In my final installment of my series on light, I'll be discussing "diffused" light. Diffused light is light that is essentially going through a filter that spreads the light out and makes it fall on your subjects evenly and without very much contrast. The light has been softened. Many people recognize the light in a studio light box as "diffused" lighting because the light is being scattered across the light box walls before falling on the subject inside. When outdoors, a cloudy day is producing diffused light by scattering the harsh light from the sun over a greater distance, reducing shadows, contrast, and excessive highlights. Clouds are often referred to as "nature's soft box". Unlike the very directional light of front, back, and side lighting, diffused lighting shows no obvious direction. Because of the lack of bright highlights and dark shadows, diffused lighting is probably the easiest to meter for and work with. You don't have to "sacrifice" highlight or shadow detail because the dynamic range of the scene is too great for your camera to see. It does wonders for macro subjects like flowers and small critters. It's perfect for fall foliage, waterfalls, forest scenes, and more. Take a look at the following images, all taken in diffused lighting situations, either in shade or open areas under cloud cover.
Spring blooms at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens under an overcast sky. No harsh shadows, no overexposed flowers. Contrast can always be boosted in Lightroom or Photoshop if the image appears too "flat" and I often recommend this to my students. Try a boost of contrast with the shadow/highlight and/or the blacks/whites sliders in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW to see if you can punch up the colors that result from diffused lighting situations. It might be the difference between a keeper and an image headed for the trash bin.
The image below was taken on a cloudy morning with misting rain at Linville Falls, NC along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The even light illuminates the entire scene brilliantly without blowing out (overexposing) the highlights in the water and brighter leaves.
The rhododendron at the top of Roan Mountain, Tennessee show off their bright pink colors against the deep greens of the forest. I recommend a polarizer filter for situations like this where the leaves are waxy and highly reflective. Rotating the polarizer will reduce the reflections on the leaves, allowing the deep greens beneath to show through.
For the image below, I turned around quickly as these peacocks were having an all out fight during the breeding season. They scared the heck out of me actually...I didn't even know they were there. A quick switch from manual to shutter priority to make sure I didn't miss the action was all I needed to capture this moment. I did not have to worry about exposure compensation because the white parts of their feathers were overexposed or the dark black tones were underexposed due to excessive shadows from sunlight. The meter had no trouble with this scene and I did not have to make any changes on the fly. (pun intended)
I hope you have enjoyed this series on light. Knowing how to make the best use the light available to you, how to alter it with diffusers, reflectors, or flash, and understanding the color, quality, and direction of light, will make you a better nature photographer. It's all about the light!
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