A Nurse with a Gun

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Flash Diffuser Hack

I despise photos that are lit with unnatural flash. Village of the Damned eyes are awful, but the dark shadows projected behind subjects framing them like a black amoeba on their head reek of amateur photography to me. Click to enlargeI might be an amateur, but I don't want my photos to appear that way. Even when a camera meters correctly and the background disappears, the flattening of the form that occurs with a flash bothers me. Such starkly illuminated faces remind me of shots the paparazzi snapped of Paris Hilton as she staggered from the latest trendy nightclub.

Even though I enjoy portrait work, I'm not about to go out and purchase studio lights. I would rather use natural available light. Still, a flash is nice to have to fill in shadows, and indeed sometimes to provide the light necessary to make the shot. When shooting candid photos at parties and gatherings, it is nice to be able to avoid the paparazzi look. I was looking for a way to use my camera mounted flash in such a manner that it would be diffused and softened.

Last night as I was adjusting the salinity of the fish tanks, I noted the jugs containing distilled water was a soft, translucent plastic. Click to enlargeThat would work well to diffuse the pop-up flash, but how to hold it in front of the mechanism? Looking at the handy dandy pop-up flash on my Nikon D-200, I noted that there was a space underneath it leading to the hot shoe. I cut the water jug to the size I wanted, with a T shaped arm on the bottom. It took several tries to get it right, but by placing the molded 45 degree top of the jug in the right place, I was able to slip the top of the T arm through the flash and into the hot shoe. The water bottle diffuser was held in front of the pop-up flash at a 45 degree angle. But would it work?

The starkly lit photo above was taken with my Nikon D-200 and the pop-up flash. By most accounts, the camera performed fine. Red eye was avoided, and the subject was separated from the background enough to avoid the dreaded black amoeba. All chiaroscuro is lost in the harsh light though. The form is unseen. The subject is flat.

Click to enlargeI put my hillbilly contraption on the top of my camera and tried again. With the water jug diffuser, the flash is dispersed, yet still partially projected through the plastic. The model is not only lit more evenly, but with a softer light. Even the background is illuminated slightly, allowing the warm dark bokeh to show through. The entire effect is reminiscent of Vermeer and Rembrandt.

I think I will be slipping this chunk of plastic in my camera bag for when I need it. Feel free to steal my idea to adapt to your own camera.



Blogger MedicMatthew said...

That's no hillbilly hack, that's an old pro trick- adapt, improvise & overcome. If you want more little tips & tricks like that check out Popular Photography Magazine's website - popphoto.com

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Bill N. said...

Nice ideal......now about your model.....I am guessing it is your daughter......how much is she charging you to be a guinea pig for your camera?? :-)

2:56 PM  
Blogger DouginSalcha said...

Thank you for this - I will try it. I don't like the harsh glare of a flash (or the fact that it isn't good for much more than 8 to 12 feet) but sometimes a flash is the only option for capturing action in a dark setting...

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you're having fun with the new camera. Good for you. Shooting and photography are the only two things I do where I can completely forget about everything else and focus on what I'm doing.


3:50 PM  
Blogger Carteach0 said...

Consider the idea stolen.

I have seen such diffusers on Amazon, for $10 to $40. I doubt they work any better than yours.

I have a piece of muslin cloth I use, but I like your idea better.

4:02 PM  
Anonymous 2yellowdogs said...

Nice home-brewed diffuser. There are a few of these things on the market (both for pop-up flashes and for speedlights) but fashioning your own saves you $20-$30 and they typically work just as well.

Another addition you may want to consider to what you've already done is to add a gel to balance the light when shooting indoors. Camera flash is daylight balanced, but indoor light has either an orange (incandescent) or green (fluourescent) cast.

You can buy sheets of gel material cheaply and cut them to fit. CTO (orange) and green. You then adjust your white balance for the room light and when using the flash, you avoid having your subject illuminated with one light and everything else in another color.

Keep exploring the D200 and post more pics. You have a good eye.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that lil gal tired of you taking her picture yet ;-)

Mine would have told me to go away a couple of days ago.

5:42 PM  
Blogger dScott said...

You should also take a look at Gary Fong's "Puffer" - http://store.garyfonginc.com/puf-01.html. It works much the same as your hack (using the pleasant sense of the word), but is a pro product (if you care).

If you haven't found them yet, you should also wander over to

I shoot Nikon. And Glock.

7:05 PM  
Blogger James E. Griffin said...

Joost Burghi, Swiss, in 1620 and John Napier, Scots,in 1614 in the modern era are both credited with the discovery of computational logarithms. Jaina mathematicians in India had the basic concept, without the computational abilities around the year 400. Imagine the Brit Royal Society's surprise when they discovered the Jaina documentation.

Check out photo products like Lumiquest on the web. Check the amazon link below.


Lastly, shoot some questions over to Oleg Volk. Welcome to the art!

10:00 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

Ah, a DIYer. You might be interested in posts from this blog

Lighting... do it on the cheap (as compared to studio lights) here: http://strobist.blogspot.com/
Check out the lighting 101 and 102 sections.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the old days we used a white hankerchief. May still work for all I know.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Flo said...

Nice! I used a piece of cloth, old t-shirt, tissues back in the day.

I've got to get a camera again!

4:29 PM  
Anonymous George73 said...

Diffuser's help a lot, but getting the light off the camera really makes a difference. Studio lights can be expensive. My favorite option is to bounce the flash. I've got a D200 with an SB800 nikon flash. It's totally TTL which makes it very easy to bounce. You can easily bounce off the ceiling, but for portraits you can bounce sideways off walls and get some really great lighting. And if you have colored walls, the light will pick up the color when it bounces, so bouncing off a tan wall will also have a warming effect on your light. Photography is painting with light. The camera just catches it, so really controlling the light is the key to good pictures. Nikon has come out with an SB900, so you should be able to find an 800 used. www.bhphotovideo.com has a used department if you can't find one in a pawn shop.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As George73 mentioned, an SB600+ flash is a wonderful addition...especially with a camera of that quality. I'm just tinkering with a D80 that SWMBO purchased for me a while back, and the SB600 that i picked up for ~$220 has made a world of difference.

3:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link