Ep 217: How to see and read light

A wise person once said: “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary”. There is no doubt that light plays a huge part in whether or not you get the perfect shot. But you don’t have to wait for the stars to align in order for this to happen. YOU can make this happen by understanding how light works and how to manipulate it to achieve the look you want.

In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss what you need to do in order to understand and see light the right way.

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Show Notes

Photo critique:


“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” – Aaron Rose

So how do you read light?

Hard light (Direct)

  • Hard direct daylight is caused by a tiny lightsource ( the sun) far away from its subject ( the earth)
  • The farther away the light source is from the subject, the harder the light source
  • It gives sharper and darker shadows
  • Hard daylight = High contrast
Above: Exposing for highlights will increase contrast
Above: Exposing for shadows will decrease contrast

Adding fill light will decrease contrast and add more shadow detail

Hardlight can be recreated using a small light source (speedlight or studio light with snoot) placed high up and far away from the area/person you want to light.

  • high contrast light is often used in minimalist images
  • Combine high contrast light with fill flash
  • Recreate hard light on overcast days
  • Add a ¼-½ CTO gel to warm up neutral speedlight and create “sunshine”

Tutorials for you



Above: Hardlight can be recreated using a small light source (speedlight or studio light with snoot) placed high up and far away from the area/person you want to light.


Above: The exact same location is transformed simple by exposing for highlights and letting the shadows fall to black
Above: Shadow detail rescued using lightroom.
Above: The good news when shooting with digital is that the shadows can be recovered, highlights on the other hand cannot be saved once an image is overexposed so it is always best to aim to expose for highlight detail rather than shadow detail.


Soft light (diffused)

  • Imagine your lightsource is water coming out of a hose with an adjustable nozzle
  • Hard light is like the hose on its narrowest setting. It causes a solid hard stream of water, bumping into anything in its way
  • Hard light bumps into things and creates a hard shadow
  • Soft lift is diffused. It scatters in every direction like the hose turned to fine mist
  • When fine mist is pointed at any object the water gently seeps into every nook and cranny
  • Soft, diffused light is bright and free of shadows. It is lower in contrast and perfect for photographing anything that you want to have minimal shadow.
  • A cloudy sky creates soft light/ no shadows
  • Soft light is also not as bright as hard light
  • Soft light doesn’t look as sharp as hard light
Above: Soft light (no shadows)
Above: Hard light creates dark and sharp shadows


Soft light can be recreated by adding a large modifier to your light source
This can be:

  • Scrim between the sun and your model to diffuse the light
  • A softbox/umbrella over a flash to diffuse and shape the light
  • Bouncing flash into a wall or ceiling to add soft fill light to a scene
  • Feathering light to recreate soft window light

Tutorial for you


Above: Feathering light to recreate soft window light

Next level

Combining soft light and hard light

Soft light ( fill light)

Hard light is key light

  • Overcast day fill light + speedlight as key light ( beauty dish or grid)
  • Umbrella as fill light + beauty dish
  • Softbox + beauty dish


A few tips for portraits

  • Soft light is more flattering on textured skin
  • Look for bright flat directional light eg garage lighting that hits the face square on and fills in all the lines
  • Hard light looks sharper but it’s easier to create harsh shadows, watch the angle of the light

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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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