June 29, 2014

Diffusion on a Budget: How to Get Soft, Pleasing Light with No Money

Domenic Barbero T-shirt Diffusion CroppedDiffusion is an important part of getting the light in a scene to look pleasing. While there are plenty of professional materials made just to diffuse entertainment lighting (like silks, spun, frost, etc.), sometimes you run out, don't have what you need with you, or just want a different quality of light that you can't get with what you currently have. That's where regular household diffusers come in. Cinematographer Domenic Barbero did a test with Casey Schmidt of Northwest Grip to see what kind of light would be produced by using everyday items as their diffusion material.

Here's what they did for the test:

So Casey Schmidt of Northwest Grip and I conducted a little test recently on diffusion. Sometimes on low budget shoots, people remember to bring lights, but often forget the modifiers. So what do you do when you need a little diffusion? Well, you start looking around your house or around set for some common items. Here's the results, read below to know more about the test.

Garbage bag 1, garbage bag 2, hand towel, visqueen, paper towels, computer paper, t shirt, dress shirt, pillow case, bed sheet, and opaque tupperware.

Our key light was an Arri 650 tungsten fresnel on full flood. f9.6

Our fill light was a Desisti Magis 300 tungsten fresnel. f4.0 (never adjusted exposure when key was under f4.0)

Our kicker was an Arri 150 tungsten fresnel with a small amount of diffusion on it. f4.0 (never adjusted exposure when key was under f4.0)

Camera was RED Epic set to ISO 320 and balanced at 3200k. Red Color 3/Red Gamma 3 and 5:1 compression. This is ungraded minus RC3/RG3 specs.

And a picture of one of the setups -- this one used a white T-shirt:

The first thing to note is that materials that aren't made to withstand the immense heat produced by Tungsten heads need to be kept a safe distance away, or there is a chance they can burn (though even materials made for hot lights can also burn). That's part of the reason in the photo above the T-shirt is kept a safe distance away attached to the frame. Equivalent or less wattage HMIs, LEDs, and Kinos don't produce as much heat, so you can use a wider variety of materials for diffusion closer to the source  -- though generally the farther the material is from the light source, the softer the light falling on the subject will be.

For example, since most LEDs produce almost no heat compared to their light output, you can use easily flammable materials like paper right in front of the source. I've done this in a pinch more times than I'd like to admit, but the reality is, any diffusion is good diffusion. Bed sheets and other large, cheap materials are more common than you might think, because they work great when you're on a budget or you need more or larger diffusion than what you have with you. Either way, whatever works, works, because nobody sees what the lights look like when they're watching something, they just see the final result.

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Your Comment

29 Comments

Wax paper! The kind you bake cookies on. Works well with heat. You would have to be on a tight budget of you were using a t-shirt to defuse.

June 30, 2014 at 12:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Matt

Ya, wax/baking paper seems like a good fit. I saw it on YouTube long time ago. One can crimp that with paperclips or clothespins too. Or, depending on the size, even a piece chewing gum. Now, try to hold a towel with a chewing gum. I dare you.

June 30, 2014 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

I think you mean parchment paper, which is different from wax paper.

June 30, 2014 at 12:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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alex

Parchment paper is better than wax paper. Don't have to worry about wax melting on your light.

July 28, 2014 at 7:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel

on a budget oooorrrrr the a hole responsible for packing the gear forgot em...AAAAAGGGAAAAIIINNNN

August 26, 2014 at 7:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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d_domingue

thanks.

June 30, 2014 at 12:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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surendra rana

Do you know much a roll of hampshire frost costs?

So you spend six grand on a camera and lights, and then try to save 5 dollars on diffusion. Ok.

June 30, 2014 at 2:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Fresno Bob

It's less about saving the money, and more about exploring other options - though saving money can't hurt. Forgetting diffusion or not having enough is a real thing that happens (maybe not on shoots with a budget), but it's nice to know what everyday items look like and what you can grab in a pinch.

June 30, 2014 at 3:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Many a times, I am shooting with RED, and I forget to rent diffusion, so I resort to wax paper. That t-shirt is much too ghetto for me though haha.

July 1, 2014 at 1:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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yah i can't imagine how I would look on set if i had to use my shirt for diffusion!!

July 29, 2014 at 3:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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andrew

Come on guys ! maybe you can use this solution as a contingency when problem happens and you don't other solutions, but having a Red epic camera with an Arri light does allow you to use your shirt as fill light !!! its good to have back up plans and contingencies but not making fun of your clients !

August 27, 2014 at 6:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Younes Boudiaf

A T-shirt?? Thats.... Thats... ?? Just go to a fabric store and you can but the same materials they make diffusers out of for next to nothing.

