Direct flash is hard, sharp, and directional. Often shadows behind the subject will be obvious, and there is a much greater risk of red-eye when shooting individuals.
To soften the light emitted by a flash, one may fit a flash diffuser on a external flash head. A wide variety of commercial flash diffusers are available, ranging from rigid plastic ones to larger collapsible units; however, these can be quite expensive,( up to $250). There are two tricks I learned that will diffuse light without having to purchase a commercial diffuser.
Firstly, one may simply find a nearby piece of thin white paper and place the paper over the flash. That’s it! The paper works, arguably, just as well as a commercial diffuser.
The second option works if one owns an external flash that is able to rotate. Simply rotate the flash so the light is not focused directly at your subject, but at the ceiling or wall. This technique is called bounce flash. As the name implies the light bounces off of a nearby structure and reflects onto your subject with less intensity.
The photo above was taken without a diffuser.
The photo below was taken with a piece of white paper covering the flash.
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