Learn to Draw - the different qualities of light




Quality of Light

Hard Sunlight

Soft Sunlight

I've mentioned the "quality of light" a few times now, what the heck am I trying to say? Light can be presented in a couple of different ways: hard and soft.
Hard light will create hard edged shadows and very strong, very white highlights, and is most often created by a single light source that is usually pretty far from the subject.
Soft light creates softer, more diffuse shadows that melt into the midtones pretty easily. The best natural source for both types of light is the sun. When you're out on a cloudless day the shadows cast by you and everything else have pretty sharp and harsh edges and you have hard light. The shadows cast with hard light seem pretty deep and dark because everything else around the shadow is so bright. You can see this in photographs when there are really harsh shadows on people and they're squinting into the camera. Naked sunlight creates these harsh shadows. On a cloudy day, cast shadows are softer and more diffuse because the naked sunlight hits the clouds and then the sunlight is spread across the body of the cloud, diffusing it. On a completely overcast day cast shadows are going to be really soft and have really blurry edges so much so that you may not be able to see the edge of the shadow. The light that we do see on a completely overcast day is what is called Ambient Light. The light is so evenly dispersed that it's difficult to determine where the light is coming from at all.

Hard sunlight on a face

Soft light in a Glamour photo

In your drawings, the shadows that you want to create are going to depend on the quality of light that you cast on your subjects. If you want softer, more gradual shadows, create a situation that will use soft light. Soft light is often used in fashion photography because the light is so even that the minute pits and hills on the model's complexion are minimized to the point of invisibility. If a hard light were used in fashion photography we'd see all the little imperfections on the model's body. Soft light is flattering to people, hard light is not. Most household light bulbs give off soft light because the white frosting on the bulb acts like a cloud and diffuses and softens the light. A bulb with clear glass will give hard light because there is nothing on the bulb to diffuse or soften the light. Hard light is often used for dramatic or moody effect, to drive a point home, or to frighten. Hard light is often seen unintentionally in candid photographs because the standard flash on a camera is a hard light source. It's a small, naked, bulb, which by definition is a hard light. whenever you can get away with it, don't use the flash on your camera, try and use as much soft, ambient light as you can. Of course, if you want hard light use your flash.

OK, now that we understand light and shadow let's draw some of that stuff!

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