Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Exercise – Softening the light

1 Comment


Using a diffused light source to soften the shadows and highlights take two photographs, one with just the naked lamp, the other with the translucent material held between the lamp and your subject (but out of view). The two exposure settings will be different.

Look at the results, and write down exactly what you see as the differences. Look, for instance, at the strengths (blackness) of the shadows, their extent, and the hardness of their edges. Look also at the highlights, and at the contrast. Finally, was the diffusion an improvement? Record your answer.


Direct light

Direct light – 6.5 sec at f/22

The direct light source causes the shadows to be clearly defined, with quite dark, sharp edges, tailing off a little to a more blurry effect. The shape however is still clearly identifiable.

Diffused light

Diffused light – 10 sec at f/22

With the diffused light the shadow is barely discernable; you can just about make it out close to the object but it has indistinct edges, is greyer in tone, and the patterns of the internal loops and whorls are not evident. The overall surface looks flatter and more consistent, with the slight reflections at the edges diminished. This version needed a longer exposure, as expected.

In many cases (e.g. product photography) removing or reducing the shadows would produce a more pleasing image. In this particular instance however, I’m more drawn to the direct light version, with the defined shadow, probably because the object lends itself more to this as a creative execution.

What I’ve learned:

Diffusing the light has the significant effect of softening or removing shadows. On a grander scale this is evident in the difference between bright sunlight and an overcast sky, but it is interesting to experiment in this manner to control artificial light on a smaller scale.


One thought on “Exercise – Softening the light

  1. A really simple demonstration of the concept – good stuff

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