What’s the Difference? is a series of lighting tutorials. Each article responds to a single question. In this post, Jared Platt explains the difference between using a bare head and a white beauty dish.
Photographers instinctively know that a soft box creates soft light, it’s in the name for heaven sake! But the reason is sometimes less obvious to some. If you already know the answer to this quiz, don’t worry, we will get a little more detailed in a moment. The sun (less than an inch in diameter in the sky) is a very hard light and creates very hard shadows, but a 4 foot softbox, placed next to your portrait subject will create soft, beautiful light. Take that softbox a few hundred yards away from the subject (if the strobe was strong enough) and that light would feel a lot more like the hard sunlight you so desperately want to avoid. Simply put, the quality of light (whether a light is soft or hard) depends on the size of the light to the subject. No matter what light you have and what modifier you are using, the closer you bring the light to the subject, the softer it will become (even if it is also becoming more powerful in the process).