December 21, 2013

Going Old-School with Your Diffusion: How & Why to Use Stockings on Your Lenses

Lens DiffusionDiffusion is one of the most subtle, yet powerful tools that cinematographers have at their disposal. Certain types of diffusion allows you to accomplish multiple things. You can soften images to create an intimate and alluring aesthetic. You can cause your highlights to bloom which can make for a more glamorous or angelic look. And while there are multiple types of camera diffusion on the market, one of the most unique and effective solutions is actually the most inexpensive. Stockings, the kind that lady-folk wear, can be attached to the rear of any lens to create some extraordinary diffusion effects. Here's the why and how of achieving this unique aesthetic.

The effects that using stockings on your lenses can provide are a bit difficult to describe, because no two brands or types of stockings are alike. You can find stockings with varying colors, patterns in the fabric, and levels of thickness. Add to that the fact that the amount of diffusion can be manipulated by how tightly the stockings are stretched across the lens, and it becomes clear that the possibilities are nearly endless.

Here are a few videos from Shane Hurlbut's excellent post on diffusion, that best exemplify the aesthetic of using stockings to practically diffuse a lens:

Here's another practical example from a narrative that Hurlbut shot early in his career called The Rat Pack. In this scenario, Hurlbut used the stockings in order to create a sense that these characters were glamorous in every sense of the word. Here's what he had to say about the film's aesthetic, "Let’s shoot the film in a way that they will look and feel like they are always on stage, in a subtle way of course. Always the perfect back light, the perfect key light, etc."

Now that you've got an idea of what stocking diffusion can do for your image, you're probably stoked to give this technique a try. But not so fast. Without applying the diffusion properly, you run the risk of getting adhesive on the rear element of your lens, which would most definitely take your lens out of service. The Black and Blue recently shared this excellent video from Mako Koiwai that shows the best method for applying diffusion to the back of a lens:

If you're willing to give this technique a try, Hurlbut recommends the stockings from a company called Fogal. There are certainly numerous other options on the market, some of which are very inexpensive, so grab a few pairs and experiment with different looks. You'll also want to pick up a roll of double-sided ATG tape (often called snot tape), which is also very affordable.

What do you guys think? Have you ever used stockings as diffusion? What are some of the situations that you like to use diffusion? What are some of your favorite brands and types of stockings? Let us know down in the comments!

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24 Comments

an example of derezzing too much resolution.

December 21, 2013 at 10:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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MenAtWork

Been reading up on diffusion for a while, glass and nets. Picked up some cheap women stockings from the store in several colors (Got some funny looks checking out as a guy but what ever) and want to give them a try and test them out. Not sure how I trust my self putting these on the back of the lens (plus i dont have pl mount lenses) so I will be trying it in the front of the lens for now. Might share my results if anyone is interested.

December 21, 2013 at 10:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Austin

Sure!

I'm a little scared to use them on the back of my lenses too. So I'd like to see the effect when you use them on the front.

December 22, 2013 at 12:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mr.Floppy

Hell yeah! Would love to see how that works out for you.

December 25, 2013 at 3:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Hatorihunzo

I used brown stockings on the front of the lens for a project back in film school, was shooting super 16 on an aaton xtr, and got a nice soft retro look. I stretched the stocking out as tight as possible and fastened it to the lens with rubber bands.

December 27, 2013 at 3:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Nick

I used some nets in photography, it's a very known effect.
One thing you can try in video is to have a hole in the center of the net so the center of the fram will be very sharp and the rest around will be diffused.

December 22, 2013 at 5:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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My question is, why not just use some glass filter such as Soft FX, or white/black pro mist , or combien filters (such as adding fog filter)... to achieve the same effect, have more control over intensity, and most of all, keep your lens intact ?

December 22, 2013 at 5:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Amine

rear netting is consistent effect on zoom lens regardless of where the lens is at. in front of the lens you need to change grades based on focal length and F stop. same goes for primes and changing your diffusion.

I have some 138mm tiffen nets that I use from time to time that I like, but not all matte boxes can take 138mm rounds. you can tape them up but not fun. they do make for a nice look but as I said you have to change them depending on focal length and F stop

December 22, 2013 at 1:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Actually f stop matters a ton with rear netting too...

For example the effect will be a heavy glow at f2.8 but almost non existant at anything above a 5.6.

