Spring means that we get to spend more time outdoors capturing nature in all it's glory. There's many ways that you can harness the power of natural light photography. A few common examples are:
- Try shooting in the morning or evening and void direct mid-day light.
- Time your photoshoots around overcast skies. Clouds make the best natural diffusers.
- Experiment with the sun behind your subject so it creates a glow.
- Play around with shadows on the subject making for interesting dimensions.
Here we explore what is in Jamie Davidson's photography kit and how she uses diffusers to capture different floral and fauna.
Let’s say that in a perfect world, we would have exactly the light we needed or wanted to photograph subjects we’re working with. What we know as photographers is that we can’t always get what we want. This means that we need to learn and adopt ways to work with whatever light we have for the subject and scene for the best outcomes – technically and creatively. Having some simple tools can put you in a position of flexibility and creative power.
My favorite subjects to photograph are flowers and gardens. I photograph them indoors when the weather conditions are not in my favor – too cold, too hot, too bright or too dark, too windy, too rainy, and so on. More often, though, I prefer to be outside in the fresh air for the total experience, whether it’s in my back patio or out in my favorite gardens. When I am photographing outdoors, and most of the conditions are working in my favor, I need to control the light.
Lensbaby Twist 60 | ISO | 400 | 1/800 | Nikon D810
My basic lighting kit starts with a diffuser/reflector kit (22”). This is large enough to cover most of my subjects and small enough to carry around and use. In addition, I have a small diffuser/reflector kit (12”) that fits nicely inside the case for the 22” set. With this alone, I can work in many different lighting conditions. I always have a small flashlight in my bag as well.
For additional lighting control, I have a combination of options: a Litra Torch with diffuser and a small LED panel light that I can attach to a mini tripod and either set in place or move around to light the way I want. You can also use an external flash, but if you want to keep things simple, then a combination of the above works perfectly. The beauty of keeping it simple is that you can fit everything in the case for the 22” diffuser/reflector set. Add a carabiner to the strap loop and attach it to your camera bag or even a belt loop and have it easily accessible at all times. The best thing about using a diffuser is that you can photograph harshly lit subjects and make them beautiful without having to wait for that perfectly overcast day. No excuses.
Lensbaby Velvet 56 | ISO | 200 | 1/200 | Nikon D810
How does it work?
Wonderfully! Think of how awesome it is to head out to photograph in soft, overcast light in the garden. You have a giant diffuser over all your subjects and don’t have to fight the contrasty and often distracting shadows. The diffuser allows you to even the lighting on your subject easily. The small reflector will enable you to bounce light back onto your subject and see the effect in real-time. A small flashlight, the Litra, or LED panel lets you do the same – add light onto your subject, but in a slightly different way.
You’re able to add front lighting or side lighting with a bit more precision and control the intensity of light. When using these tools, you want to pay attention to any shadows you might create on your subject or even in the background. Moving the lights further back or in a different position can address those issues.
Lensbaby Velvet 28 | ISO | 250 | 1/80 | Nikon Z6
Quick Diffuser Tip
When using the diffuser, pay attention to how close or far away you are from your subject. The closer you move the diffuser to your subject, the more light that filters through. The farther back you are, the less light comes through. At some point, you’re simply shading your subject, which may be what you want.
The shading can come in handy when you don’t have a friend/assistant to help fill in light holes where you can’t. Also, pay attention to your background light while positioning the diffuser to make sure you address any hot spots or shadows created from the diffuser edge.
Benefits of the Tripod
And, then, there’s the tripod. Yes, I know, many people have a love-hate relationship with them. They can be a pain to carry and manipulate into position. For me, however, the tripod is an essential tool for leaving my flowers and gardens with images that I love. Do I “always” use it? No. Some situations don’t work in a tripod’s favor – from not being allowed to simply not being able to get in the exact right spot for what you want. The tripod truly is your friend and offers you several benefits.
Lensbaby Velvet 28 |ISO | 400 | 1/500 | Nikon Z6
The tripod gives you the ability to compose and refine a composition to get the best results. By refining, I mean getting the exposure right, removing distractions, experimenting with depth of field choices, AND getting sharp focus where you want it, even if it’s only on the edge of a petal.
When you’re handholding and reviewing your images and making adjustments, you’re almost never coming back to the exact position in a composition you like. The tripod allows you to stay in position and work the image to your idea of perfection.
"Pay attention to your background light while positioning the diffuser to make sure you address any hot spots or shadows created."
The tripod frees your hands to be able to control lighting on your subjects. It allows you to make full use of my basic lighting kit. When you don’t have your friend/assistant with you to hold the diffuser, bounce the reflector light, or aim one of the lighting options in a particular way, having both hands is most advantageous. Adding the use of a shutter release cable or remote or even the 2-second timer will help.
The images shared in this post were all made using natural/ambient light along with my portable lighting kit, as needed. Many of the florals were shot using Lensbaby products – an essential part of my floral photography tool kit because of the beautiful creative effects they give me straight out of the camera. My favorites are the Velvets, Sweets, and Sol – often with additional macro filters or diopters attached to get me even closer.
Velvet 56 | ISO | 250 | 1/400 | Nikon D810
If you want to start simple, my suggestion would be to get the 22” diffuser/reflector set, which comes with a sleeve that fits over the diffuser. The sleeve is reversible and has a gold and silver reflector as well as black and white sides. You can fold the sleeve into a small size and use it to bounce the gold or silver light on your subject.
Sweet 50 | ISO | 320 | 1/250 | Nikon D810
The gold gives you warm light, and the silver gives you cool or neutral light. I often prefer the gold and warmth, but some subjects work better with cool reflected light. This would be the best place to start and is an easy way to see the impact on your lighting, regardless of the subject.
Taken with Lensbaby Sweet 50, Velvet 56, Velvet 28, & Velvet 85
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Diffuse, reflect, and have fun!
Current Lensbaby Gear List (Most of it)
Lensbaby Velvet 28, Velvet 56, Velvet 86
Lensbaby Sol 45
Lensbaby Composer and Optics – Sweet 35, Sweet 50, Sweet 80, Edge 80 (macro filter set)
Lensbaby Spark 2.0
Lensbaby Omni with all wands
Bunches of vintage optics (including the Soft Focus) and Fisheye Lens & Optic
Nikon Z6 mirrorless and Nikon D810 DSLR (both full frame)
Jamie Konarski Davidson is an award-winning freelance outdoor & nature photographer with a passion for capturing and sharing the intimate moments and beauty of the natural world on its own and as it blends with the "rest of the world." Her images range from macro and abstracts to intimate, grand and rural landscapes. She connects with all things "old" and finds a special beauty in decay and fading cultural lifestyles that resonate a life of hard work.
Through her company, New Life Photos, Jamie leads photo workshops, teaches and presents at conferences and other events. Her goals as an instructor are to encourage and inspire people to grow in their photography skills and discover their own visual voice.Instagram Website Facebook