Exercise: softening the light
Aim: The aim of this exercise is to understand the effects of softening the light source with a diffuser.
Approach and results:
I chose a simple still life for this exercise and lit it from overhead. The first shot was direct flash from a wireless flashgun. The second shot was with the same flashgun with a 60cm softbox over it. as you can see from the images, the shadows are much sharper, darker and well defined. The highlight on the snail shells is smaller but better defined and the sides of the shells are not as well lit. Also the grain on the table top is better defined and colours in general appear more saturated.
Whether diffusion is an improvement depends on what you want from the image. If this was a product photography shot then the diffused shot would be my choice as the shadows are less distracting and there is a more even light. If I wanted to highlight detail then the straight flash shows up more relief in the surfaces due to the sharp shadow lines. If this were a portrait then diffused light would be far more flattering.
Direct flash shows more detail and relief. Diffused light gives softer shadows and larger highlights. Diffused light is usually a larger light source and envelopes the subject more.