Diffusion Behind the Lens, in Practice

This is an exciting post for me! I decided it was time to put the diffusion tests and experiments to use, and lucky me, the lovely Sonia Guerrero volunteered to be my model. The idea was to recreate a shot that could fit in an old black and white movie from the 40’s, like Casablanca, which is one of my favorite movies of all time, in addition to being just gorgeous.

All the shots here are frame grabs from C300 footage with the sides cropped off to 4:3, shot with the Samyang 85/T1.5.

So Sonia came over, I fixed her my latest favorite cocktail, a Dead Man’s Mule (but with only 1/2 oz. of orgeat, as I was taught at Drink), and we chatted in my living room while I set up the lights. I used a Lowel Pro-Light for a key, ambient light for fill, and a couple LED lights to edge her hair. When you’re shooting B&W, edge and hair lights really help to separate the subject from the background, in addition to being key to matching the style of the times. Here’s what she looked like with that setup:

Not bad! But it’s so sharp and modern and digitally clinical. Time to stretch some hose on the back of that puppy. I used L’Eggs Silken Mist:

There isn’t a whole lot of difference between this and L’Eggs Brown Sugar. The Silken Mist is smoother and a little hazier, while the Brown Sugar is more contrasty, leaning more towards tulle. If you’re going for the Fogal look, the Brown Sugar is probably the closest. They’re both much more cheaply made than the Fogal, and I haven’t done an A/B comparison, but I’d be very surprised if I could tell the difference. The big pro is that they’re like 5 bucks, while the Fogal stockings will set you back $75 ($50ish if you can find a specialty shop that carries them). The important thing to remember is to get Ultra Ultra Sheer, and Jet Black.

For instructions on how to stick it on, and more, check out Shane Hurlbut’s post. It’s really easy, just do two or three loops with snot tape around the rear element, making sure you don’t interfere with the mount, and being really careful to not touch the rear element, stretch the hose over the back tightish without going crazy, and cut around it with tiny scissors. The tape will stay sticky for a handful of applications, which is nice.

And this is what you get:

Voila! Looks so much better. Here’s another angle, with the hair out of her eyes, and better hair lights (see how important they are?):

The diffusion really smooths out the details in her skin, and makes her hair shine. I can’t imagine shooting a B&W close-up without any diffusion after seeing this.

Even in a more modern-lit color shot, it looks great. Here she is lit just with practicals:

The funny thing is that the diffusion is much more apparent when you’re working in color. I might stick to tulle at the strongest if I’m in color, unless maybe it’s an extreme close-up, or we’re going for the hazy look. All in all though, putting the diffusion behind the lens is making me so much happier than putting it in front. In front says “cheezy 80’s” to me, while in back says “sexy and classy.”

I should also note I shot these all at ISO 3200. That’s one thing I love about the C300 — if you want a little film grain, you’ve got the option of just cranking up the ISO, since it looks so organic. For important projects, I’ll probably still overlay actual film grain scans, but for quick and dirty stuff like this, it’s a great option to have. Gotta admit though, it feels weird using 4 stops of ND in a not-that-bright apartment!

Anyone else having any luck replicating the gorgeousness of yesteryear? Love to see it! My next experiment’ll probably be about capturing the look of Technicolor beauties like Gone With the Wind.


4 thoughts on “Diffusion Behind the Lens, in Practice

    1. jcsehak says:

      Thanks! It was lots of fun. I actually just got some Fogal Noblesse; gonna test it against the Haynes and see if there’s a noticeable difference.

  1. Alex says:

    Hey, I didn’t see this post before. Amazing!

    I would love to have seen these same frames, but with the stockings in front, just to compare the “classic” look vs the “cheesy” one. Maybe next time? ;P

    Did you archive the Technicolor style? I hope you can post an article about that too 🙂 It sounds promising.

    I have a GH3 (I know, I know…) and I tried today -for the first time- to add a regular 1$ black tight in front of the lens (didnt find att tape) And I was really unhappy with the results, no “fog” at all.

    – Could it be because of the camera? (I don’t think so, plus I used a “good” lens – 25mm Voigtlander)
    – Because the stockings where black and 1$ worth? (Maybe change to cream colour/white?)
    – Did I maybe stretch them too much? (too much stress = less effect?)

    It’s 4AM thursday, and I’m going to sleep now. On Sunday I have a videoshot that I would really liked to get some “vintage” foggy effect on it (exaggerated) so, if you have any tips/answers… please feel free to response 🙂

    Thanks and happy holidays

    1. jcsehak says:

      Hey Alex,

      I’m actually about to do another test, this time with the Fogal compared to the cheap stuff. I’ll be sure to do some in-front-of-the-lens shots for ya.

      I got some pretty good results from Graeme Natress’s Technicolor plug-in, but not perfect. I talked to Josh Childs, who did the coloring for — and nailed the 3-perf Technicolor look for — The Aviator. He said it was a lot of work figuring out how to do it, and wouldn’t give up his secrets, in spite of my begging 🙁

      The GH3 is a fine camera. I’ve shot stuff on the GH2 that people still ask if it’s film. And cheap stockings are fine too. Don’t go with cream — in my tests, using white stockings brought up the blacks w/o adding any detail. I think you probably stretched them too much. For your shoot, you might try Tiffen’s fog filter. I’ve been meaning to try it myself on something; it looks like a lot of fun.

      Post a link when you’ve finished — I’d love to check it out!


Comments are closed.