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The majority of the macro shots I create are made in late morning and early afternoon. During these times of the day, shadows are deep and highlights burn out. The contrast range often exceeds what the sensor can record. If the exposure is biased toward the highlights, shadow detail is lost and visa versa. A basic solution comes in the form of a diffuser.

Diffusers are a simple and inexpensive answer to solving contrast problems when shooting macro subjects. Their purpose is to soften the source of light and eliminate harsh shadows and hot spots that would otherwise be eyesores in the image. When a diffuser is used, the light that’s produced emulates the light of a bright overcast day. The light wraps around the subject which creates even tones and soft contrast.

For use in the field for macro work, a diffuser can be very simplistic. If you’re on a tight budget, an old shower curtain liner works fine. Other materials that do the job are white bed sheets, large sheets of tissue paper, or an old white sun umbrella. As long as light can pass through the object and it doesn’t add any color to the scene, it’s a good candidate. Commercially made diffusers come in different size diameters and can be had for under $50.00, even for the larger ones. The smaller they are, the more they drop in price. They’re very convenient in that they have a unique way of collapsing by twisting the outer rim so they fold to about one fourth their overall size.

To use, simply place the diffuser between your subject and light source. Metering is straight forward in that all the tones become even. You’ll see the results as you place the diffuser nearer or farther from the subject. Make sure the diffused area covers the background or else you’ll wind up with gorgeous soft light on your subject and bright, out of focus distractions in the background.

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