probably be primarily the flash tube reflecting off a metallic floor. It can typically be moderately uneven with hotspots within the center.

An vital factor to notice is you can’t get a superbly specular gentle, there’s at all times some diffuse reflection.

A specular gentle will probably be very uneven in protection. It’s characterised by a vibrant spotlight, usually a small spot. Most of the time, a specular reflector will produce abruptly graduated shadows (assuming it’s shut sufficient to have some softness). The colour will probably be much more saturated on this picture.

It is very important perceive that no gentle is completely subtle or specular. That is determined by the floor you’re photographing in addition to the modifier inside. Specular and subtle co-exist collectively and it’s a sliding scale from one to the opposite.

Let’s dive in and discover how we will make all of those qualities of sunshine.

Onerous Specular

With a view to produce this gentle, I would like a light-weight supply that’s comparatively small compared to my topic. I’ll use a magnum reflector that’s specular and small compared with the topic.

You’ll be able to see it’s arduous by the shadow edges, and you too can inform it’s specular due to the spotlight produced.

Onerous Subtle

Now, I can’t change something apart from including a layer of baking paper on my reflector. It’s nonetheless comparatively the identical measurement of the sunshine supply, though, technically it’s greater as a result of the diffusion is the sunshine supply, not the person factors of reflection on the reflector.

Nonetheless, you may see that the sunshine has change into extra even. It covers a bigger space as properly, and since my makeshift studio may be very small, the distinction can also be decreased.

Comfortable Specular-ish

Comfortable specular gentle is comparatively arduous to realize. Let me element why. As we established, a specular gentle is a light-weight that’s mirrored in a small household of angles. Comfortable gentle however originates from a big gentle supply. This means that we would wish to discover a option to mirror a big gentle stamp to be able to create mushy however specular gentle.

A softbox would be the intuitive resolution for this, however let me clarify why it gained’t work. A softbox with diffusion eliminated is nothing greater than a flash tube with a poorly-lit inside of the softbox. For all intents and functions, eradicating diffusion from a softbox will render it ineffective as you’ve uncovered the flash head.

Right here is how this appears to be like:

Subsequently, producing mushy however specular gentle is most often impractical and undesired. You’ll be able to, nonetheless, use a modifier producing mushy gentle for photographing metallic objects. They may give off specular reflection, whereas the sunshine may even keep fairly mushy on different components of the picture. Nonetheless, that gained’t be a mushy specular gentle per se.

Comfortable Subtle

Including each diffusion layers to the 3-foot octabox will make the sunshine much more even and lead to gentle with gradated clean shadow edges which might be each mushy and subtle. They’re mushy as a result of the sunshine supply is giant compared to the topic, whereas diffusion is outlined by the sunshine is much more even on the entire picture.

The place Does the Diffusion Confusion Come From?

After we diffuse gentle, the diffusion materials is comparatively huge. It’s common to have huge diffusion supplies mendacity round. So usually including a 12×12 scrim to a tough gentle supply will on one hand diffuse but additionally make it extraordinarily huge and therefore mushy.

It is very important know that once you’re diffusing the sunshine supply with a scrim in addition to attempting to make it mushy you’ll want to transfer the scrim away from the sunshine supply. As your gentle supply has change into the scrim itself, you’ll want to management the scrim-to-subject distance to be able to management softness.

A number of Layers of Diffusion

Some photographers that confuse subtle and mushy gentle have a tendency so as to add increasingly more layers of diffusion to their gentle to be able to obtain softness. It solely is sensible so as to add not more than 1 cease of diffusion — past that you can be dropping energy with none noticeable impact.

Right here is are examples of what this appears to be like like:

1 Layer
2 Layers
3 Layers

As you may see, there isn’t a distinction between 2 or 3 layers. The one distinction is definitely the ability. Energy is vital, particularly in the event you’re working with battery-powered lights.

Grids and Diffusion

Incorrect placement

A grid will scale back the sunshine unfold, however diffusion will improve. So, how do photographers get subtle but gridded gentle? The key is in putting diffusion behind the grid. It’s intuitive with softboxes, however with arduous reflectors, many are likely to put their diffusion after the grid. That defeats the aim of the grid.

Right here is how that appears:

Appropriate placement

Closing Ideas

Mild has two qualities: both mushy or arduous. Subtle or specular are a sliding scale and co-exist in 99% of all conditions. You’ll be able to mix mushy with specular and arduous with subtle, though a mushy specular gentle will probably be arduous to realize (I couldn’t inside my small front room studio).

Though mushy and subtle are likely to co-exist in plenty of instances, it’s nonetheless vital to know the distinction to be able to have as many instruments as attainable to create your imaginative and prescient.


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