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Photography Lighting Quick Tip #2 – Diffusers and Reflectors

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A rose photographed under cloudy skies. From the series Lucy's Garden - © 2011 Gina Genis

To soften a harsh light source, use a diffuser.

Think about the light of a clear, bright day. It is rather harsh, creating deep shadows and lots of contrast between light and dark tones. Now think about a cloudy or foggy day. The light is softer and more subtle. It appears more even, making shadows slight if at all visible. Why does this happen? The clouds or fog act as a barrier between the sun and the ground. In essence, like holding up a huge white sheet, diffusing the sunlight.

If you need to soften a light source, you can use a ready-made diffuser or make one yourself. Here is a link to my favorite diffuser/reflector combo. If you want to make one, you can use a white sheet, old white t-shirt, or any other white fabric that can let light through. Use white instead of a color. If you use a green T-shirt, the green tint will cast on your subject and your photo will appear off. A diffuser works well when you are outside and the daylight is too bright. If you notice distracting dark shadows on your subject, use a diffuser. Same with a harsh indoor lighting situation. Just hold a diffuser in front of the harsh light, and see how the shadows disappear.

Another trick to softening light is to bounce it. This means you aim your light source towards a surface that will bounce back on your subject. I often use a reflector to bounce light on flowers. I hold a reflector so that the sun catches it, then I direct the light to the flower. Look at the difference between the next three photos. They are the same flower, photographed just minutes apart.

Example #1 shows the lily in harsh sunlight. Look at the dark, strong shadows and white highlights. I didn’t like this lighting for a delicate flower.  Example #2 is the lily photographed a few minutes later when a cloud blocked the sun. Better, but no pizzazz. Example #3 is the lily photographed when the cloud parted a tiny bit, giving me enough light to use my reflector to bounce the light inside the flower. This is my favorite shot of the three.

Lily photographed under direct sunlight. © 2010 Gina Genis

Lily photographed when a cloud blocked the sun. © 2010 Gina Genis

Lily photographed with a reflector. © 2010 Gina Genis

Get yourself a diffuser/reflector combo and your photography will improve by miles.


About Gina Genis

Hi Friends, I'm a photographer and artist who lives in Washington DC. I have two blogs. The Gina Genis Blog is about art and photography. My new blog, DC Discoveries is dedicated to showing you everything from fashion to art, food to entertainment in all sections of the District. I hope you will take the journey with me. I exhibit my work in museums and galleries across the U.S. I'm included in the permanent collections of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the Otto G. Richter Library Special Collections Division of the University of Miami, Hard Rock Casino, Orange County Transit District, IBM, and the Sarah and Adam Markman Collection among others. My series "Window Peeping" was included in OsCene 2010 at the Laguna Art Museum, Truman State University, Fellows of Contemporary Art, Biola University, and solo shows at Gallery 825 and Cypress College. The "June Gloom" series was exhibited in a solo show at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The "Kala" series has been exhibited at MPLS Photo Center, Cypress College, and Gallery 825. "Economy Portraits" was created as an Artist In Residence project at the Huntington Beach Art Center, and was awarded "Best Art Show of 2011" by the OC Weekly. I curated Wide Angle View, an exhibit of 16 international, award-winning photo and multi-media journalists at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art to much critical acclaim. Recent reviews of my work have appeared in the Huffington Post, Art Scene, OC Weekly, Orange County Register, New University, Riviera Magazine, Coast Magazine, Huntington Beach Independent, and appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, and more. I lead the Gina Genis Photo Workshops where I show beginning and intermediate photographers how to jump to the next level with their work. I also teach online photography courses through The Compelling Image.

2 responses »

  1. The methods you illustrated are so simple and very effective. I especially love the lighting you displayed with the lily pics. This is very helpful, especially with someone like me who wants to create great pics. Nice one!


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