Flash photography made easy: simple ways to diffuse light for flattering portraits
In this section we explore some of the ways to diffuse light from your flashgun to make it less harsh and more flattering for skin tones.
While flash photography offers wonderful opportunities for the creative photographer, it can also present some challenges.
Untamed, it can be harsh, cold and unflattering, especially if you’re shooting portraits inside with one camera-mounted flashgun, as we did here.
However, with some very simple techniques it’s easy enough to control the light – either by bouncing it off a nearby wall or a ceiling, or by making use of a diffuser.
When the light from a flash is concentrated from a small area, it can create harsh shadows. This is especially true if you’re shooting vertically with your flash attached to the camera – effectively on the side – which will cause horrible side shadows, as seen in our first sample (below left).
There are plenty of handy gadgets available that can help you soften and diffuse the light, such as STO-FEN Bounce products and mini softboxes. However, here we’re going to show you how to diffuse the light simply by bouncing it off a wall or ceiling.
You can buy a bunch of great diffusers, mini softboxes and Sto-fens in all shapes and sizes. Some are expensive, but they needn’t cost the earth.
If you anticipate shooting a lot of portraits, adding a couple of flash accessories to your kit bag would be a worthy investment.
How to buy a diffuser
Most flashguns come with a plastic diffuser to mount over the flash head, which is great for diffusing the harsh light. If you didn’t get one with your flashgun, you can pick one up for about £15.
How to make your own diffuser
If you want to get diffused flash effects, but would rather keep costs down, why not try making a diffuser of your own? All you need is a translucent two-pint milk carton and a bit of sticky tape. Here’s how you do it…
Wash and dry your milk carton, then carefully cut it in half. The bottom part is your diffuser; make sure it’s big enough to fit your flashgun.
Attach the plastic to the flashgun with tape, ensuring that the end of the carton is about 1cm from the flash. Now you’re ready to shoot!
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Seeing the effects of diffused light
In the cheat sheet below we’ve shot the same portrait three different times – once with standard flash, then with flash light bounced from the ceiling and flash light bounced from the wall.
Simply click on the infographic to see the larger file, or drag and drop it to your desktop.