Diffusion 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!