The Diffusion Question

First I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Today, I would like to briefly talk about diffusion of lights.

To diffuse or to not diffuse? There are many diffusion techniques, and each photographer have their own favourites. When it comes to macro photography and photomacrography, diffusion becomes vitally important. But is diffusion always necessary? Are there cases where harsh light provides better pictorial results?

Different lighting systems require different diffusion methods. Speedlights and studio strobes have their dedicated light modifiers. Some people use LED lights and make their own diffusers. I personally use halogen illuminators with fibre light guides. My diffusion method is very simple, various contains with one layer of tracing paper glued on. It is nothing fancy and not hard to find. I often find myself scouting around in the supermarket for containers that I could exploit rather than doing the shopping I should do. My lighting however does need improving, installing a collimator would be a great start. As for diffusion, there are always new ways to be discovered and exploited. Lighting is a lifetime study of experimentation and creativity.

I will illustrate the question using several sets of photos.

Here, we have the scales of a Papilio Palinurus Daedalus, also known as the emerald sparrow butterfly. The difference is clear. Even looking at the shrunken resolution uploads, one shows detail and clarity, the other looks as if there was a lot of motion blur.

Let us now look at 1:1, compared:

The difference here is cut and clear. One lacks any detail whatsoever, the other is rich in detail and colour. This is what a diffuser made from some jelly container is able to do. So before looking to “upgrade”, or rather justify buying a new toy, improve on lighting is a great start. There are always ways to improve lighting.

Time to look at lower magnifications, the following is a set of hex wrenches made by PB Swiss Tools, one of my favourite hand tool suppliers. Their lifetime warranty and exchange is no joke.

The one without the cranberry fruit on top is lit using reflected light for high contrast. The image with the fruit on top is lit with diffused light. I did not add unnatural contrast to the first photo in post. (I actually applied -17 contrast)

To me, the first one looks far better, albeit without a tasty fruit, but it does demonstrate the rugged and reliable nature that tools should have.

I hope this post demonstrates the rationale of diffusion, and why sometimes one might prefer undiffused lighting.

1 thought on “The Diffusion Question

  1. Interesting examples, I’m starting out with extreme macro but find lighting very hard to do properly. Often my lighting will ruin my photos, extreme macro and regular macro alike.

    I will keep this blog bookmarked to remind me of the importance of proper use of light 🙂


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