…is an inexpensive light modifier that is known as a diffuser. Not a fancy, “fast” lens, not a camera with a bigger and better sensor. The diffuser will even make your cellphone close-ups better.
I’m using the Manfrotto-Lastolite brand* foldable “Tri-Grip” diffuser – they come in 1-stop and 2-stop varieties and are a little more expensive, but you can also find round, foldable 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector combos for as little as $20 online.
The “Tri-Grip”, as the name implies, has a triangular shape and a grip (yes, no kidding!). Here’s why that is beneficial:
- the triangular shape allows you to set the diffuser on the ground with one side, casting nice and even light onto any near-ground subject (including areas in front and behind it) when you have the sun coming from the side (difficult with a round diffuser!). The diffuser will stay in place without much effort.
- the grip allows you to hold the thing with relative ease even when it’s windy. I have the camera in my right hand and the diffuser in my left hand (kinda awkward when making hand-held photos, but it works). The grip also makes it possible to hold the diffuser away from your body, with your arm stretched out, so that you don’t cast a shadow onto the diffuser, blocking the light.
The 75cm/30″ model folds up nicely that it fits into the little space of my hiking backpack’s “air mesh” at the back, where it is easily accessible at all times. It also fits into the laptop-compartment (!) of a day pack that I’m using for shorter, local hikes. Extremely convenient and no hassle to retrieve, use, and then stow away again.
The point about casting a shadow that I’m making in #2 above comes into play when you’re alone and have the camera on a tripod, for example: you use the camera’s timer to make a delayed exposure and then hold the diffuser over your subject (depending on your focal length, perhaps even walking 3-4 feet away from the camera). With round diffusers, you often need both hands/arms to hold them steady when it’s windy.
As the saying goes: a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are two examples to show what a difference the diffuser makes**. Both photos are made hand-held, alone, holding the diffuser in one hand and the camera in the other.
The images aren’t perfectly aligned and the exposures are not directly comparable either, but you can see how much the photo on the right benefits from the diffuser usage: overexposure on the finer parts of the plant is eliminated entirely (the camera’s meter doesn’t “catch” those bright areas at all; you’d have to manually dial in exposure compensation to protect them from getting overexposed) and the shadows are filled much better due to the longer exposure time:
Here’s another. Again, the frames aren’t perfectly aligned (see above) but you can see how much the second image benefits from the diffuser:
In general, for the best effect I recommend to bring the diffuser as close as possible to your subject so that you don’t just shade the subject, but illuminate it with the light that the diffuser lets through. That way, you’ll get a nice “glow” and brightness – just without the direct sunlight and harsh shadows.
Seven of the twelve photos from yesterday’s “Flower & Plant Sampler” were made with the aid of the diffuser (the rest on overcast days). I hope the results convince you! ;-)
*) I’m not affiliated with Lastolite and have no beef in placing these links, ie. they’re not affiliate links.
**) are two examples with a before/after each worth 2000, or 4000 words then?! ;-)