Category Archives: 20a-Softening the Light

Softening the light

Exercise- Softening the Light


This exercise looks at ways of softening photographic light through diffusion. Hunter et al (2012, p28) describe diffuse transmission as the scattering of light through a translucent material. This has the effect of softening the light, making it less harsh.

The course notes outline some possible ways of constructing a diffuser at home using translucent materials such as tracing paper. However, as I recently purchased a Speedlight for my camera, which includes a diffusion dome, I opted to use this instead.

The exercise instructions are as follows-

  • Set up a still life arrangement
  • Take two photographs. One with the naked lamp and one with a diffused light source.
  • Look at the results and make notes about the differences.


I set up a simple still-life arrangement as directed and positioned my Speedlight on my camera. After a few test shots I realised the flash strength was far too strong. I experimented with the Speedlight’s exposure compensation settings before selecting -3EV.

I then took the shots as directed.

still life 2

No diffuser
52mm, f/11, 1s, ISO 100

still life 2 with diffuser

With diffuser.
52mm, f/11, 1s, ISO 100

At first glance there looks to little difference between the two shots, however closer inspection finds several variations. The contrast in the first image is higher with a lot of shaded areas. The shadows also appear to be blacker and denser than in the second image. The diffused light had revealed more details and texture in the shaded section of the dried fruit and it has softened the shadows. Taking all that into account, I think the photograph taken with the diffused light is the better image.

still life 1still life 1 with diffuser

In the spirit of experimentation, I repeated the exercise with a similar arrangement.

There are no shadows to compare here, but again the diffuser has reduced the overall contrast and revealed more details in the shaded areas than is visible in the first shot


This exercise had shown me the difference that diffusing light can have on an image, particularly in softening shadows and allowing detail to be seen. It is both effective and simple to apply, as any translucent material would work to some degree. Präkel (2007, p96) notes that a time-honoured technique for diffusing on-camera flash was to drape a handkerchief over it.

The diffuser would have also been helpful had my subjects been made of reflective materials, as the bright pinpoint reflections of the naked light would have been smoothed out and broadened.

Hunter, F., Biver, S., and Fuqua, P. (2012) Light-Science and Magic (4th ed) Waltham, Focal Press

Präkel, D. (2007) Lighting. Lausanne: AVA