Alright, so normally I would be totally offended if my name was associated with anything “cheap and easy”, however today I make that exception. If you were to buy this in a photo store like B & H Photo and Video – you would pay over $300!
Covering my sliding glass doors, you will see my DIY diffusion panel. It’s huge, at about 10 feet x 12 feet. I made it this big in case I had to cover any doorways, or large windows. I will use A-Clamps to clamp it to things, or I will use two light stands and clamp it to those, if needed.
I chose to use a very durable fabric called Ripstop Nylon. You cannot tear this. It’s also very cheap. I got mine at $4 a yard. Typically is comes in large rolls that are 60″ wide, and you simply order how much you want by the yard.
My Amazon affiliate link for some fabric I found on Amazon on the left. Should you chose to purchase anything, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.
This product is $6 a yard and is only 36 inches wide, so really pay attention to the width of the fabrics when you are looking for this.
I bought mine in downtown Los Angeles at a fabric store that sells fabric to the public for almost wholesale prices, called Michael Levine. They have it online for $4.75/yard, but you have to pay for shipping.
How To Make Your DIY Diffusion Panel
If you are only covering one window, you can easily get away with just using one piece of fabric that is 60″ wide by a yard or two at the most. If you want, you can get the edges finished by a tailor, or if you sew, just hem the two cut sides. Then clamp that to your window, or tape it to the glass.
If you want to make a panel that is 10 x 12 feet, like the one I have – it’s super easy too.
- Get 6 yards of 60″ wide ripstop white fabric
- Cut the long piece in half, so you have two pieces that are 3 yards each
- If you have a sewing machine, simply sew the two long sides together
- If you don’t have a sewing machine, just take it to your tailor to sew together
- I didn’t finish my edges, and they do get some threads coming off of them – if that bothers you, you can just hem the edges
- Clamp your panel to what ever works to diffuse the light coming through your window
The Quality Of Light
Above is what our finished shot looks like. The quality of the light is really soft and even. I judge the quality of light by the shadows. We have shadows in this image, but they are nice and soft and help add dimension to our image.
Many people assume that when you are using natural light indoors for food photos, you don’t have to diffuse your light. Sometimes that can be the case if it’s a cloudy day. Then, the clouds are doing the diffusing for you.
In many situations, you really need to diffuse your light if it’s a sunny day outside, even if you don’t have direct sun coming in through the window.
The light is really bright, even though the diffusion panel is knocking down a ton of light – it’s still so bright that I can’t see my laptop very well, so I have it set up in a laptop shade popup tent.
Now – please know that when you use this DIY diffusion panel, you are cutting down the amount of natural light that is coming into your space, and you have to compensate for that. I always shoot on a tripod for these types of shoots, so I can leave my shutter open for as long as I want to.
You will have to let in about 1 stop of light, and as much as 1.5 stops of light. That means if you are at a shutter speed of 1/2 a second, you will have to go up to at least 1 full second (when you double your time, that’s one full stop of light).
What Does A “Clean Highlight” Mean?
If you have a lot of greenery or any other bright colors outside your window, and you are photographing something reflective, you will see those colors and shapes reflected in your subject. Adding a diffusion panel to your window light can clean that right up – and give you cleaner highlights. Instead of reflecting color, you’ll be reflecting the white diffusion panel.
In the image above, I am using two diffusors! One is my heavy duty diffusion panel over the sliding glass doors that I made, and the other is that circular diffusion disc to the left of the set. It’s called a 5 in 1 reflector and the interior is a diffusion panel.
When I am shooting in the studio, I would use artificial lights and control my highlights that way.
PLEASE NOTE – RIPSTOP IS FLAMMABLE, SO DO NOT PUT THIS CLOSE TO ANY HOT LIGHTS OR ARTIFICIAL LIGHTS THAT THROW OFF A LOT OF HEAT.
Here is the final shot with my DIY diffusion panel and natural light. There is nothing distracting in the highlights now, and I didn’t have to do anything to my glass in photoshop. You eye goes right to the food, instead of a distracting highlight. This shoot was for a cookbook, where I had to do 25 shots in two days. If I had to clean up bad reflections in anything reflective, that would have taken me quite some time in post production editing, and I did not want to do that.
So there you have it, a super cheap and easy light modifier for natural light.
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