That C stand is the most expensive coat hanger I've ever seen!!!

June 30, 2014 at 5:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agreed. Having done a lot of product (alcoholic beverage and perfume) ads, rag vellum is used a lot. Also, white bed sheets react in pretty much the same manner as unbleached muslin. And, naturally, you can buy bleached and non-bleached muslin from any fabric story. Simply, take batten wood, a stapler, and make your own 4x4s, 6x6s, etc.

July 1, 2014 at 2:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

Blah, I meant to say "store." Came off a lonnnnnnnng shooting day.

July 1, 2014 at 2:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

Holy sh*t. I'm out of it. I meant to say...

"Also, white bed sheets react in pretty much the same manner as **bleached** muslin." Again, only 5 hours of sleep.

July 1, 2014 at 2:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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RidingtheDragon

Thanks for that 4x4/6x6 alternative! I've been pricing them, and for the life of me couldn't see why I couldn't make that myself.

July 4, 2014 at 7:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Cam

And its killing too much light and is small. Cut it in half, use the full spread of your frame.

June 30, 2014 at 5:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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The flip side is you then have less diffusion but more intensity. I hope they have Flambar for that ;)

What am I saying? :p

June 30, 2014 at 5:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I've heard that old shredded underwear makes a great cucoloris.

June 30, 2014 at 5:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Phil

That's a fun post. Im a cameraman and a gaffer and I enjoyed it. I have wanted to use some visqueen anyway just havent gotten around to it. Nice to have options if something gets forgotten, or damaged or ripped.

June 30, 2014 at 7:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks for checking out the post guys. Remember this was a fun little experiment to see what could be used in case you get put into a bad situation where you literally have no other options and theres no diff to be found. This was a IF AND ONLY IF there is no diff on set and you gotta shoot like now situation. Keep it safe and monitor your materials if they aren't heat rated. Its crazy how much stuff laying around the house works as diff or bounce. Happy shooting.

July 1, 2014 at 2:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Take an LED and screw it into a clamp light. Then put a white shower cap over the clamp light bowl. Nice diffusion. Also, you can use a blue shower cap for a cool effect.

July 2, 2014 at 10:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I use a 70" shower curtain from the dollar store. You can tear it up and just buy more.

July 3, 2014 at 4:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rusty Hann

IMHO These are all fairly hazardous (more or less) solutions. And, there is nothing like starting a fire on a set to ruin a good shooting day! Most of the materials mentioned are highly combustible or will at least smoke and melt in front of even a small tungsten light. Did I mention the hazards to cast and crew and your reputation? Sorry, I've worked features and I've seen it all. And when I teach, the rule is "safety first." Do yourself a favor and get a couple of rolls of Rosco or Lee diffusion gels: 1/4, 1/2 and full to start. Not that expensive and they should be part of your lighting and grip package as should conversion gels, flags, nets and solids anyway. Sorry, this is an expensive medium and if you show up on my set with a t-shirt, parchment or wax paper, I'm gonna get on my phone and call someone else to do the job. Perhaps one of my students.

July 3, 2014 at 8:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jean Young

As a videographer that travels mostly alone shooting for non-profits around the world I always have to use whatever I can find in whatever situation I find myself in. A white sheet is a wonderful diffuser and I can usually find people around to rig it on couple of bamboo poles. Just shot with that set up in Cambodia a few weeks ago where the sun was blazing at 7:30 AM. Worked like a charm. Another trick I use is a found bounce card. Anything that will reflect the light.

July 4, 2014 at 7:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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It's hilarious how many people are taking the t-shirt so seriously, as if it stands alone as an affront to everything cinema stands for, and knocked their sisters up.

This was an interesting little experiment.

July 8, 2014 at 12:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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kurt

Can't stand it when people put annoying soundtracks that are completely irrelevant and serve no purpose to delivering the message.

August 27, 2014 at 7:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Moose

Does this actually save money? I have a shoot coming up with a tight budget, but would never try this because I can't see that this would actually help stretch our money further. If anything, we would spend more time finagling our DIY setups, and less time getting the scene shot, and therefore be able to shoot less coverage or less scenes, and our budget would be even tighter.

But I also admire the ability to not let lack of equipment stop you. I do it all the time myself. But in this particular circumstance, it it's adding up to me.
Maybe if they weren't using Arri lighting and C-stands. Maybe if they were using lightbulbs and holding a tshirt in front of it - then i would think to myself - good for them, they are getting it done with no budget.

August 31, 2015 at 2:03PM

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"Diffusion on a budget" and the example shows several expensive lights and a fully equipped camera? Not quite the same budget notion..

August 31, 2015 at 6:25PM

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