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Diffusers and Scrims

Lesson 11 from: Location Lighting 101

Lindsay Adler

Diffusers and Scrims

Lesson 11 from: Location Lighting 101

Lindsay Adler

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Lesson Info

11. Diffusers and Scrims

Next Lesson: Diffuser Q&A


Class Trailer

Day 1


Class Introduction


Principles of Light


Speedlights vs Strobes


Compressing the Scene


Location Lenses and Lenshoods


Metering Modes and Back Button Focus


Natural Light Reflectors


Lesson Info

Diffusers and Scrims

we talked a lot about reflectors I am happy later on to take more questions especially if you've thought about that and there's a couple lingering things but what we're going to talk about now is diffusers and I had a portrait business in upstate new york for about ten years so I did families and high school senior portrait's and photograph children all of that stuff and I thought diffuses were pretty much useless I'm not sure if anyone helps has that feeling but like when when would I use that like it's not super practical and then when I learned when to use it now I love it so let's watch this video you can get an idea and then I can answer a couple questions we had before we'll dive in depth into diffusers I was always told when I was learning how to shoot portrait that shooting at high noon which it is right now is the worst time of day to shoot for a million different reasons so first of all one of the things that we talked about is how we want to control the light we want to cont...

rol the quality the direction and the intensity and right now all of it is awful so let's look at the quality of light at high noon the quality of light on her face is harsh the shadows are dark the highlights air really really bright it's definitely not flattering in that regard so quality not good the direction of light it's mostly overhead and it's creating really unsightly shadows on her face highlights on her nose and on her forehead and deep shadows in her eyes and on her cheek so okay the direction of light isn't working for us and then lastly the intensity it is just so so bright that difference between highlight and shadow is definitely not desirable so this is what I learned about shooting in the middle of the day and that I wanted to stay away from it until I learned about diffusers and scrims diffusers and screams make all the difference in the world to making absolutely beautiful light at the middle of the day even at high noon so think of it like this we talked about how when you have really small contrast e light sources they're really harsh when a light's really really far away it's going to create really crisp dark shadows um it's generally not flattering on the face but the closer that you khun bring a light source the better because as you bring it closer you make it larger and as you make any light source larger like using a very large octa box or very large soft box it starts to wrap around the face it gets softer and more flattering okay well we've got this son that is a million miles away it's super super tiny really really harsh how do we turn that into a larger and closer light source and that is exactly what a diffuser is for so here's what happens when I take a diffuser and I place it in between the sun and my subject the light source then becomes this diffuser the size of this diffuser for example if I hold on or have you look at the sun if I hold this light source here on her face now the size of the sun is actually the size of this diffuser the closer I bring it the softer it becomes the further back that I take it even taller it will become a little bit more contrast it but either way son forever far away really tiny and now it's extremely large and soft so that's the first part of working with a diffuser now right here we're working with diffuse that comes with a five and one reflector so what you'll get if you get the reflector it'll have silver usually a silver gold mix it'll have black and then this is in the inside so this is good for head shots it's okay it's not fantastic the problem that you run into is you actually just saw me struggle with it first of all I'm trying to cover her face so I'm holding up really really high and uh I'm not really covering much of her in fact let me do that again watch how much of her body I can actually cover okay that is not going to work for full length shots at all and of course it's a little bit difficult to manage so when I did learn about the power of diffusers I thought that this is what a diffuser was there nothing else and so it seems kind of impractical to me not super super useful okay well there are lots of different options for diffusers they range from different sizes two different shaped some of them holes you can hand out over the scene so we're going to take a look at those right now and how they work and I'm gonna show you some of the most popular ones also some of the least expensive ones ones that you'll be able to decide what works best for your photography no very few things in photography cost less than a hundred dollars in fact like almost nothing really really used awful um and so I was really surprised when I found out that one of my favorite light modifiers for shooting on location at high noon cost less than one hundred dollars and actually my friend eric valent gave me this tip and we're going to shooting out on location and he said to me well I'll make sure that I bring my shoot through umbrella I'm like why are we shooting strobes on location or speed lights he said no you'll see and so what I realized is that he brought this shoot umbrella on location when you open it up it is a giant diffuser and so now there's nice soft light on my face which really nice about this as I said it's under one hundred dollars it's really really portable it's very light and then also if you need your subject actually hold it either one person could