Soft lighting: the key to your science videos

If you’re a scientist thinking about making science videos, lighting is one of the most important things to keep in mind. Here’s the good news: even without a fancy lighting rig, you can still get fantastic results. The secret is to use soft light. Take a look at our 3-minute explainer video below.

What is soft light? It is the opposite of direct light. Direct light lands on your subject from mostly one direction and source. Some examples of direct light sources are a bare light bulb, an open flame, and the sun. Generally, a direct light source is small (physically or because it is far away, like the sun). Direct light makes hard shadows and increases contrast. High contrast lighting is fine for many things, but can make unflattering shadows on faces.

In contrast, soft light is scattered and diffused. Soft light lands on the subject from many different directions. It has a tendency to fill in shadows with a little light, making for softer shadows with less defined edges. This tends to make for a more flattering result when shooting video of people. A filmmaker can modify a direct light source into a softer, less contrasty one by increasing the surface area of the source. This can be done in many ways, such as: bouncing a light off a white wall or by placing a diffusing material in front of the light.

SciFund Challenge has a lot more to say about great lighting for your videos in our Video for Scientists class. Here’s the relevant section of the class material.