Easy Peasy Product Photos: The Diffuser and the Reflector

When I first investigated how to shoot my own product photos, I read articles that discussed using a diffuser and a reflector. Diffusers and reflectors soften the shadows on the subject of the photo. Because I like dramatic shadows, I seriously considered skipping the diffuser and the reflector in my studio setup.

Then I watched this video and understood why I needed them. The diffuser used in the video was made with parchment paper, but I wanted a sturdier solution, so I researched a little more to settle on what I finally did use.

First, a little clarification. The diffuser I am referring to is not the contraption attached to a camera’s flash. Instead, it is the translucent sheet of fabric or plastic placed in front of a studio light. Light shines through the diffuser and onto the object to be photographed. Diffusers are not very expensive, and you can buy portable ones in a variety of colors from places like Amazon for less than $20. I, however, wanted to control my costs for my beginner setup, so I decided to make my own. Below is how I did it.

The Materials

For this project, you will need:

  • A medium sized corrugated box of about 18”x18”x16”. You might have one around the house, or you can save a box from your next online purchase. Office supply stores, moving companies, home improvement stores, or Walmart/Target all sell them for less than $2.00 each.
  • A thin piece of white cloth that light can shine through. You can also use thin, translucent nonwoven material that you can buy from places that sell cloth. I used a cotton bandana (because it was already cut to the size I wanted) bought from a hobby store, which cost me less than $2.00.
  • Ruler, marker, and a craft knife/box cutter for measuring and cutting the box.
  • Glue to affix the bandana to the box.

The Assembly

First, break the box by making a cut at each vertical corner so you end up with four pieces, each piece retaining a top flap and a bottom flap of the box. Then, measure out a square or rectangle to be cut out from the center. Leave about 1-1.5 inches as a frame.  See Step 1 below for illustration.

Make the cut, so that the box merely looks like a frame with two flaps on the side. Save the piece you cut out—we will use it later. Your box should look something like Step 2 below.

Next, spread the cloth over the opening, making sure the cloth is taught. Secure the cloth to the box using glue.

Wait for the glue to dry, and you now have a diffuser with two flaps to help the screen stand up. The finished product won’t look pretty, but it will be serviceable. Mine, when placed in front of a light source, looks like the photo to your right.

Make the Reflector

That piece of cardboard you cut out from the center can be recycled into a reflector. All you need to do is to give it a white surface. I glued white printer paper to the board. Once you have the white surface, you can set it up as a reflector like the setup to your left.

Now you have a diffuser and reflector for about $2.00-$5.00. Assuming you have the other parts of the home studio all set up and you have a camera, you are now ready to take photos.

One last note. You can actually play with different colors for the diffuser and reflector, letting different colored light fall onto and bounce off the subject of your photo. This article, though, only covers basic product photography, which typically uses white, and that is why I have only discussed white diffusers and reflectors.

Laziness Scale

Making a diffuser and a reflector yourself instead of purchasing them is Lazy Worthy. As the owner of a startup business or a hobbyist shooting some photos to sell on eBay, you need to conserve money. Even though you can buy diffusers and reflectors for about $15.00, the home-made option still is cheaper. You will not need a lot of time or skill to cut up a box and glue a piece of cloth over an opening, so making them yourself will not take a lot of time. Overall, because making your own diffuser and reflector saves money and does not take a lot of time, this method is Lazy Worthy.

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