hold it for the subject themselves and it gives them nice diffused light so for example may I borrow you I can have virus here when have you hold it up and I'm gonna have you defuse on her so she can hold it out over the scene and notice now the coverage is actually from head to toe on her so I can get a nice full body shot unlike I had with my much smaller diffuser now one thing that I wanted to mention while we're at this point is while she has nice even coverage head to toe can you guys see that circle of the diffuser around her feet you have that shadow so what do you do about it um there's nothing you can do to get rid of it the bigger diffuser you have obviously it's going to make a nicer bigger shadow but one of the things that I'll do if I'm trying to eliminate that shadow from my shot is I get down at a lower angle when I stand up tall when I'm shooting down I could clearly see it but if I back up sit down on the floor and then zoom in it becomes much less noticeable especially if I can frame ups there's a little bit more shadow in the background so this is definitely one of my favorite tools I would recommend easy for one person to hold unless it's windy unless it's really really windy and also you could have your subject hold it something else that I want you to see and I hope we could take a real close look at her face could you look up towards the sun again what I want you to notice is if you're shooting at high noon we fixed some of the problems we had originally member the things I said we wanted to control the direction the quality and intensity of light well we definitely helped out the intensity we darkened it down a little bit so it's not as bright and we definitely helped out with the quality it is now much softer that tiny little son is now the size of that huge seven foot umbrella it diffuses it and wraps it around but one of the things that he did not fix is the direction of light so if she looks perhaps over here at me do you see how it's still a little bit of cross light the light is much prettier but she still has highlights on this side of her face and on her nose told right there could you back up for a second and take it off of her face could go in so look you can still see those same highlights and same shadows just with the the diffuser with this umbrella it wraps it more so what you want to be careful of is if you are shooting at high noon or when the light is not ideal that you oppose your subject or work with the light that is there because you're not really exactly changing the direction you're just spreading it out and wrapping it more so when we're time look great here so what I might do for example is turn her chin that way continue to in that way and see how now she's facing towards the light a little bit more even further turn that way a little bit so now she almost has a soft rembrandt light there's a highlight on this side of her face and then that little triangle so just keep that in mind it's not going to change the direction you still might have to work with that now one other thing that you could do is work together with both your diffuser and a reflector to help you with the direction of light so could I please have a reflector please this one right here would be great all right so if she looks at me and it's direct overhead light there's still going to be a little bit of shadows in her eyes perhaps so what I can do and I'll take that I've just got this nice small reflector here is I can come in from the side we're underneath and just pop a little bit of catch lights in her eyes and if you look right out there you see that catch late she has now so I can fill in the shadow side of her face and also right now as we've defused the light that bright sun it's very very strong it's bouncing off the grass and so it actually becomes a light source underneath your chin you can see it's a little bit green here so when I go ahead and add a little bit of white phil it actually helps me to cancel out some of that green so these are all things that I might consider and if she's facing straight this way she'll definitely have some shadows in her eyes because more or less the sun is right ahead so the light that I have on my face it's the same just softer so just it's high any bit of phil underneath just gives you a little bit of catch lights and fills in a little bit so this is a tool that I think personally is a must have to bring with you need some kind of diffuser if you're going to be shooting out on location this one's a good price and it's really versatile so wanted to introduce you to kind of one of the bigger industry standards of of having a diffuser a scrim on set this one is called the california sun bounce son swatter okay and so what it lets you d'oh and you can run this side if you like what lets you do is depending and weak is it will change the angle of the diffuser and then you khun boom it out over the scene so if you have ah wider shot that you want now what you can do is you can extend this pole flip it out over the scene and now you can have a nice clean shot the problem we had with the umbrella of course is if someone's holding it nice and close you you only have like the extension of somebody's arm or that small diffuser you've got to get in the shot so this is a tool that lets you have a little bit of a wider shot a little bit more control and one person can hold it all right stephen if you can extend it a bit woman and so now if you see that it's nice diffuse light that completely khun cover her head to toe and now if I want I can have what your shot I don't have to get in quite as close can get different stops the diffusion they actually of this so that you can put cookies glorious you know that the shapes so I can break it up so it looks like more natural dappled light pattern um this is used on a lot of commercial shoots because one person can hold it and boom it out over the scene I used to think that diffusers were