Beginning photographers often shoot in full sunlight, or midday, and then later wonder why the picture doesn't look like they remembered the scene; or they get told in a class review that the picture has too much contrast. What happened? Why does it look so good to the eye, but not in the end result?
Our eyes have the ability to see 11-stop range of light. So they constantly adjust as we look from highlight to shadow and our brain says everything looks good. We can see detail in the shadows when we look there, and detail in the highlights when we look there as our pupils open and close rapidly. But as a moving picture, our pupils are constantly adjusting. Cameras can't do that. They use one aperture at a time. Film and digital sensors have never been able to record more than about 5 effective stops in terms of the range of light, so a compromise is made, which often leaves pictures lacking detail in both areas. If we expose for one area, we lose the other. Enter the diffusion disc: it lowers the range of light so we can record all the details in the highlights and shadows. This one accessory will give you so much more control over the lighting in any situation, whether it's outdoor portraits, details or macro subjects.
Here's a tip of how to get the most from your diffusion disc, also called commonly a diffuser:
First, quite simply, you must place it between the strong light source and your subject. This will immediately show you a flatter, more even lighting. However, just doing that is not always going to give you the best results. You don't want a 'flat' picture. The farther out you hold the diffuser, the more even, or flat the light becomes, and while details would all be visible, that light is often less desirable as things are too flat. But if you move the diffusion disc closer, the more the contrast increases, so even while the light is still diffused, you'll see highlights and shadows but with detail in them.
A diffuser held in close to the subject is a great way to do portraits of people, as it allows for some 3-d dimension to their faces with the gradual shift of bright to darker areas; it's also a great way to photograph close-ups of flowers and details. A diffuser in close gives some direction to the light, and a contrast that suggests the form of the object, while still allowing you to control the extreme range of light you'd have without it and to see details in all areas.
I don't have any comparison pictures that I could put my fingers on, but trust me - this really works! You'll see the wonderful glow that your subject takes on when you get the diffuser close like that. BUt the following two pictures could not have been made without a diffusion disc - or the BIG diffuser - a bright overcast day! The aspens leaves were photographed on the side of the road in New Mexico, and I hand held a diffusion disc close to the pile of leaves for a stronger glow. For the beach rocks in Acadia, I photographed before the sun crested the ridge line, and so while it was open sky, there was a direction to the light that gave dimension or form to the rocks, without the extreme contrast.
© Brenda Tharp. All rights reserved.
It's all about LIGHT - and I personally never leave home without my diffusion disc!
Have a great week of photography fun,