Lighting 101: Quality of Light - OFFICIAL DISCUSSION


This is our first installment of our Lighting 101 series, where Lauren walks us through an important concept in film lighting: the quality of your light-- i.e. how hard or soft your light is.

In this video we cover:

  • the differences between hard and soft light
  • how the size and distance of your source affect the quality of your light
  • how to create hard and soft light using those concepts
  • what diffusion actually does!
  • how to apply these concepts to your own lighting

For those interested, the lights used were:


  • 800 Joleko with 50 degree barrel


  • Two 4’ 4Bank Kinos stacked on top of each other


  • 250 Diffusion Gel hand-held in front of the Joleko
  • Astra 1x1 Bicolor Litepanel, softbox added
  • Sola 6 Litepanel Daylight Fresnel, bounced into large styrofoam bounce card
  • Inca 12 Litepanel Tungsten Fresnel, shot throught 8x8’ silk on frame

If you have any more questions, ask @Lauren below!





At 6:50 you mention it not mattering if it looks like an art project as long as it gives you the light you need … I present to you my FrankenLight 1K … IT’S ALIVE

crashing thunder

3 worklights (1X500W and 2X250W) mounted to a Umbrella Flash bracket so I can adjust it or use it with a bounce or shoot through umbrella.I used it and a smaller version (just 2X250W) to light a white seemless just recently.

I’ve also put them behind a shower curtain to give me a huge powerful light, bounced of walls, bounced off a white cloth on the ground …

So on to my actual question … I’m always craving MORE LIGHT! I shot a set on whiy=te seemlees and even with 1.5KW of light on my background and 180W on my subjects (2X90W par bulbs through a white umbrella) i HAD TO PUSH MY 5dmK2 TO iso 1000 (noise reduction FTW).

Am I an idiot or do I really need that much light?

Here is the most recent draft of that video.


@Lauren I have two questions more like three though.

  1. Will this belief of mine hold? Soft light = dark, sad stories; Hard light = happy, gay, bright stories?
  2. How do you know what wattage of lights to use on a film set? And how do you know how many lights you need on a film set?

Thank you.

  1. For me, I also consider the skin tone of the talent. I’ve discovered that for an African American, more light might be needed.

  2. Determining the amount of light needed by using wattage might not always be accurate. For instance, a led panel uses less wattage for the same output of light when compared to a Red Head.



The video looks good! Quick question about your question-- What are your usual aperture and shutter settings? Are you maxed out on those as well?

180W does seem low to me, especially when it’s diffused and because you have such a bright background to compete with.

One cheap thing you could try out is to put some of that bright background to use and bring in some reflectors or bound cards as extra fill, and see if that can give you a little more. Otherwise, I would suggest trying to get some more powerful bulbs for your main subject!


Good question!

  1. Soft light and hard light can be used for all emotions, actually! For example, hard light is often used in gritty crime stories, and because it creates such distinct shadows, it can make things look darker by contrast. But yes, it can also be used for comedy and funny stories as well. Soft light can be used for happy romantic stories, as well as sad ones. It just depends on what you want your shadows to look like, and how it best fits the scene! Be careful not to confuse hard and soft with bright and dark. Hard and soft lights can both be bright, and they can both be dark. The only difference is how the shadows look. (Exposure tutorial is also going to be in the 101 series.)

  2. The power of lights and how many you need all depend on what exposure you need to accomplish. Lights on a film set can range from 40w to 10,000w or more. Also, I’ve shot scenes with one light, and I’ve shot scenes with over 25. It just depends on how much light your camera and lens need to get the exposure you want, and how many things or areas you need to light. So there really isn’t one answer!


I encourage EVERY DP to watch/read anything by Bradford Young on lighting dark skin tones.

Interesting historical fact: The actual manufacturing of film stock was designed for white skin! Film speed/exposure, contrast and color calibrations were all done in regards to white faces. A lot of cinematographers and photographers have been trained for that, and we’ve set up this lack of education and experience with photographing dark skin! It’s something I am glad to see changing, especially as film technology develops.

Oh and yes! Lighting and bulbs are definitely changing with new technology, so wattage is not always an accurate measure of brightness depending on your fixture. However! The industry still uses wattage as short hand (ex: If you tell me an LED light is the equivalent to a 650watt fresnel, I’ll have a very clear idea of how bright the lamp is.) So speaking in wattage is still acceptable in terms of the intensity of a light.


Thank you @Lauren you have given me great insight.


Thanks for your view, sincerely it is worth it learning how best to expose for different skin tones.



This was my first attempt as white seemless so I don;t have a usual for that setup. :stuck_out_tongue:

I THINK I was at f4.5 at around 50mm on a full frame sensor (5D2) ISO 1000 and 1/50th. I guess I could have slowed my shutter a little more but that would bring in more motion blur … not sure what would be best … blur or noise.

I COULD have dropped it to F2.8 or f1.8 (if I swapped to my Nifty-Fifty) but since my client was going to be standing and moving (instead of sitting on a stool) a little I wanted a little bit of wiggle room. If she had been sitting down or could stay on mark I might have risked f1.8 (or at least tried a take at f1.8).

Yeah … I should get another 500W light (25$) and a dimmer to use as my keylight, :frowning:

That’s something I should have done DOH! SO OBVIOUS! I did use a small silver reflector to the right of frame as fill. I’ll grab some foamcore and make myself a few larke bounces this week end. Now if I could find a local supplier of gaffer tape …

Thanks for the tips and critique @Lauren very much appreciated.


Thanks for the insight it was really helpful. I think I can now soften lights with ease :dancer:


Thanks for the insight


Hi make a video on how to make lights for my little studio
from old broken Led TV. i hope you liked!

Youtube Video —>