really really impractical because I had my five and one reflector and inside I had a diffuser so when I'd hold that small diffuser out over my subject it only cover a small area of their face and then I'd be left with a really weird shadow but what happens if I wanted to photograph two or three or four people well that small diffuser wasn't going to work for me so I just assumed I didn't like diffusers until I learned about the westcott scrim jim this is one of the most commonly used scrims so right here this is the scrim jim this is the most common one it is a six by six foot frame and what you do is you put a piece of diffusion material over top of that frame and it is actually very very versatile because first of all I can use this and have it boomed out or held out over my subject as a diffuser because it is larger when the sun hits that diffuser it becomes the size of that diffuser or that scream so it's much larger and it's much softer they also sell stand so you khun boom this or have this out over a scene also it's not a one trick pony in other words you can actually change the diffusion material and right now it has a fourth diffusion so what that means is right now when the bright sun hits the diffuser it spreads out and it softens the light but with this diffuser its actually pretty thin it doesn't cut out much light and said it just softens it a little bit it doesn't exactly change the direction is it's not that sick but there's also a one stop diffusion and a one and a half stop diffusion and to stop diffusion depending on how you want to control your light so if what I want the what I want the sun to do is to hit that diffusion just spread out and we have no direction just completely wrapped around the subject I wanted to be much much darker than the ambience what it's going to do what I'm going to need is maybe a one and a half stop or to stop diffusion if all I wanted which just soften that light get rid of some of the bright highlights on the forehead then I will use something a little bit thinner like the three quarter stop for this as well I really like that you can put reflectors on this so the scream jim there is six by six foot there's twelve by twelve foot you can put on a silk reflective drill or a gold or a solid white so now this becomes not only your diffuser but also your reflector and it's pretty easy to break down and it's very portable so I think this is a good tool and she was on a lot of commercial shoots there's a really important point that I wanted to illustrate here and that your distance of your diffuser from your subject makes a difference so over and over again we've said that the larger your light source is relative to your subject the softer that the light becomes and of course white is also going to be soft so if we have a diffuser really really far away we've definitely soften the light because the son becomes that diffuser and it spreads out but the closer you can get the diffuser to your subject the softer becomes and the more that it wraps around so for example could you hold this really high above her head really far away and right there is great and I have you bringing in really really close to her do you see how some of the shadows and hear filled in and the light wrapped around her face one more time as far as you can so now that light is more directional okay doesn't wrap is much it isn't it's soft and again when you bring it closer now the light wraps much more inasmuch softer so keep this in mind when you are working with your diffuser that distance matters the bigger the diffuser you khun get and the closer you can get it to your subject the softer you can have your light you can mix reflectors and diffusers together so one way that you can do it with the umbrella popped up for example it could be any diffuser it could be your scream jim it could be your um california sun bound sons water so you can defuse the light and then as I said you could go ahead and add silver to the side you could control the light and completely overpower some of that diffused light but what you might also dio is perhaps if you're looking at this scene your subject's hair maybe is blending in with the background maybe she has dark hair and it's darker behind her what you can do is you can add a hair light have you do that so when we have steven do is come from behind even further could go in and just pop a little bit of hair light there you see now how she separated from the background like she wasn't before so you can build much more complicated natural light sets without having to bring studio strobes on location or speed lights what I'm doing is I'm using the light here I'm modifying it by making it larger and softer and then I'm catching it and adding a hair light so there's many different ways you can manipulate the light for really intricate lighting setups using just natural light modifiers all right so first we're going to take these small diffuser all right could you put that over perfect great and I want to do a before and an after alright so stephen can you pull that away let's take a look at the harsh light on her face and turn your head just a tiny bit that way so really dark shadows in her eyes right highlights on her forehead on on her nose let me take a shot just you can see how bad it is sorry okay so I'm looking at her face here and she has very blown out highlights on her forehead on her nose and very dark shadows in her eyes so waiting to do with this intensity of light we've talked about compressing the scene and that's what we need to do here we need to bring in those highlights and bring up those shadows so that there's not such a drastic difference so we can actually capture the whole image on our camera so what we need to do is we need to soften those highlights and thankfully when you use a diffuser if it wraps around enough it actually brings some light up into those shadows as well so we're going to be able to compress