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Weekly Video Tip: Lighting Diffusion

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By Stephen Schweickart

We’ve touched on a number of lighting subjects before; ND filters, color temperature, three point lighting. But today we’re going to dive into an advanced lighting idea that allows you to change the quality of the light you’re shooting with. Let’s take a look at diffusion.

So you’ve probably figured out by now that you can’t just show up on set and shine any old light on your subjects. As much fun as it would be to light your scenes with just flashlights, you don’t want your video to look like the Blair Witch Project. Using professional lighting alone is a big step in bringing what we in the industry call “production value” to your piece, but sometimes a naked light won’t do exactly what you need it to do.

Tungsten lights tend to be harsh. Not like your mom saying she’s disappointed in you harsh, just the quality of the light is brighter, produces darker shadows, and worst of all, accentuates imperfections. And if there’s one thing actors don’t like, it’s having bright light blasted at them that makes them look old and rough. But thankfully, diffusion will save the day, and it’s as easy to deal with as an ND filter is.

Lighting diffusion comes in a variety of grades, just like ND, and usually in packs that include several different ones. Using them diffuses the light, giving the light a softer look, allowing the light to wrap around the subject more, knocking down the intensity of the shadows and giving your subject’s skin a smoother, younger look. Believe me, your talent will always appreciate this.

Like I said before, diffusion is as easy to use as ND. Just decide the level of diffusion you want or need to give you the right softness, and then clip them right onto the light’s barn doors. Without being Captain Obvious, sticking what is essentially a piece of wax paper in front of your light will bring down the intensity of it. You may need to counter this by opening the iris on your camera to let in more light, or if that’s not possible just move the lights closer to your subject. This will bring the brightness of the light back up, but you will retain that softness.

Using diffusion is easy, but don’t just throw the first type you find on your light and leave it at that. Hold some different grades over your lights and judge which suits the scene best, and when you find the perfect one, secure it to the light, get back behind the camera where you belong, and start shooting.

Stephen Schweickart is the co-founder of VScreen. For more information on this topic visit VScreen’s site at http://www.vscreen.com/.

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