How to Use a Diffuser for Soft Portrait Lighting

When shooting outdoors, the sun often creates overly bright highlights and harsh shadows on the skin. A good portrait photographer knows just what to pull out of his camera bag to help him combat this commonly overlooked aspect of outdoor photo shoots. Join Joe McNally as he shares his setup and lighting theory with us in this ten minute video tutorial:

On this shoot, McNally photographed a football player from the UK and wanted to create a soft light. To do this, he set up a 3-foot by 3-foot Skylite Diffuser. Behind the diffuser he placed 3 Nikon SB-910 Speedlights¬†on a tri-flash, all which are powered by battery packs. He chose the Skylite because it’s versatile; as he explained, it produces light that is more similar to a much larger diffuser.


Shooting through a large diffuser softens the light.

By removing the dome diffusers from the speedlights, he created a more punchy and contrasty light through the Skylight. In the image below, you can see how the light is somewhat directional, yet still maintains a soft look.

speed light diffusers

Portrait Shot Using a 3 x 3 Diffuser

Placing the diffuser between the sun and the subject eliminates sun dappling on the subject and softens the sun’s rays, giving the portrait a nice golden tone.

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