Homemade Diffusion Panel Instructions

DIY Diffusion PanelA 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.

Attachment of nylon screens

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.

Close up of C-joiners with wire reinforcement

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.

Chris Malinao

About Chris Malinao

Chris teaches Lightroom as workflow software to photography students at the FPPF, Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation. He also teaches smartphone photography.

10 thoughts on “Homemade Diffusion Panel Instructions

  1. Chris MalinaoChris Malinao Post author

    Rip-stop nylon is a type of nylon fabric that resists ripping or tearing, thus the name. It is made with inter-woven reinforcement threads in a crosshatch pattern to make it durable.

    It’s often the fabric of choice for light jackets and windbreakers, also for kites and parachutes. It’s the same fabric used for tents, sleeping bags, flags and banners.

    There are many variations. But for a diffusion panel, choose a translucent fabric that evenly spreads light.

    You may find some examples here.

  2. Tom Legrady

    These were developed in the 80s by Dean Collins. There’s some information and a link to the entire notebook at Strobist.com

    The clips should cover more than half the tube. If you go a little beyond, there’s a little effort to clip them on, and some holding power. If they cover lots more than half, lots of effort, lots of holding power.


  3. Russell Webb

    Hi, Is there please a diagram or pictures on how to correctly setup this panel in the studio, not sure position you would place your light source.

    Many Thanks,
    Russell Webb (No Relation Wendell Webb)

  4. Josh G

    This is funny I picked up all the materials to do something just like this before I found this site. But in place of the nylon I picked up 2 glazed white shower curtains from wallmart. for $2 they are just the right size and 4* 7 I think. Not only is it cheap but when set up over head as a diffusion pannel it also is rain proff. It has a nice dule purpose. not that you would need both at the same time but to have a 4*7 umbrella on a shoot gives you some really cool effects with a rainy backround with out you, your equipment, and subject fully exposed to the weather

  5. Cory H

    I believe by “Glazed” he means “Frosted”, meaning the shower curtain is ALMOST perfectly clear, except for a frosted see-through white glaze…..it causes the light to spread and soften, and it makes for a beautiful effect. I use the same curtains on my windows, and use the natural light it gives off for portraits at certain times of the day, and it works great!

  6. Dallas Allbritton

    This has been a MAJOR MONEY SAVER for me as I setup my lil in house (home) studio. I found the rip stop material online at harts fabric http://www.hartsfabric.com/ at a great price, 6.99/yard. Using the plans from strobist, I will build a few setups & have the ripstop hemmed into 3’x6′ panels and use clamps to attach the material to the stands so that I can switch from one stand to another as I need to. For about $100 I will have all the studio lighting support I will need.

    Thanks Again for all the help!!!

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