There aren't many solutions for softening the harsh flash of a point-and-shoot digital camera. I've tried holding a piece of paper in front of the flash - and that works to a point - but I get inconsistent results, probably because it's hard to consistently angle the paper correctly. There's a commercial solution, but it costs $20 and the manufacturer actually makes two models to fit different cameras, which means it may not be easily interchangeable from one camera to the next.
I show a way to cut a medicine cup to hold a piece of vellum or paper at a consistent angle in front of your flash.
Step 1: Materials
*A medicine cup with a bottom diameter smaller than the diameter of your camera lens (measured where the lens enters the camera body)
*A squarish piece of vellum about 2 inches on a side. I imagine other translucent material would work too, but vellum works well because it's lightweight and stiff. I used a piece salvaged from a fancy invitation.
*Clear packing tape
*A piece of paper about the size of a 2 to 3 inch post-it
*Something to cut with (scissors, exacto knife)
Step 2: Cut the Medicine Cup
Cut the medicine cup into the shape shown - a ring with a tab. The ring should fit around the lens just tightly enough to keep it from falling off. You want to be able to rotate the diffuser on the lens easily without tugging on the lens too much. If your ring ends up being a little too loose, use packing tape to narrow its internal diameter.
Step 3: Attach Diffuser to the Tab
Tape the piece of vellum to the tab. My piece of vellum is about two inches on a side. You will probably have to do a little experimenting to size the vellum. I considered making mine bigger, but I was limited by the size of my old invitation.
Step 4: Mount the Diffuser on the Camera
Slip the ring around the camera lens such that there is some distance between the flash and the diffuser's flat surface.
Angle the diffuser so it doesn't block the autofocus beam or the viewfinder if you're using one.
Step 5: Add a Piece of Paper If Desired
Here I've adhered a 2x3-inch post-it to the vellum.
Step 6: Experiment
Using the DIY diffuser isn't foolproof. If you plan to use it for an important event, try to take some test shots beforehand. Things I learned from experimentation:
*My first choice for taking pictures in lower light conditions would be to increase the ISO and try to find a way to increase the light on the subject enough so that flash is not necessary
*If you use the DIY diffuser, you can't be too far away or the image will be too dark (in fact, backing up and zooming in (or cropping the image later) without the diffuser might soften the flash effect enough for your purposes)
*The more opaque the diffusing surface (paper instead of vellum), the more the drain on your battery and the longer it'll take to recycle the flash
My test shots, all taken with my Canon SD750 at ISO 400 at my poorly-lit computer desk
From top left going clockwise: 1) No flash. The image is blurry because it's a one-second exposure.
2) Flash without diffuser. 3) With the post-it attached to the diffuser. 4) With the vellum alone
Step 7: More Test Shots
I got some surprisingly good images of people (or people stand-ins) using paper attached to my DIY diffuser, but also some terrible images when I got too far away from my subject. The shot on the left is with bare flash and the shot on the right is with the post-it attached to the diffuser. I'm also hoping to experiment with other potential diffuser materials.