Two Light Night, Part 2: Diffusion Confusion

I never tire of telling people I am not an artist, but I now possess some compelling evidence that I am not a scientist, either.

In the last post, I mentioned that I tried three different diffusion methods for my key light: a reflective umbrella, a shoot-through umbrella, and a Gary Fong Lightsphere. And I used the Lightsphere both on and off the camera.

What I did NOT do was take careful notes, so today I spent quite a while trying to reverse engineer my own lighting. Based on analysis of catch-lights in the subject’s eyes, I think I know which diffuser was used for each image. Maybe.

The catchlights in Jaye's eyes are the shape of a Lightsphere, and their position suggests the light was on the camera. Note that the center of her forehead and nose are brighter. Note also that her ear is lit, suggesting the light is coming from directly in front of her. The soft quality of the light comes from the Lightsphere's design: it diffuses light in all directions, blending a strong ceiling bounce with a broad, flat fill light pushed forward from the dome itself.

The keepers from this session were all shot with either the shoot-through umbrella or the Lightsphere. I dispensed with the reflector umbrella early in the evening, because I wanted the key light as close to the models as possible. For one thing, I did not want the key light spilling onto the background. Those of you familiar with the inverse square law know that if the light is closer to the subject and farther from the background, the light falls off before hitting the background. For another thing, even though these models are not as old as me, neither are they adolescents. Like real people everywhere, they have wrinkles, and the first line of photographic defense against wrinkles is a big, close light source. I don’t believe in eliminating wrinkles, but I like to minimize them by filling them with light.

(Remember that side-lighting exaggerates texture by casting shadows, while front-lighting fills shadows and minimizes texture.)

Without catchlights in her eyes, I cannot tell which diffuser I used. I can tell that the flash was on my left, because of the highlight on her left shoulder. Alas, I am no scientist. I will say that most of us don't need to get all wound up about which type of diffuser we use - there are many good choices.

I was pleased with the quality of diffusion from both approaches, but I find the shoot-through umbrella much easier to control. Even though it spills more than a reflective umbrella, it can be aimed. The whole point of the Lightsphere is to send light in all directions. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want, but not always. I find my Lightsphere indispensible for event photography, when I must work with the flash on camera.

Whether you use an umbrella, an index card, a ceiling, a wall or a Kentucky Colonel in a white suit as your reflector, you will get more pleasing people pictures with softer, diffused light. I urge you to experiment with various diffusers – especially those you can make with a piece of paper and a rubber band. Of course, it will help if you take good notes (on a separate piece of paper).

The Lightsphere might be my fallback position in the studio, but it's my go-to diffuser for event photography. Most party pictures would have one or two overexposed people and several underexposed people, with glowing eyeglasses all around. Not with the Lightsphere!

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Filed under Camera Gear, Lighting

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