December 22, 2013 at 3:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I'm pretty sure Oprah made THR use this effect on her camera in this Actresses Roundtable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgZsPepO9Z0

If you compare the shot of her with all the other actresses, it looks like some softening was going on. What a diva.

December 22, 2013 at 9:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Rick

LOL

Here in Spain we had another diva (Sara Montiel, recently passed) and it was well known she used to require this too.

December 22, 2013 at 12:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mr.Floppy

So you watch Oprah's Round Table a lot? :)

December 23, 2013 at 7:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I remember doing this years ago for a commercial that I was AC on. We were using Primos on a Millennium XL 35mm camera. We used rubber glue and pressed them on after it had dried but I like the snot tape method better.
I was terrified they would come off and get tangled in the mirror/ shutter and damage the movement. Our DOP was always on the look out for the best stockings an only used the best silk stockings he could find because they has a lustre you don't get with cheap ones. In the end it worked out great and they were actually quite easy to take off and clean.
The biggest warning I have for any guys (not an issue with our female colleges) is you better have a quick answer when your girlfriend discovers you have ladies stocking in your ditty bag :D

December 22, 2013 at 3:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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LIGHTHEADED1

Thank you Robert!

I love these types of articles much more than "BM has new footage..."

December 22, 2013 at 3:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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sean

It looks like it gives a little more depth of field as well

December 22, 2013 at 9:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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David

Ha this takes me way back. I've netted the back of the lens on occasion (especially when working in film, pre-digital days). Colored nets introduce some slight color hazing on defocused areas, so I preferred black net. Stretch the nets across the housing, so the net pattern expands a bit and doesn't ripple. The denser the net, the more haze/softness. Usually I preferred a subtle effect. Really important that the net does not become loose during shooting and mess with the internals. I never netted the front of the lens - introduces too many artifacts IMO, especially at short focal lengths. I think Tiffen introduced their black pro mist as an alternative to netting (I could be wrong). But there's definitely something unique about the bloom in defocused areas of a netted lens. I'd be interested to see some new tests!

December 23, 2013 at 12:40AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Matthew

some vintage lenses give off highlight bloom and a softer image as well. I prefer to just use those for special occasions. personally I like the un-netted look better, most of the time

December 23, 2013 at 1:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Heres a friends MV who shot with this technique. 5d MkII with 24-70. I think it turned out with some pretty cool results. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPtv0Bmir6Q

December 23, 2013 at 4:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I'm always perplexed why such techniques are referred to as 'old school'. It seems that any technique invented before the advent of digital photography is somehow suddenly obsolete, old fashioned or even useless. The last time I checked the laws of physics and optics didn't change in the last 10 years. All we did was swap out the capture media from film to a digital sensor.

December 23, 2013 at 2:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Wilbert

Agreed. I've been telling people for some time now that there are 2 factors to consider with cameras. One is the lens, which hasn't changed much in the last 100 years. It still gathers light and redirects it. The second part is the camera body. Now days it's really just a computer, with a specialized input... the sensor. Like computers, the camera body will only become more and more powerful with time. Every 18 months, it will double in speed and the price will fall in half. So far, there is very little to suggest that lenses will be replaced by anything else in the near future.

December 26, 2013 at 5:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Micah

We used to use them in studio on 'box' zoom lenses. Black stockings for low key lighting and white stockings for brighter high key lighting.
Always on the front of the lens. On a budget you could use a strong elastic band.

December 26, 2013 at 6:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Colin

A variant of this is Vaseline on a filter... I remember there was a movie with Joan Collins, who was of a certain age at this point< and they tried to show her as a young 16 year old... If the vaseline had been any thicker BP would have applied for drilling rights to the lens!

March 11, 2014 at 9:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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John

I've heard that the reason for using Fogal and other imported expensive brands is that the US stockings are required to have fireproofing, which adds a shiny quality that gives spectral highlights. A very different effect. Haven't yet verified that this is true, though.

Two examples of features that used Fogal stockings throughout: Lost Highway and From Hell, both shot by Peter Deming. And this is verified.

September 10, 2014 at 2:01PM

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Scott Ressler
Director of Photography
278

Couple of thoughts ... "Old School" use a thin smear of Vaseline on a filter in front of the lens. Make sure you use a filter :).
Second Joan Collins who was in her late 60's at the time was "starring" in a movie where she portrayed the character at age 16 .. there was sooo much Vaseline & stocking over the lens it looked as if the scene had been shot in the middle of a Fog.

June 18, 2015 at 9:41AM

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John LaBella
Director
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