Lesson 6 of 11
In Progress

Light Law #1: Forever Change Where You Shoot

The following lesson is taken from Module 2: Lighting in The Photo Fix For Teens.
Enrollment is OPEN through 1/29/21!


  • The difference between hard and soft light.
  • Why the size of your light source matters.
  • Why soft light is (usually) the better choice.
  • Where to find soft light.

How many times do you see someone facing their subject right smack into the sun to create the pic? All the time. And they wonder why there’s harsh shadows and edges.

It’s time to understand what makes some light soft and beautiful, and what makes other light hard and edgy.

Light Law #1: The bigger the light source, the softer the light.

Wait a second… isn’t the sun, like, HUGE?

It is. But in relation to your subject, it’s like a tiny insanely bright ball up in the sky.

The size of the light source impacts the ‘quality’ of the light more than any other factor. Don’t miss this one. It’s important, and so often misunderstood…even by ‘professionals.’

First, the video…it pretty much says it all:

Now to reiterate, by size of the light, we always mean in relation to the subject. Don’t forget that. Ever.

So many people (especially ‘photogs’ starting out in the studio) think that diffusion softens light. It doesn’t. Size softens light.

Diffusion is just one method of trying to make a light source bigger. That’s why studio photographers use ‘soft boxes.’ These contraptions are merely a box that goes over the light. It reflects the light inside the box and pushes it through a diffusion fabric on the front. The diffusion fabric disperses the light evenly across the entire surface. Thus the effective light source is many times bigger. Thus the quality of light much softer. Thus the name, soft box. Yeehaw.

The soft box. No, you don’t need this. It’s just to help you visualize the above paragraph:

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The video clearly illustrates this. The following pic was taken of Payson in direct sunlight. Notice how hard the light is:

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Which, now is a good time to explain what hard light and soft light is.

Hard light has intense highlights, stark shadows, and a fast transition between the two. This edgy light must be used with care when photographing people. Its sharp contrast can make a fuss of things.

Soft light is smooth. Creamy highlights, ‘open’ shadows, and a gentle transition between the two. Soft light has a ‘wrap-around’ effect. It’s often the perfect light for photographing people, especially kids.

In order to soften the light in the first pic, we placdd a big triangle diffusion panel in between the sun and Payson. The diffusion panel disperses the sunlight across its surface, thus becoming the light source itself (and a much bigger one than the sun). Bigger light, softer light:

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Pro photogs, already working in the studio, get the softest light possible from a studio strobe by making the light source as big as possible. That doesn’t mean you need to buy this. It just means that you should move your normal sized soft box as close to your subject as possible. That tip alone will take your studio work from looking like 1982 to something far better.

Everyday Application

Let’s see, how do I say this…. Hmm. How bout this: Stop using the bare sun as your main light all the time.

Another way to say it: When you want even, smooth, soft lighting (for instance to take a pic of your friend who’s got a great new outfit), you should search for a huge light source in order to get that soft, open quality of light.

Now, it’s not as tricky as it sounds. Here’s where to look!

1) Open Shade.

So we know what shade is, but what about ‘open’?

Open simply means that you can view open sky in at least one direction from where you’re taking the photo. As we’ll see in the next law, light is directional. But for now, the reason open shade is so desirable is that the open sky acts as the HUGE light source.

The result, really really soft, even light.

So, if it’s sunny out and you want soft light instead of harsh sunlight, head into the shade. And if you can, choose shade where you can still see a big portion of sky.

That big sky is now your huge light source. Soft, beautiful light. NICE!

2) Move your subject closer to the light (or the light closer to your subject).

The application here is endless. Whether you’re under a porch roof, near a window, or next to a reflector: if you want softer light, move your subject towards the light. Because when you do that, the light becomes bigger (remember…it’s all in relation to your subject).

The window light lesson is a great illustration of this.

Time to take some action! Find open shade around your house. Get right to the edge of it, and snap away.


Let’s put your learning into practice. For this lesson, take the following types of photos:

  • Take a photo in hard light  
  • Take a photo in soft light

Ready to learn the other 2 light laws?

Then get the Photo Fix For Teens before enrollment expires!