Since outdoor lighting can often be so unpredictable, even changing by the minute, it is good to be prepared with gear that can help with those lighting difficulties. Here are some tips on using a translucent diffuser for natural light portrait photography.
If there is no overhead cover at your portrait location on a sunny day, or if the lighting is uneven because of trees or other obstructions, then a translucent diffuser panel or disc will be a great help. Another name for a diffuser is a scrim. Diffusers can be purchased separately, or are included in 5-in-1 reflector kits. A diffuser panel can also easily be created with PVC pipes and white rip-stop nylon or other similar materials. A diffuser creates soft, even lighting, similar to a studio softbox.
Let’s look at some examples where a light diffuser would be helpful:
On a bright, sunny day with no cover, I set up a homemade diffuser panel. This panel softened the harsh sunlight, and acted as a large softbox.
Without the diffuser, the sunlight would have produced harsh shadows, and the bright light would have caused the girl to squint.
Below, I had the mom hold a diffuser from above to create softer light for this senior portrait.
Here are some examples of using a diffuser to produce even lighting, when the sunlight is scattered because of trees. The uneven light pattern can be seen on the diffuser disc, and on the ground behind the portrait subject. Without the disc, the extreme highlights and shadows could potentially be very distracting.
In the next examples, the homemade light panel was used to help with uneven light streaming through the trees.
A bonus use for the diffuser disc that some may not think about is that it can also be used as a reflector. It isn’t quite as bright as the white reflector included in a five-in-one kit, but it still works well, and allows a photographer to have instant use of either a diffuser or reflector.
A diffuser disc or panel is a versatile tool that can be a great asset for many photographers. It can also be used with studio lighting. This will be discussed in a future post.
For information on reflectors, be sure to check out “How to Use a Reflector For Portrait Photography”.