Soft lighting is a fundamental concept in the realm of cinematography. It serves as a crucial tool for filmmakers and videographers, allowing them to manipulate light to achieve desired visual effects and emotional resonance in their work.

Here, we’ll explore what soft lighting is, the techniques employed to achieve it, the effects it imparts, and the appropriate scenarios for its use. 

What is Soft Lighting?

In its essence, soft lighting is all about creating a gentle, diffused lighting that minimises harsh shadows and highlights. This is in stark contrast to hard lighting, which is characterised by sharp shadows and high-contrast scenes. Soft lighting is preferred when the goal is to produce a more flattering, forgiving, and aesthetically pleasing visual.

Soft vs. Hard Lighting

Hard lighting, often associated with suspenseful and dramatic scenes, tends to be stark and unforgiving. It can accentuate facial features and create intense, contrasting shadows, emphasising every detail.

On the other hand, soft lighting diffuses light, smoothing out imperfections and reducing contrast. This can be especially beneficial for portraying characters or settings in a positive, approachable light.

Creating Soft Lighting

The softness of light is directly related to the size of the light source. Larger sources emit light rays that travel in multiple directions as they reach the subject, resulting in softer illumination. Videographers and cinematographers can also achieve soft light by using diffusion materials, such as softboxes, or by bouncing light off surfaces using reflectors.

The choice of light sources, their size, the use of diffusion materials, and the use of reflectors all play a role in crafting soft, flattering illumination.

Light sources with larger surface areas, such as softboxes or large diffusers, are commonly used to create soft light. These sources disperse light evenly, reducing the harshness of shadows. Additionally, diffusion materials like silk or frost gels can be placed in front of light fixtures to scatter and soften the light further.

Another effective method for softening light is bouncing it off a surface, such as a white wall or ceiling, using a reflector. This indirect lighting approach creates a natural, wraparound effect that minimises shadows and produces a pleasing glow on the subject.

The Effects of Soft Lighting

Soft lighting goes beyond aesthetics; it has a profound impact on storytelling and mood setting in film and video production.

Enhancing Facial Features

One of the most notable effects of soft lighting is its ability to flatter and enhance the features of actors and subjects. Wrinkles and imperfections are less prominent, creating a youthful and appealing look. Soft lighting can make eyes appear more vibrant and expressive, drawing the audience’s attention to the characters’ emotions.

Setting the Mood

Soft lighting plays a pivotal role in establishing the emotional tone of a scene. It can create a warm and inviting atmosphere, making the audience feel more connected to the characters and the story. This is particularly valuable in romantic, heartwarming, or lighthearted narratives.

Creating Atmosphere

In addition to enhancing character portrayals, soft lighting contributes to the overall ambiance of a scene. It can convey a sense of comfort, nostalgia, or serenity, depending on the intended mood of the storytelling. Softly lit scenes often exude a timeless quality that resonates with viewers.

Applications in Film and Video

The choice between soft and hard lighting in film and video production depends on the specific narrative and emotional goals of a project.

When to Use Soft Lighting

Soft lighting is ideal for scenes that require a natural and flattering portrayal of characters. It’s commonly employed in romantic comedies, family dramas, and commercials where a positive, inviting atmosphere is crucial. Soft lighting can also be suitable for interviews, documentaries, and corporate videos, where conveying authenticity and approachability is essential.

Genre Considerations

Different film genres call for varying lighting styles. While soft lighting is a staple in romance and drama genres, genres like horror and thriller often leverage hard lighting to create tension and suspense. Understanding how to use both lighting styles effectively is key to successful cinematography.

Classics like Gone with the Wind and Casablanca are well-known for their use of soft lighting to enhance the romantic and emotionally charged aspects of their narratives.

Advantages of Soft Lighting


Soft lighting is versatile and adaptable, making it suitable for a wide range of scenarios and genres. It can seamlessly transition from intimate, heartfelt moments to cheerful and well-lit sequences, enhancing the visual storytelling experience.

Reduced Post-Production Work

With soft lighting, there’s less need for extensive post-production retouching and correction. This saves time and resources in the filmmaking process while ensuring a consistently polished look.

Challenges of Soft Lighting

Balancing Softness

Achieving the perfect level of softness can be a delicate balancing act. Overly soft lighting can lead to a lack of depth and dimension in a scene, potentially making it appear flat and uninspiring. 

Overcoming Shadows

Even with soft lighting, shadows can still be a factor. Proper positioning of lights and reflectors is crucial to minimise unwanted shadows and ensure a beautifully illuminated scene.

Soft lighting is a versatile and indispensable tool. It enhances the beauty of actors, sets the mood, and contributes to the storytelling process. Aspiring filmmakers and seasoned professionals alike can harness the power of soft lighting to create captivating and emotionally resonant visuals.

If you are looking for a professional videographer to help create your next masterpiece, whether it’s a brand advert, music video, an event promo or anything else, please get in touch.