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Material for homemade diffusion/reflector panels

Peter Timaratz , Mar 03, 2000; 11:37 a.m.

I plan on making my own panels out of PVC piping. I understand that white nylon is good for diffusion. I imagine that like most fabrics nylon comes in a variety of weights. How do I determine the right weight?

Also, I see that commercial panel manufacturers offer different fabric for diffusion and relection. For reflection, would a different material be used or just a different weight of the nylon?


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Dan Woodlief , Mar 03, 2000; 11:58 a.m.

For reflectors, foam core boards are very effective. Some craft stores sell them with white and gold sides. I have known a few professionals around here who use them regularly. John Shaw suggests making silver reflectors by taping and gluing slightly crinkled aluminum foil on a piece of cardboard. For diffusers, he suggests cheese cloth with a frame of cardboard or some other substance.

Jeff Jarvis , Mar 03, 2000; 12:12 p.m.

For inexpensive reflector panels I use mylar. Mylar (you can usually find both gold and silver at most craft stores) spray-glued onto a foam core board provides an extremely light and inexpensive reflector that can be cut to just about any size you need. As far as diffusers go, I've had success with a number of homemade products, some created on site with drape liners. I'm a do-it-yourselfer by nece$$ity, and I hve found that with some experimentation, some really great homemade accesories can be had.

Tom Johnston , Mar 03, 2000; 01:34 p.m.


You asked about diffusers for home-made frames, not foam core boards, etc. (Good idea, by the way, because your panels can be broken down for transport). Believe it or not, I have found that plain old white bed sheets work very good. In fact, they can be used for either bounce or diffusion.

I made some panels like you describe and they work wonderfully.

If you want a panel with more reflection (for bounce) go to any fabric shop and just browse around. You can also find materials that pass more light for diffusion as well. But, again, I have found that simple cheap white bed sheets work beautifully. You can cut them to fit the panel, have someone sew an edge around them (so they don't fray), and put an elastic band in each corner to hold it to your frames. Sheets of differnt colors (warming, cooling, etc.) can also be used. Black sheets can be used to block light.

With a little imagination and only a few bucks, you'll have panels that work as well as any you can buy.

I always like to see it when someone builds their own stuff. I know one of the top commercial photographers in the country with huge accounts, (Keebler, etc.) and he uses home-made panels just ike you are making. He also uses plane old cheese cloth draped in front of light sources. And he can afford anything that his heart desires. Money is no object for him.

Best of Luck.

Andres Suurkuusk , Mar 03, 2000; 02:20 p.m.

How to find right diffusion material? 1)Best material is polyester 2)Look through it at incandescent lamp at distance ca 3': you should not see the filament, diffuse light only. 3)material should not be very dense, so take exposure meter with you: loss of 0.7-1 stop before and right after the sheet is OK, no more.

Peter Timaratz , Mar 03, 2000; 03:07 p.m.

Tom: I remember reading where Bob Krist talked about using bed sheets early in his career. He said he went to commercial panels only because some of his clients didn't think the sheets looked professional enough. :)

Andres: Thanks, I had read once about choosing diffusion material based on the amount of light loss, but I couldn't remember the amount.

Ellis Vener , Mar 03, 2000; 07:31 p.m.

I like the clear but frosted shower curtains as a cheap diffuser. Works like a champ and real cheap to boot. you determine the correct weight of a diffuser according to your taste or need. Some photos needslight diffusion and some require a lot of diffusion. Would you like a really beautiful light? Bounce your flash into a 30" or larger diameter white or silver umbrella and then place adiffusing screen between this light and your sitter, as close as you can to the sitter without it being in the frame. through your diffusing screen, much nicer than even the most expensive softbox. the highlights on skin just glow but retain good detail and the light feathers into the shadows beautifully. For a really beautiful light place one of these set ups to front of and to the side of the sitter.

Kah Heng Tan , Mar 04, 2000; 09:57 a.m.

Have you considered buying a cheap 60" reflective white umbrella?

The quality of light will be slightly different than shooting thru a diffuser, but depending on what you shoot, that might be a relatively fuss free solution. Especially good with people portraits.

Jonathan Ratzlaff , Mar 04, 2000; 06:51 p.m.

A few years ago I attended a seminar presented by Montizambert Photography in Vancouver. When they started out, they constructed a lot of their own equipment some of which they still used. For difusion material, they use white rip stop nylon, uncoated 1.9oz material, You can find this stuff at many fabric stores. They used the coated white nylon for rear projection screens and reflectors. Both the coated and uncoated materials were the same weight. If your diffusers and reflectors are large, you may want to cut baffles in them so if a breeze comes up, they don't carry you or your assistants away.

Jeffrey Rodgers , Mar 05, 2000; 08:51 p.m.

Porters has material called "trans-lum" that is affordable ($20 for a 4.5 by 6 foot sheet)and should make a great diffusser. Or, as others have said, good 'ol bed sheets are hard to beat for the price. There are many good reflector materials, including flat white paint. BTW, try colored bed sheets, or lightly tinted paint, to add a warming or cooling effect if desired. It's the final picture that counts, not how you look taking it, so anything goes! P.S. The wind, of course, will be a problem outdoors.

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