One big benefit of using a hard light is that it is easier to control where it is going. Diffused light flies off everywhere, and because of its ability to wrap around a subject, it can be difficult to fine tune. If you have a hard light that is striking more of the scene than you want, you can easily block it with barn doors, flags, snoots, cookies, and gobos.
All of these are basically objects you put in front of or around the light to block or modify it. I call it shaping the light.
If you have a studio type of light and you want to stop the light from hitting any particular areas of your set, you could attach what are called ‘barn doors’ to the front of the light. Barn doors usually come in sets of two or four adjustable flaps that you can open or close to either block the light, or allow light to shine through and onto your subject.
This is particularly useful in backlights or hair lights where any stray light would strike the lens and cause lens flare if it weren’t blocked. Here are examples of barn doors.
By adjusting the various flap (barn doors) the hard light can be directed to or blocked from any area that you want. The images below show a hard light being used to light the little girl’s hair. I’ve used barn doors to narrow the light to only hit her hair. If I had not used barn doors (or some other modification method) the light, which was shining directly towards the camera, would have hit the lens and caused a flare. It would have ruined the shot.
If you are using barn doors and are still getting too broad a light and you want to narrow it down even further, another accessory that is used to shape and modify a studio light is called a ‘snoot’.
A snoot is simply a cone that is placed over the light source and serves to focus the light down to a smaller light source. This emulates a tiny spotlight and tends to make the light even harder than before.
This is a sample of a snoot mounted on the front of a light. The function of a snoot is to make the light source smaller, harder and to have it cover a more focused, specific area. If you want your light to only hit a small, specific area – a snoot is just the thing!
You can buy a commercially made snoot to put over your light or you can make your own. All a snoot is, is a cone to narrow down the beam of light. You can make a pretty effective snoot by simply taping a cone of paper around the outer edge of your light.
Homemade snoots cost next to nothing and will do the job. There are a few drawbacks though, the most important being that since they if they are made out of cardboard or paper, they are going to be flammable. Be sure you don’t use a homemade snoot on a hot light, and never leave your lights unattended when using homemade modification devices.