I’ve been asked this on Instagram a few times now: "How to make your photos so beautifully bright and soft?!" There are of course a few tricks if you like and want to create this look, as I do.
Very important: soft, bright photos don’t equal better photos. I also love the look of dark, moody images. Keep in mind: the look of your photo has to match the message of the image – and the story it’s supposed to tell. Besides, it should always fit to you and your style. My style is soft, gentle photos. That doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else. & But that I consciously choose the look like this. Here come my Tips for bright photos with a soft look.
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By the way, here are all my photo tips. But let’s get back to the bright and soft image look!
Here are my 5 tips for bright& soft photos:
1. Color choice
With the color choice of your motives you can influence very much, which concerns the picture effect. If you want a soft, gentle look, then the environment should also look like that. I probably won’t succeed with a pastel soft look with a black photo background. Therefore: Before taking a photo, think about the feeling you want to convey. And then choose color and photo environment accordingly. If you don’t have a suitable table at home, just put a white board underneath as a background. Or a white cardboard. (Or just the color you like to use.)
If you’re shooting fashion and you generally want a soft, light look, don’t place your model in front of a black or bright orange wall. Always think about the end result and the look you’d like to achieve.
Also, choose the photo props you use accordingly: If you want a soft, smooth look, you shouldn’t have too bold, saturated colors in the image. Especially not away from your main object. When you’re shooting, you always have a subject to focus on. Make sure that nothing else steals its thunder. You want the viewer’s eye to land on your main subject – not get stuck somewhere in the background.
This is called "visual weight" – gaudy or big objects have a lot of visual weight. When the visual weight of a supporting actor is greater than that of the main object in your photo, the eye is distracted.
In this photo the camera is the main object. All other objects are only to support visually, not to distract. Well, which cup fits better to the overall color concept here? &
Or again: Which background fits better to the color and light concept??
As is also the case here: Nothing is deliberately placed in the background that steals the show from my main object in terms of color. Also the background objects are in blur. Accordingly it looks nice and soft, even if the green is actually quite strong.
Here the envelope is an eye catcher, so the rest is rather restrained in color:
2. Use diffuser and reflector (get rid of the hard shadows)!)
If you want a soft, gentle look for your photos, we can’t do anything with hard shadows.
(Unless, for example, you want the foreground in soft light and the background in hard light, that can also look great softly – but that’s level 2& In the photo below, for example, hard light is deliberately coming in on the background. But my main object – the cup – is deliberately bathed in soft light.).
Basically first of all: The blazing midday sun creates very hard shadows – we have to work against that accordingly.
A few basics about light: The larger your light source, the softer the shadows will be. Now you could say: "Okay, but the sun is really very big?!"In fact, it is very small, relatively speaking, because it is so far away. You could cover it up with your thumb, it’s so small (relatively speaking). That’s why their shadows are very hard.
Now, if you put between the sun and your photo set a Diffuser your diffuser will become the new light source. This is very large compared to the set and scatters the light very gently. Alternatively, you can also use white, transparent curtains. They serve the same purpose.
For example, if we work with side light – i.e. the light falls on your object from the right – then the shadows fall to the left, because the light comes from the right. Here we still have quite hard shadows. Here comes the Reflector to the subject. You place this opposite the light source, so that it throws the light back onto the object. This is how you get softer shadows again. Instead of a reflector you can also use a white styrofoam plate or white cardboard.
Most reflectors come as a 4-in-1 set: they have several sides (silver and gold) and inside hides another diffuser as well as a shader. Therefore I have two of them. Once this set and once this set (partner links), so that I can use reflector and diffuser at the same time.
Here’s our light source on the right – light comes in through the window, the diffuser makes it softer. From the left comes the reflector, which reflects the light back to the object.
WITHOUT REFLECTOR& DIFFUSOR (on a cloudy day)
WITH DIFFUSER FROM RIGHT:
WITH DIFFUSER FROM RIGHT AND REFLECTOR FROM LEFT:
When using your reflector, always make sure that you don’t lose any three-dimensionality – a few shadows are fine, because that way the objects look more natural.
3. Close to the window
If you want brighter photos, get close to the window – I know, Captain Obvious to the Rescue. But this tip is as simple as it is effective.
There is a law of physics that says reciprocal square law. Essentially, the closer you move your set horizontally AND vertically to your light source, the brighter your photo will be. And the further you move away from your light source, the darker your photo will get (exactly how, this law says. But this is not so important in detail.)
This means that if you have a window that starts at 1 meter, your set on the floor will get less light than at the height of the window. It’s the same when you shoot at the height of the window. The closer you go to your window with it, the more light it gets.
This is especially important on days when it is not at all bright outside. Also, always consider from which direction your light should come from. That’s a whole other topic – because each light direction creates a different mood.
Basically you can think about the direction in which you want your shadows to fall. The most common light directions are front light, side light and back light. Side light is very easy to handle: the objects are modeled three-dimensionally (frontal light often makes your objects look flat) and you don’t have the problem that secondary objects in the background will drown like with back light. (which can be great, though, z.B. in the golden hour. But as I said – this is a whole separate topic again!)
4. Work with blur (open aperture)
If you want your photo to look nice and soft, work with a wide open aperture. I like to shoot with aperture 2.8 and down – because then the background gets a great blur. And the farther away the objects in the background are from your main subject, the blurrier they become as well. Of course your photo becomes brighter with a wide open aperture. (Just like with longer exposure time – if you only understand station here, I recommend you my article about manual photography.)
Caution: The reciprocal square law also applies here, depending on which direction your light comes from. If you work with frontal light, your background may very quickly become much darker than your foreground. To avoid this (and to not have to set up additional light sources), I prefer to work with side light. This is the easiest to tame.
The blur in the background makes the photo look really nice and soft. (I probably would have left out the pencil case in the front in the following photo, as it’s too much of a visual distraction from the succulent that’s in focus. I just got the physical urge to edit it out. & Well.)
5. Postprocessing Lightroom
Also, in post-processing with Lightroom (here’s my article with all the basics), you have the option of giving your photos an additional softer look. Especially unsightly, hard shadows you can easily get away with the correction brush.
Just highlight the areas you want to adjust with the correction brush – and then tweak the sliders: Lighten Depths, Exposure High. This way you can easily brighten up areas that are too dark without affecting the rest of the image. This is a very handy tool. The red area in the photo is what I brightened up.
As you can see, the photo is evenly bright because I lightened the dark corners!
There are many more ways to give your photos a bright and soft look – these are the most important ones. And one thing is very important: the soft look must of course fit the image message and the story behind it. A sunset can be dramatic, it doesn’t have to be bright and soft.
Have fun trying them out!
P.S. If you want to get regular photo tips in your inbox? Sign up for my photo newsletter here! Then you will automatically receive my Flatlay Planner, which will help you to take really great flatlays.
By the way, here you can find all my photo tips.
I’m Lisa – and I can never sit still. On my feenstaub I blog about my passions since 2013: These are great DIY ideas, chic design and very special illustrations. The main thing is homemade! More about me.