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This is where Ian Burley, DPNow's editor and founder, shares his unique thoughts and impressions on subjects that he hopes will be of interest to others on the subjects of digital photography and other related or loosely related topics! You can follow DPNow Editor's blog on Facebook and Twitter, too.
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Daily photo tips: Soft illumination from your flash without expensive accessories

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Posted 18-09-09 at 12:00 AM by Ian
Updated 18-09-09 at 09:22 AM by Ian

Welcome to the second of my new series of simple, but handy, photography tips that I'm posting to my DPNow blog each weekday.

Today, I'm going to explain how to get soft lighting from flash without the need for expensive flash diffusing accessories.

I'm not suggesting that flash deflectors, reflectors and diffuser domes are no good. Instead, I'm going to show how you can get the kind of results these accessories provide... when they aren't available to you.

Increase the area of the light source: The secret to soft lighting, without harsh tones and sharp shadows, is to increase the effective area of the flash light source. Big external flash units and studio lights have their own accessories for diffusing the light, but what if you only have a compact camera and a built-in flash, or you have an external flash but no soft dome accessory with you?

Hopefully, you will have access to a sheet of white paper. It doesn't have to be absolutely clean white paper, even a sheet of newspaper, as long as it doesn't have a colour photo printed on it, will actually do.

You have the choice of using the sheet of paper as a reflector diffuser, or you can shine your flash through the paper. The latter is more suitable for photographing nearer subjects as it can lower the intensity of the light.

If you have an external flash and it can be pointed upwards, use the sheet of paper as a reflector. It may take some practise to get the right angle, but what you do is hold the paper at an angle above the flash so that the reflection will line up with your subject. By doing this you are making the light source, the reflected light from the paper, much larger than the flash itself when pointed directly at the subject. The larger the light source, the softer the light will be.

If you can't bounce the light as described above, hold a single sheet of paper in front of the flash - not too close, or the diffuser effect will be lessened. Don't hold the paper too far forward so that light is reflected onto the lens, causing flare.

I've used these techniques many times, especially for producing impromptu product shots or new cameras, for example, at press events and shows, when for some reason or other I don't have all my flash gear with me. It really works!

Next Monday's tip: A pocket sized guide to camera metering modes!
Total Comments 3


  1. Old Comment

    Flash diffuser

    The Sto-fen omni-bounce type of flash diffuser works well. Similar ones readily availble from ebay or you can make a highly effective one from a plastic milk container.
    Posted 18-09-09 at 08:59 AM by mike_j mike_j is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Ian's Avatar
    You need to be careful with clip-on flash diffusers. I see so many using them outside, where there are no walls or ceilings for the light to bounce off. All the diffuser does in these cases is weaken the power fo the flash.
    Posted 18-09-09 at 09:21 AM by Ian Ian is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Thanks for this tip on diffusing the flash. I've improvised with a page from a filofax, a hanky (clean), a tupperware box and my daughters blouse! They all work LOL
    Posted 24-09-09 at 11:49 PM by

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