The Nabisco Go-Paks DIY Diffuser: A Little Background

“What’s that thing on top of your camera?”

It’s a question I’ve heard many times, but I don’t know that I’ve always answered it particularly well. So I’m going to attempt an explanation here of what I mean when I say, “It’s called a diffuser. It softens and spreads out the light. It makes my pictures look better.”

And then, just in case you agree with me that the pictures made with my homemade Nabisco Go-Paks Diffuser do look better, I’m going to give some directions on how you, too, can make your own diffuser to improve your pictures.

Bounce Flash

There are, of course, many, many kinds of light and many things you can do with and to light to affect the pictures you take. However, for our purposes, there are two basic things you can do with a shoe-mounted external flash:

  • point it directly at whatever you’re taking a picture of, or
  • point it up at the ceiling or toward some other reflective surface and bounce the light onto your subject.

Most people agree that bounced flash produces softer, more flattering light than direct flash. Examine these two pictures of yours truly:


Direct flash—flash head pointed directly at me


Bounced flash—flash head pointed up at ceiling

I think most people would agree that the picture on the right, with its warmer skin tones and reduced glare, is the more flattering of the two.

Now compare the bounced flash sans diffuser (the same picture as the one on the right above) with the same flash with diffuser attached:


Bounced flash, no diffuser—flash head pointed up at ceiling


Bounced flash, diffuser attached —flash head pointed up at ceiling

The differences here are perhaps not as dramatic as in the first two pictures, but to my eyes the diffuser still offers a noticeable improvement. For one thing, it creates catchlights in my eyes, which the bounced flash by itself does not do; for me, that alone makes the diffuser worthwhile. But it also softens the light a bit more and directs more of it forward, further reducing the glare on my forehead, softening the shadows on my cheeks, and warming my skin tone.

For the most dramatic comparison, look at the direct flash vs. bounced flash with diffuser, side by side:


Direct flash—flash head pointed directly at me


Bounced flash, diffuser attached —flash head pointed up at ceiling

The differences here are pretty significant, don’t you agree? Even the chair looks better in the second picture.

(A note about the above sample pictures: all were taken within about three minutes of each other, using the same white balance setting (Flash, 6450K on my camera), the same aperture (f/4), same focal length (83mm), same ISO sensitivity setting (200), and same shutter speed (1/200th of a second). None of the pictures have been edited whatsoever; they are all straight out of the camera (or SOC, as some people say). The only thing that varies is where the flash is pointed and whether the diffuser is attached or not.)

So what does this diffuser look like?

Attached to the flash, It looks like this:

Now you understand why people ask what that thing is on top of the camera, right? It might look a little goofy, but the difference it makes in my photography is worth it.

If you want one too, there are two things you can do:

  • Go out and buy one for forty dollars or more.
  • Build one yourself, for two or three dollars.

If you can spare the money to buy one, and aren’t interested in the do-it-yourself approach, you probably will get a better build quality, and perhaps even better results (though not very significantly better, I'd bet), with a store-bought item. If, however, you do want to see what’s involved in the DIY approach, click on the link below.

How do you make one of them thingies?

 

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