the scene ah lot here control that dynamic range cell it's ah put that diffuser over her face perfect good you look straight at me turn your chin this way yeah she looked straight at me here if you look that that sheep on her face is not completely ideal because it is still the direction of light is still coming from the side so it's actually better if she can turn and face that way a little bit now she's turning toward the light think of it like a soft box in the studio we just got a soft box about this size it's a little bit high so she might need to raise her chin up like you would if you had a soft box in the studio and then also face a little bit more towards us off box so you don't have split light take a picture again perfect and you're not a tiny bit good beautiful so that look really really nice but because the sun is overhead there's still a little bit of shadows in her eyes so perfect if I can borrow you I'm going to go ahead and pop up in just a little bit of white phil her chin here and just a little bit like real subtle because what will happen I'm going to show you the good and the bad give me a time as much as you can okay perfect that's not too bad a little lower you want to make sure is if you add a reflector underneath the chin that you don't go too far with it because what will end up happening is actually to light sources the diffuse light from above and then another light source from below and you almost get crossed like we're really bright highlight underneath her chin so what I would recommend doing for a situation like this is backing off that reflector feathering it making a little bit more subtle so let's put it like right here good for effect silence great and see one without that reflector pull it away good and so you'll see the difference and watch real quick we use silver silver has so much more throw so much more speculative that it's definitely going to give us that duel oh yeah yeah that duel light source that you don't want to stay away from that it's too right underneath the chin often makes people spaces look wider and it's just a distracting element also I noticed that here normally this small diffuser would not be enough to be able to get a full length shot because the sun is almost over ahead steven's doing a good job holding it up over top of her head I concur basically get her entire body and shadow tried doing that a little bit later in the day when the son's a little bit lower it won't happen because you don't have a shadow kind of casting full body so generally all diffuser isn't going to be really useful for full length shots or multiple people now we have the california sun bound son swatter this is a much larger diffuser and steven has the ability to defuse it out boomed out over her head now we easily have a full length shot you get a shot of that while we're at it perfect and I'm going to back up a little bit and I don't want to get this shadow in the shot so I'm going to back up and get down low so it won't be in the shot anymore so you can easily see what I used in the scene so I'm just gonna back up this direction okay so now I can see a shadow and I get down a little bit lower beautiful much better and chin back up that direction again great so imposing her chin up towards that light now the light on her face is absolutely glowing looks beautiful great let's take a look at what happens with those different distances of the diffuser so keep it in a little bit that way all right now really really far away that's perfect oh and not bring it just a little bit this way good move on we get a quick shot perfect and really close good and bring around more to the front conceit in the back good take a look more directional good as far away as you can you come back up even further um tilted just a little there you go good so this is when it's far away and not really close for me bring close close close close oh perfect going to see that light change if you want you actually just see it wrapped around her face and it's really nice and then what we're gonna do one last thing is we're going to add in that reflector take a look so if you'll grab the either reflectors fine done at a hair light because right now when I look at this shot I think it needs a little bit more sparkle leans a little bit more production I'm gonna have him come around from behind there you go perfect little bit further what I'm watching is when he was was reflecting from the side she actually got the highlights of her hair on her face so I put him a little bit further behind the subject so that he could kick light to give a hair light instead of it crossing over so all right back up with the perfect and head this way just a little great and I'll stephen take it away oh huge difference huge difference there's a lot more sparkle a lot more separation that way that looks great

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Keynote 1
Keynote 2
Keynote 3
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

This class was amazing. Lindsay Adler is a great presenter...I learned so much.....I love that she spoke about natural light..strobes and speedlites. Wonderful information. I purchased this and I am glad I did. Great job Lindsay. Jean


Lindsey Adler is one of the best and most engaging photography instructors in the USA. I highly recommend this lighting course. It felt more like a 101 and a 102 course than just a basic course. She teaches in a way that makes learning alot of fun and the amount of time & effort that she puts into her video and class presentations are second to none. Her classes are well worth their weight in gold and you will walk away with a wealth of knowledge!


Lindsay is amazing , I love the way she explains everything!! This course is filled with GREAT information and helps you better understand natural lighting,strobe and flash. Thank You Lindsay, please keep your classes coming!

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