What Is Diffused Light?

By Anjali Amit; Updated April 24, 2017
What Is Diffused Light?

To understand the nature of diffused light, we must first answer the question, "What is light?" Physicists define light as electromagnetic radiation. Traditional theory holds that light is a wave. Its amplitude gives the brightness, and the differing wavelengths make the different colors. Modern quantum theory says that particles of energy called photons make up light. The number of photons gives the brightness, and the energy in the photons creates its color. Both theories are correct. Light acts as both particle and wave. Simply put, light is that which enables us to see.

How Do We See?

We see an object because it emits light (for example, the sun, fire, a light bulb), or we see objects that reflect light.

What Is Diffused Light?

Diffused light is a soft light with neither the intensity nor the glare of direct light. It is scattered and comes from all directions. Thus, it seems to wrap around objects. It is softer and does not cast harsh shadows.

What Causes Light Diffusion?

When a light beam strikes a smooth surface, most of it reflects back in the same concentration. This is specular reflection, which gives us direct, bright light. A mirror is a common example of a smooth surface that causes specular reflection. 

What happens on a rough surface? Even microscopic irregularities create roughness. The law of reflection is not broken. Each ray reflects back at the same angle at which it struck the object but in a different direction. So diffuse light is scattered light. This scattering is what causes the diffusion and softness of the light beam.

Application of Diffuse Light

Photographers use the principle of diffuse light to create pictures with vivid details because there are no sharp shadows to distract attention. On a sunny day, they use light diffusers to create soft shadows. 

Horticulturists are now discovering that diffused light creates a better growing environment in greenhouses. It allows for a greater horizontal spread of light and exposes the middle leaf layers to light. 

Drivers find that wet roads have a greater glare than dry roads. That is because the cracks and crevices on the road's surface fill up with water, creating a smooth surface. This results in specular reflection that creates the annoying glare. Fog lamps try to make use of the principle of diffused light to provide a safer beam.

Fun Fact

The human eye cannot see all the rays on the light spectrum. Infrared rays, for example, are too long for the human eye to perceive, and ultraviolet rays are too short. So, direct (spectral) light seems stronger than diffuse light. However, the total light transmission is the same. Our perception can play tricks on us.

About the Author

Anjali Amit is a children's book author with two published books. She has a master's degree in English literature. Amit has worn many hats including banker, tax accountant, writer, bookkeeper and teacher. She has been published in "Highlights," "Kite Tales," "Viatouch," "Stories for Children," "Fandangle" and "Imagination Cafe."