Diffusers and Reflectors (Tutorial)…

I mentioned last time that I would give you pointers on some tools that will help when the sun is high and too bright.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “Get it right in the camera first.”  Today I’ll show you a way to use light modifiers to help you do that.


In my next post, I’ll show you how you can get usually good results using Photoshop Camera Raw, for those times when you didn’t get it right in the camera.  That said, you take a big risk relying on manipulating in software after the fact (“I’ll just fix it in Photoshop”), because sometimes it just can’t be fixed to your satisfaction… so it is generally better to try to get it right in the camera first.

But we’ll talk about that stuff next time… let’s get to today’s tutorial…

The Scene

You’re walking along and all of a sudden you see your subject, the sky is cloudless and the sun is burning bright.  Unfortunately, there are big bright hot spots of light, that will surely blowout, and deep dark shadows on your subject… what do you do?

Light Modifiers to the Rescue

Well hopefully you have a 5-in-1 reflector/diffuser* on you because it is going to come in handy.  Also it would be really great if you had someone with you that could hold your reflector/diffuser or a stand of some kind.

*Author’s note: Preferably two reflector/diffusers, but the following photos were taken with only one and some photography kung-fu.


So here’s a before/after comparison… notice how the top photo has blown out parts, and really dark shadows.  That is what the subject looked like without any modifiers… just the sun and my camera.

But in the bottom photo, I have used a diffuser on the left (the side the sun was on) and a gold reflector on the right… and now you have a nice exposure – nothing blown out, nothing lost in the shadows…


Lighting 101 Review

Check out this diagram…

diffuser/gold reflector diagram

The diffuser takes the direct light from the sun and scatters it over the subject (it also reduces the amount of light by a few stops), which is effectively like taking a photo on an overcast day (the clouds act as a diffuser)… where the shadows soften and you don’t get blown out hot spots.

Then to bring some of the light back into the scene, I placed a gold reflector on the opposite side to bounce in some fill light.

5-in-1 diffuser/reflector

The great thing about the 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector is that you can unzip the reflector cover and have a diffuser.  Or you can flip the cover inside out to get to the other two reflector options.  It also folds up and is easy to stuff in your bag.


I could have used any of the sides of the reflector… mine has a white side, a silver side, a gold side, and a combo gold-silver side.  Each one looks good in different situations and subjects.

The gold side casts a warm light whereas the silver side casts a cool light.  The white side casts a more neutral light and the gold-silver combo side adds just a touch of warmth.

I chose the gold side for this subject because I liked the warm light on the pink flower… but it’s an artist’s call… experiment, play around, see what you like.

Photography Kung-fu

Now if, like me, you only have one 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector you can have your helper (or stand) hold the diffuser; meanwhile you hold the now floppy reflector in your left hand, prop your camera on your left arm, and press your shutter button with your right hand…  like so…


Or I guess you could bring a tripod and a remote, then you have both hands to hold the floppy reflector – that would have probably been easier. Heh.

This is how I did it… not the most comfortable way I assure you (my 180mm macro lens is heavy), but it got the job done.  And it was less stuff to carry.

More Comparisons

Take a look at a few more comparison examples of the sun beating down with hot spots (top) verses using a diffuser and a fill light (a gold reflector in this case) (bottom).



Next Time

Next post I’ll talk about some things you can do to try to fix those blown out/dark shadow photos where you didn’t have modifiers to help.  (ie. Manipulating a photo in Photoshop Camera Raw).  See you then.

Until next time…

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