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Diffusion

From: Foundations of Photography: Black and White

Video: Diffusion

If you've spent much time watching old movies then you're probably used to seeing actresses shot with this diffuse hazy glow around their faces, so they would sit perfectly still on a particular pool of light and have this wonderful softness about them. And that's because very often they insisted that the cinematographer shoot them through some gauze, or a pair of pantyhose, or smear Vaseline on the lens, or something to ensure that they had this soft glow that made their skin look much better. That type of diffusion is an effective technique to apply to any type of photo, but it's very often particularly effective on black-and-white images.

Diffusion

If you've spent much time watching old movies then you're probably used to seeing actresses shot with this diffuse hazy glow around their faces, so they would sit perfectly still on a particular pool of light and have this wonderful softness about them. And that's because very often they insisted that the cinematographer shoot them through some gauze, or a pair of pantyhose, or smear Vaseline on the lens, or something to ensure that they had this soft glow that made their skin look much better. That type of diffusion is an effective technique to apply to any type of photo, but it's very often particularly effective on black-and-white images.

Black and white, as we discussed, is already an abstraction. Adding diffusion can make the image even more abstract which can often create atmosphere and draw the viewer more in, emotionally. So we're going to do that to this image. I've got this horse ears here that were shot in this nice bright light, and it's already kind of a really soft, hazy luminous image. I would like to increase that sense by adding some diffusion. I'm going to start by lowering the contrast in the image. I'm doing that because the process that we're going to use to add the diffusion is going to increase the blacks, so I'd like to buy myself a little more latitude for that by lowering the contrast.

So I'm just dragging the Contrast slider to the left. And a diffuse image inherently doesn't have much contrast. That's why an actress's skin looks better. You don't see as much texture on the skin because texture is simply contrast. Wherever there is an edge or something like that, you are seeing a line of contrast. So by reducing contrast, we're inherently making the image softer and more diffuse. With contrast lowered, I'm going to open the image in Photoshop and begin my black-and-white process. Now there's not much that I need to do in the way of black-and-white conversion, because this image is mostly white.

But I'm going to throw a Black and White adjustment layer on there, and that's looking pretty good. Now, there are a lot of different ways that I can do this. I'm going to do this in the way that will yield me the most non-destructiveness that I can get; in other words, I want to be able to go back and alter any of these steps at any time. So I'm going to go in the Layers palette here and create a new group. I'll leave that there, and I'm going to put this layer in it, and I'm going to double-click on the Background layer to turn it into a floating layer and add that to the group. So now my image has not changed at all.

I have my original layer with a black- and-white layer on top of it, but they're all held in this little folder here. So now what I'm going to do is take this folder and duplicate it. Let me get the Layers palette out, here so you can see the whole thing. Now I have two copies of the same thing sitting right on top of each other. I have a color image with a black-and- white layer in this folder, and sitting on top of that a duplicate of the exact same thing in its own folder. I'm going to now go to my upper image layer and go to the Filter menu > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

And I really want to blur this a lot-- maybe not quite that much, but we'll see. I'll back it off to about there. So I'm creating a blurry, or diffuse, version, if you will, of the image. So I'll save that, and now what I've got is a blurry black-and-white photo. That is really not what I was going for. I want this whole group to change its Blending mode. The Blending mode pop-up simply controls how one pixel merges, or replaces, the pixels that are sitting below it in the layer stack, and I want to set this to Soft Light.

And as soon as I do that, my blurry image is now composited with my original image, and you may think, "Well, it doesn't look that much different." So let me hide this group, and you see there's the original, there's the copy, and it is more diffuse. It is getting some halos and things around it, just not getting it enough. I think I need to blur my image some more, so I'm going to go back up to here and maybe I'll just hit it with the same amount of blur. And well, that's kind of working, but not much. I think what needs to happen next is my upper layer needs to be brighter. So I'm going to go ahead and add a Levels adjustment layer here, and I did that to the upper set, and I'm going to brighten this up.

Now we're starting to get a nice glow around things. There's before, there's after. I've softened up a lot of his hair. There is kind of a white halo around this, and because I've done these as adjustment layers, all of these steps are editable later. So I can create this nice hazy, diffuse look. It's very subtle, but again, for skin tones and things like that, it's going to just smooth things out very nicely without eliminating too much detail. I still see hair in here, so it's not obvious that this image has been diffused. It doesn't look like there's a big blur sitting on top of it, but it is just a tiny bit dreamier and more luminous than the original image that I started with.

This is a very easy way to achieve that effect.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Black and White
Foundations of Photography: Black and White

39 video lessons · 23140 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 8m 25s
    1. Welcome
      1m 24s
    2. Why black and white?
      5m 12s
    3. Suggested prerequisites
      53s
    4. Using the exercise files
      56s
  2. 19m 43s
    1. Is it really black and white?
      1m 9s
    2. How gray corresponds to color
      4m 38s
    3. The medium of black and white
      3m 5s
    4. The vocabulary of black and white
      4m 46s
    5. The physiology of black and white
      2m 22s
    6. How a camera's image sensor captures an image
      3m 43s
  3. 32m 46s
    1. Preparing the camera
      3m 34s
    2. Light revisited
      6m 3s
    3. Seeing in black and white
      2m 21s
    4. Taking a black-and-white expedition
      1m 17s
    5. Finding and shooting a black-and-white image
      11m 14s
    6. Shooting a tone-based subject
      2m 0s
    7. Exposing for black and white
      6m 17s
  4. 1h 38m
    1. The nature of grayscale images
      3m 33s
    2. Converting to black and white using Photoshop CS4 or CS5
      6m 17s
    3. More about the Black & White dialog box
      3m 19s
    4. Converting to black and white using Black & White adjustment layers
      3m 55s
    5. Converting to black and white in Camera Raw
      4m 5s
    6. Making an advanced tonal correction
      17m 33s
    7. Doing more tonal corrections
      14m 6s
    8. Calming down highlights
      10m 4s
    9. Vignetting
      8m 58s
    10. The trestle images
      2m 39s
    11. Handling tricky skies
      2m 43s
    12. Doing a selective black-and-white conversion
      2m 23s
    13. Toning
      1m 19s
    14. Split-toning
      2m 19s
    15. High-key and low-key images
      2m 32s
    16. Diffusion
      4m 40s
    17. Using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in
      7m 46s
  5. 24m 14s
    1. Selecting a printer
      5m 17s
    2. Preparing the image for print
      8m 30s
    3. Configuring the Print dialog
      5m 9s
    4. Evaluating a print
      5m 18s
  6. 43s
    1. Goodbye
      43s

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