A diffusion panel is a translucent material that filters harsh light from a hard source to create soft and even illumination. It is used to soften the effect of strobes, studio lights or sunlight so that light falling onto your subject becomes smooth and soft, gently wrapping around the contours of a person’s face instead of creating harsh shadows.
Diffusion panels are a superior source of light for photography for the simple reason that it gives you absolute control on lighting. The placement of your light source behind the diffusion panel determines how large or small your light source will be. If you want a small light source, place your light closer to the panel. You want softer light? Place it farther to fill more of the panel with light. It’s that simple. Many photographers use diffusion panels in combination with a strobe fitted with barn doors to control the light rather than moving their light. A diffusion panel can be thought of as a softbox without sides.
It is also easy to make. Of course you can buy ready-made panels that cost one or two Benjamins, but the materials for a diffusion panel are so readily available and quite cheap that making your own becomes an attractive option.
One of our podcast listeners, Wendell Webb of Woodstock, GA wrote us about a diffusion panel he built (pictured above). He has a small studio – he does portraits and weddings – and even though he owns umbrellas and softboxes, he almost exclusively uses the diffusion panel for the quality and versatility of the light that it creates.
Wendell’s diffusion panel is 7 feet high and 42 inches wide, made of 1-inch PVC. This white frame uses white ripstop nylon as the diffusion screen.
He has another frame attached to this that is 7 ft. high and 32 in. wide on which Wendell attached a black nylon cloth. This black portion serves as a gobo and a dark panel to block light while at the same time providing the diffusion panel support to make it free standing.
The two frames are supposed to be connected together with some clips made by cutting a 2-inch length of 1¼” PVC down the middle, making two “C” pieces that were then glued back-to-back. But Wendell said this did not work well so we see a wrapped wire instead to hold the frames together.
Maybe he should have first inserted appropriately sized uncut 2-inch lengths of PVCs on both frames before assembling the frames and gluing those joiners together? Or maybe steel fasteners will do a better job?
Thanks, Wendell, for sharing your diffusion panel project with us.
You can view Wendell’s web site at candwphotos.com.