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Diffused Light vs Direct Light

Direct lighting has its place in the video and photo production world, but it is not always the best type of light when the desired look involves soft shadows. Light diffusion is an excellent tool for creating even light distribution, to behave the way you need it to on a video or photo production shoot. There are many lighting conditions in which one can diffuse light on set to achieve various outcomes, but before we dive into the specifics, it is important to understand what light diffusion does.

Light diffusion occurs when a translucent object is placed between a light source and the subject of the image. These objects can vary in size and opacity, such as a soft box or even clouds on an overcast day. This object disperses the light over a larger surface area closer to the subject, and gives it a softer look overall in comparison to something like direct sunlight on a sunny day, or large incandescent spotlights on a set or stage. Due to the nature of the material, it causes the direct light to scatter in different directions, creating soft light, kinder shadows, and overall more indirect light than was initially implemented. This is a great technique to use when the goal is to achieve more even lighting.

Diffusing Your Lighting Set Up

When attempting to diffuse light for a video or photo production, it is important to ensure your light is strong enough to diffuse, as the light levels overall on your subject will drop due to the scattering occurring. If you place a translucent material in front of a light source that is not strong enough, the light diffuser may act as more of a light blocker. When deciding how far you need to place the light diffuser from the light, make sure the material you are using is at a safe distance from the light source, as well as not highly flammable. Safety is more important than any good-looking shot.

As mentioned previously, light diffusion is a great tool for softening your light source, or covering more surface area with light. When light is directed at your subject without diffusion, it can create harsh shadows and result in a dramatic and sometimes unflattering look. The light source will also direct light at your source in a much more narrow path than if it were to be diffused. Diffusion is great if you are lighting multiple subjects or a larger scene because it spreads the light more evenly across the area in which you are directing the light source.

Direct Lighting

While light diffusion is a very commonly used practice in the film and video world, there is still a time and a place for direct lighting. Direct lighting is a result of aiming your light source directly at the subject without any interference or diffusion between the two. This is a great look for scenes that require a more dramatic or intense look. Often for portraits or fierce-looking model shots, you will find direct lighting is responsible for such a style. Using direct lighting to achieve this look should be done thoughtfully and intentionally, as you do not want your light-hearted scenes to turn out to look like an intense drama. Typically, when using direct lighting the light source is set up on an angle to the side of the subject allowing much of the light to hit one side on an angle, while the other side is covered in dark shadows. This high contrast can be seen in a lot of dramas, crime mysteries, cover photos, or serious-looking model photos.

Direct lighting is similar to hard lighting. There is much overlap between the two, however, they are not exactly the same. Direct lighting implies there is nothing blocking or manipulating your light source, whereas hard lighting may still have manipulated shadows, there is just no diffusion. To break it down, all direct lighting is hard lighting, but not all hard lighting is direct lighting.

Which One is Better?

When it comes to lighting styles, neither technique is better all of the time. Diffused lighting is more widely used simply because it is more flattering to facial features in most contexts, as it is much more subtle and allows more room for manipulation. This does not mean that diffused lighting is the right choice all of the time. As we previously discussed, when filming or photographing a dramatic scene or still, the light will help convey that tone more clearly if there are more harsh shadows, which is a result of direct lighting. It is important to establish the style and feel you are trying to communicate with your scene before choosing a lighting technique.

Experts on the Craft

Lighting is an integral part of ensuring creative videos look professional and cinematic. Great lighting can go a long way if you know what you are doing. At 7 Wonders, we have a team of highly qualified video production experts who can achieve the most cinematic looks for any video. If you are searching for a team of professional video producers, editors, and all-around experts, you have come to the right place. We would love to work with you to make your video dreams come true. Reach out to us by phone or check out our website!


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