Sunday, March 28, 2010

How To Soften Light With A Paper Towel

Softened Light with Paper Towel

Diffused lighting is a food blogger's best friend. You see, diffusing the light from a lamp is the key to shooting at night. Since night time shooting requires the use of a lamp, the light usually needs to be softened in order to create a natural looking atmosphere.  Harsh shadows and over-blown highlights are all problems that are prevented by diffusing light.  I've posted many techniques on how to do this, but I truly think this technique is the cheapest and easiest.

Make sure paper towel doesn't touch bulb!
All I did to diffuse the light from this $9 clamp-lamp is wrap some kitchen paper towels around the front of the lamp, holding the paper towels in place with a rubber band.  Because I am using daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs, I don't have to worry about the paper burning...fluorescent bulbs get warm, but rarely do they get HOT.   None the less, I made sure that the paper towel was far away from the bulb, just to be on the safe side.

The more layers of paper I add, the more the light will be softened.  This will make the light a bit darker, but if you're shooting with a tripod--which you should be doing anyway--this wont be a huge problem because you will be able to shoot with slower shutter speeds therefore increasing the exposure without blurring the image.
Now while this technique is not particularly green, it will save you in a pinch.  The more environmentally friendly thing to do is get an old white t-shirt that can be re-used.

Do you use something similar to soften light?  Let us all know in the comments!


  1. Parchment paper is made to withstand higher temps and might be a safer alternative to paper towels. But I like where you're going with this; it's a great idea.

  2. my bulb gets REALLY hot so I have to be careful with paper towels. maybe i should try the parchment paper...thanks

  3. Excellent idea Vickie! Parchment paper or a white piece of cloth are great alternatives...paper towels are a last resort if you're in a pinch.

  4. ...also, if you are NOT using a fluorescent bulb DO NOT USE A PAPER TOWEL. This is only for fluorescents!