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Digital Photography Hacks
By Derrick Story
May 2004
More Info

HACK
#16
Pantyhose Diffusion Filter for Flattering Portraits
Razor-sharp optics are great—unless, that is, you're photographing the love of your life. In those instances, you might want to borrow her pantyhose
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A flattering portrait is often praised for its soft lighting, good angle, and natural expression. You'll rarely hear a subject rave about a picture that highlights her pores, wrinkles, and blemishes. Sometimes, modern camera lenses can be too sharp!

A popular solution used by pros is what's known as a softening or diffusion filter. Simply put, these accessories attach to the front of the camera lens and downplay the appearance of texture on the face. The wrinkles don't go away; you simply don't notice them as much.

These specialized filters can cost as much as US$200 and are difficult to find for less than US$20. Plus, if you use a variety of lenses for your portrait photography, you might have to buy more than one filter to fit the different lens diameters. That's fine if you shoot portraits for a living. But what if you just want to take a nice shot of your sweetie?

Ask her for her pantyhose.

That's right, by stretching a piece of light beige pantyhose over the front of your lens and securing it with a strong rubber band, you can create the same flattering effect achieved in professional portraits. The more tightly you stretch the material, the milder the effect—the looser the material, the softer the image.

You can capture good portraits without filtration, as shown in , if you use good technique. But there will be situations in which you'll want to use a pantyhose filter to add a little softening effect, as shown in . Be sure to keep a knee-high stocking, along with a couple sturdy rubber bands, in your camera bag for just these occasions.

Figure 1. A portrait without a softening filter

Figure 2. A portrait using a pantyhose filter

I actually prefer knee-highs to pantyhose, because I don't have to cut the material. One knee-high fits nicely in my accessory pouch. And it doesn't run or unravel, because I haven't had to trim it.

For best results with this technique, I recommend the following camera setup:

  • Use a mild telephoto lens, such as 85mm or larger. On a point-and-shoot camera, extend the zoom lens all the way out to the telephoto setting.

  • Set the camera to Portrait mode. This opens up the aperture to help produce a softer background. If your camera doesn't have a Portrait mode, switch to Aperture Priority and set the f-stop at its widest setting, such as f-2.8 or f-3.5.

  • Position the subject at least 10 feet from a background that has few distracting elements. A big green bush, wood fence, or even the side of a house works well.

  • Look for diffused lighting, such as an overcast day. If the sun is too harsh, you can also place the subject in the shade of a tree and use the fill flash. The best lighting is usually before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

  • Take lots of shots using different tension levels of pantyhose stretched over the front of the lens. You won't be able to pick your favorite by looking at the image on the camera's LCD monitor. Having lots of pictures to choose from once they've been uploaded to the computer will ensure success.

If you don't get results you like with one pair of pantyhose, try another with a different weave or thread count. You'll be amazed by the results.


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