Finding the Light - Soft vs. Hard

Lighting is EVERYTHING!

Find a place in your house where you’re able to get nice, diffused lighting preferably from 2 angles to help the light spread more evenly on the scene.

Natural window light is your best friend when it comes to flat lay photography

You’ll want to set up close to a big window, with you scene. You should be in bright, indirect light, so there’s an even, filtered & diffused light across your set.

The best time of day to shoot completely depends on your window size, your window direction, and the weather.

Best thing to do is to set up and take some test shots between 8am - 5pm.

You will quickly see what time creates the most beautiful lighting in your photos!

  • Turn off all artificial lights in the room and avoid direct rays of sunshine on your set as that would create yellow tones, hard shadows and too much contrast.
  • Use reflectors at an angled position opposite the light source to fill light back into the shadows
  • Keep some soft shadows to give the image a sense of depth and realistic feel.



The only real difference between hard and soft light is the size of your light source. The quality of the light (and x!) is affected by the size of the light source relative to the subject.

So the main concept to remember is this: The bigger the light source, the softer the light.

As you increase the light size, you “soften” it. So really big sources of light produce softer lighting; a smaller light source produces harder lighting. A large light “wraps a subject in illumination, filling in shadows and reducing contrast.

Distant light sources create harder shadows while close sources create softer ones:  


  • big light source
  • close light source
  • gradual, subtle shadows
  • less contrast overal
  • Pro: adds a warm, more inviting feeling to an image
  • Con: can become flat and uninteresting if used too directionally


  • small light source
  • distant light source (sun!)
  • edgy, dramatic feel
  • high contrast
  • Pro: adds dimension and depth
  • Con: shadows and highlights lack tonality.

Why does the sun create hard light and deep shadows if it's so big?
Because it’s so far away, that it becomes small relative to earth. But clouds can act like a soft-box, diffusing the sunlight and making it a bigger light by spreading the sunlight out more

Usually your goal is to achieve a beautiful, diffused, soft light.
How to change hard light into soft light?

  • hang a white bed sheet on your window to create a bigger surface and diffuse the light
  • move the set closer to the window
  • shoot on a cloudy day (clouds = diffuser)
  • use a reflector to bounce light back toward the subject and fill in shadows

 If you're more experienced you can start playing with hard light photography and create a more dramatic, deep shadows image, and use hard shadows strategically and creatively.

Being a great photographer is about understanding light and knowing how to use it to your advantage. So study soft light and hard light and know when and how to use both to create the art you want!