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May 172012
 

This article is just a quick overview of using diffused light in your images. Specifically in this case, Portraits. I will be doing more in-depth articles and tutorials and show you how to make diffusion panels on your own, for cheap. So make sure to subscribe to our site, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter to get the latest updates.

Shameless self promotion aside, let’s get to it. Using diffusion in a portrait setting is a great way to get nice even light on your subjects. It’s great for shooting models and portraits because it minimizes blemishes and creates a nice glow on your subjects. It’s flattering for many different face types, and is fairly easy to do.

In this tutorial I took what is typically thought of as the worse possible natural lighting, “noon” day sun, where the sun is directly above your subjects. This type of light usually is not preferred because it makes your subjects look like raccoons with dark shadows under their eyes, nose, and chin.

When fill flash isn’t enough

One way of combating this lighting is to use fill flash to fill in the dark areas of shadow to even out the lighting and still keeping some drama. The problem with this is that the sun is very powerful and using just an on camera flash usually isn’t enough, or just doesn’t give a nice quality of light if you are just “filling light” in. So the solution to this problem is to use diffused light in combination with fill light. Over kill you say? Well you be the judge. In the examples below, the first image is a quick portrait shot with just fill flash. For me the shadows are still too dark and even though the fill flash gives a nice catch light in the eyes, the quality of light in the rest of the image could be better. The second image shows the use of diffused light with flash fill light. The direct sunlight was diffused using a diffusion panel and the fill flash was used at 1/2 power to give that nice catch light in the eyes while also giving the couple a little bit of a pop of light to even out the dark shadows. A diffusion panel can either be made or bought. In this case it was half and half. I used a frame that I’ve had for many years and used my own diffusion material. More specifics later in the article. So you be the judge, which lighting do you like most. I like to use this “diffused light with a kicker” technique I call it, because it really gives a subjects a nice pop, that you may not get with just diffusion.

Noon Sun with Fill Flash: Canon 5d Mark III; Canon USM 24-105 F4

Noon Sun with Fill Flash: Canon 5d Mark III; Canon USM 24-105 F4

Diffused Light with a Kick: Diffused light with fill flash: Canon 5d Mark III

Diffused Light with a Kick: Diffused light with fill flash: Canon 5d Mark III

Diffusing the Sun: Practical Use

When the sun is overhead, giving bad shadows and ugly lighting, another way to used diffusion to your advantage, is to use the angle of the sun and diffuse the harsh light and make it softer. For example if the sun is high above your subjects and slightly in front of them, have your subjects face the sun and place your diffuser directly in front of them in between the sun and your subject. Please see the picture below for the example. Then use a higher shooting angle to eliminate shadows and create a very nice diffused front light. Another setup could be if the harsh light was coming from the side, place the diffuser in between the subject and the sun, for a soft side light. See the images below for examples of the different lighting setups.

High Angle Diffused Light: Lighting Setup: Fuji X-Pro1; Fujinon 35mm F1.4

High Angle Diffused Light: Lighting Setup: Fuji X-Pro1; Fujinon 35mm F1.4

High Angle Diffused Light: Facing the Sun: Canon 5d Mark III

High Angle Diffused Light: Facing the Sun: Canon 5d Mark III

High Angle Diffused Light: Side Light: Canon 5d Mark III

High Angle Diffused Light: Side Light: Canon 5d Mark III

Diffusion Distance

A basic understanding of how light works will help in your diffusion lighting. The basic theory is that when diffusing light, the face of the diffuser is now your light source, so the closer the diffuser is to your subject the softer the light will be, the farther away the face of the diffuser is the “less soft” it will be. You can vary the softness or quality of light coming from the diffuser by the distance you place if from your subject. For close up portraits I like to place the diffuser as close to the subject as possible to simulate large window light or “north light”. If you look at the catch light in the eyes of your subject and in the image you will see a very large light source (the Diffuser) which gives a very nice glow around your subject. It also give the eyes a very nice twinkle. Please see images below:

Large Source Diffused Light: Fuji X-Pro1; Fujinon 35mm F1.4

Large Source Diffused Light: Fuji X-Pro1; Fujinon 35mm F1.4

Large Source Diffused Light: Fuji X-Pro1; Fujinon 35mm F1.4

Large Source Diffused Light: Fuji X-Pro1; Fujinon 35mm F1.4

Conclusion

Diffusion can be used in many different ways I challenge  you to find what works for you. In this test I was using a 4’x4′ frame from Scrim Jim and a custom-made diffusion material that I bought from a fabric store.  In future post I’ll have a DIY solution tutorial but having a nice lightweight aluminum frame is good.  You can then customize the material if you wish or use the 3/4 stop material that it comes with. For most applications the 3/4 stop fabric that comes with the Scrim Jim is a good start. Experimenting with Diffusion for your images is easy to do and doesn’t take much training to get started. All you do is place the Diffusion panel parallel between the light source (in this case the sun) and the subject. You can either have someone hold it there for you or you can use a stand to hold it in place. I like using an assistant (friends) to hold because I’m more of a run and gun shooter. Plus its easy to teach a non photo person to do it. Keep in mind the distance of your diffusion panel, Softer light verses Soft light. This is a fun technique and will make your soft light portraits pop! Happy Image Making!

Scrim Jim can be found at here at Adorama, it’s very inexpensive and has many uses. Great tool to have!

Like photoheadonline.com on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. We’ll let you know when there are more lighting Tutorials. Many more to come. Also DIY lighting techniques.

Use the comments below to let me know what your favorite diffusion technique is and why!!!

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