What IS the difference?
The nature of soft and hard light
Hard light is not some mutated form of ordinary light. It is a type of light that is focussed and which shows a hard transition from bright to dark. The shadow line is a sharp contrast. On the other hand, soft light wraps itself around curves and has a soft transition from light to dark.
The definitions of hard and soft light tell us much about the characteristics of the light but not how the light is formed. Well, it turns out that the light source, its shape, size and focus or diffusion as well as distance from the subject all have an impact on the characteristics of light.
Photographic umbrellas and softboxes
In the video Mark Cleghorn examines the characteristics of photographic umbrellas and softboxes. He does some great shots with both. Pay attention to the way he uses the lights and what characteristics he points out. Distance and size of the sources play an essential role in the formation of the softness and hardness of the light. His experiments are interesting and show you how the nearness of a large light source can create softness. It seems counter intuitive, but it is correct.
The first half of this video is very useful and you will learn a lot about Umbrellas and softboxes as light sources. The second half showcases advanced features of Photoshop. This is a less useful section if you are only interested in the practical issues for umbrellas and softboxes. You can safely skip it.
Types of lights
There are many types of light source that can generate light for umbrellas and softboxes. For most situations it is best to use off-camera flash units. The more expensive studio flash units are more for professional use. If you are just starting out they will be more powerful than required for most general purpose needs. Off camera flash helps give you flexible use. It is also easily controlled. You can work with both umbrellas and softboxes with an off camera flash.
Fortunately, most umbrellas and softboxes units designed for off-camera flash will mount most types of flash units. When looking to purchase lights think about what you want to achieve. Then buy the flash unit needed to meet your need.
Below is an example of a photographic umbrella set…
This is a high quality but affordable photographic umbrella unit. The complete package includes everything you need except the off-camera flash unit. The inclusion of the small carrying bag makes the whole thing neat and well presented.
When it comes to the purchase of a soft box these too have the universal fittings for off camera flash units (although studio units are also available). Here is an example softbox…
This is a high quality, well produced softbox with easily adjustable fittings and a variety of ways to set up light diffusion within the unit.
Of course both these units are among many others in the field. You can see the various types of each on these search pages…
Photographic umbrella – Search page on Amazon
These various examples include studio light units, always on bulb mountings and fittings for off-camera flash. Check for what you want before you buy. The most flexible is for off-camera flash when you are starting out.
No removable flash? Read this: Off-camera flash. It’s a great introduction and recommends an affordable flash unit.
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By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.