TRICKS OF THE TRADE--TIPS FOR USING DIFFUSERS
One of my favorite "props" is my loyal diffuser. First, what is a diffuser? As the name implies, it diffuses, or softens, harsh bright light. I am mostly an available light photographer, so my favorite type of diffuser is a circular diffuser. It is made of very thin translucent material, almost parachute-like, and serves as a "soft box" for the sun. Diffusers come in different sizes/diameters--22"-42" and bigger! I use a 32" diffuser, which serves my purposes.
Here is a photo of what mine looks like when fully open. It collapses to a utilitarian size of 12" in its light flexible black casing with a zipper, which fits nicely into my camera bag. When collapsed in its "pouch," I use the pouch as my lens "hood" to minimize and sometimes eliminate that ugly flare in photography.
My most common use is to soften harsh sunlight hitting my subjects on a bright sunny day. I use my diffuser enhance, thus improve what my eyes actually see. I simply place it between the sun and my subject. Let me show you a couple of examples.
No diffuser. When we look at something like this, it wows us at the moment. However, look at how deep the shadows are in the folds of those leaves. The flowers look very contrasty. Also, the colors on them, though bright, have shadows that are too harsh for my taste. Granted, in some situations, all that can work, but not in this particular scenario.
With diffuser. I prefer soft colors over harsh contrasty colors. I prefer colors that "pop"--not colors that "jump" at me. Notice also how smoothly the hues and tones merge within the folds of those greens. Diffused lighting also makes it easier for that nasty built-in light meter to give us a more consistent look throughout the scene. It also eliminates the need for one-hour "post processing" or HDR work.
I also use my diffuser to serve as a backdrop. This small sculpture was surrounded by bamboo. When I placed the diffuser between the statue and right up against the bamboo, the shadows from the bamboo created interesting and intriguing patterns.
Sometimes I use the diffuser to create the illusion of a studio shot. First, notice how "busy" this iris looks without the diffuser, even with a shallow depth of field.
I did not realize how beautifully translucent irises really are, until I introduced the diffuser. It looks like an image created in a studio, with a white backdrop with slight folds. Yes, this is the same identical iris, at the same identical location, at the same time of day.
Now that you have learned some new tricks of the trade, go out and get yourself a diffuser. My kit is called a 5-in-1: Diffuser, white backdrop, black backdrop, silver reflector, and gold reflector.
I heard a great comment from a college basketball coach that applies to photography/art. He was asked why one of his players was so good at shooting 3-pointers. The coach quickly replied, "He's not afraid to miss." So, play, explore, experiment...and don't be afraid to miss!