A Crash Course in Lighting Diffusion with Director of Photography Don McVey
As a cinematographer, diffusion is your friend. But with so many choices on the market, how can you choose the best diffusion for any given shot?
LEE, one of the world's largest manufacturers of both lighting gels/filters (as well as camera filters), recently teamed up with London-based DP Don McVey to perform a test of every type of lighting diffusion that the company makes. The resulting video is a masterclass of sorts in just how subtle the differences between diffusion types and strengths can be. In addition, Don's voiceover provides some keen insights into how and why some of these diffusions work for different lighting situations. Check it out:
The main thing to note here — other than the subtle, but not insignificant differences between different types and different strengths of diffusion — is that some of the colored diffusion and frost effects can wreak havoc on your white balance and introduce some strange hues into your images if you're not careful. Of course, many of those are designed to provide expressionistic lighting effects, so they're likely not something you'd use unless you were looking for that specific effect. It's still important to run tests with them though, just to make sure that you're not setting yourself up for a major post-production headache by using them.
If you want to read about Don's process and methodology for conducting this test, you can do so here. And if you want to check out any of these diffusions side-by-side, McVey has set up a page where you can compare any two of them at a time. The LEE website is also loaded with helpful interactive charts and tools which detail not only how much diffusion each product will give you, but also the light transmission percentages, how many stops of light each filter will cut, as well as the flame-resistant properties.You can also select multiple filters and compare them side by side. Lastly, if you're interested in testing out a few of these diffusions on your own, a small inexpensive variety pack like this one is a great place to start.
What are your favorite and most often-used types of lighting diffusion, and why do you prefer them? Let us know down in the comments!