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Learning to see and use light is one of the most important steps to creating great photographs. As you become more aware of what nice light really looks like, you can start to manipulate even the harshest conditions with some simple tools. The photo above was shot in bright sunshine using both a diffuser and a reflector.
To practice this exercise, find some flowers in bright sun. You can photograph flowers that are planted in your garden, or in pots.
Notice the quality of light on the flowers. In bright sun, there are strong highlights and deep shadows. There is lot of contrast, which comes through in the image.
Notice how you lose detail in the highlights. The bright spots caused by the sun don’t add anything to the photograph, in fact, they are very distracting. Our eyes tend to go toward the brightest spots in a photograph and in this situation, the highlights are drawing our eyes away from the center of interest – the flower.
Now, try using a reflector. Light bounces just like a billiard ball. By placing a light colored, reflective surface opposite the light source, you can bounce light back into the subject. In this instance, our light source is the sun, so I placed the reflector under the leaves to bounce the light back into the shadows. You can use almost anything as a reflector. In this example, I’m using a piece of white poster board.
Read DIY How to Build and Use a Reflector to Take Better Portraits and 10 Ways to Use a 5-in-1 Reflector for more help on using reflectors.
Notice the difference in the image above, compared to the one without the reflector. Can you see how bouncing the light back in brightens up the flower? The exposure settings haven’t changed. The only difference is the reflector (also called a fill card) in the second shot.
Now, we are going to use a diffuser to soften the light.
Here we are starting to see some really beautiful, soft light. Notice how even the light is and how much softer the flowers feel. The highlights and shadows are not as severe and harsh, and more detail is retained in both areas.
Take it a step further.
Let’s use a diffuser with a reflector, and see how that looks. Here’s a tip for you: If you can’t prop up your reflectors and diffuser and press the shutter button, you can use the 2-second self-timer on your camera to free up an extra hand.
With the diffuser above and a reflector below, the flowers start to take on a magical feel.
Now you can see how using a reflector and diffuser can drastically improve your flower photographs. I also want to add that none of these photographs were manipulated in Lightroom or Photoshop in any way, other than a little sharpening. The dramatic difference in the photographs was created entirely by manipulating light.
Please share you comments and questions below, then try this exercise at home and post your photos in the comments below. I’d love to see them!