DIY Macro Strip Lights

UPDATE: Here are these macro strip lights in action, used on a sports section cover shoot.

I am batting around an idea for a pretty cool illustration. It's a macro shot, and it involves some fairly tricky lighting. I could give you more detail, but then I'd have to kill you.

Since I haven't shot (much less had published in the paper) the illustration, I can't really throw the idea or photo out here yet. My kids do so enjoy eating, and you guys don't pay squat. So the paper still makes the rules. And Rule Numero Uno is that it runs in The Sun before it shows up on Strobist.

But that's not to say that I can't do a little thinking out loud on the problem-solving process. And this shot sure has plenty of problems to solve. Here is my take on one of those problems.

I am going to light it on three planes. And the light from each plane will need to be kept from spilling onto the other planes.

To that end, I need light for the bottom/sides of the subject that will wrap around it horizontally, yet not spill up towards the top vertically.

I need a light that is hard (and "featherable") in the vertical direction, yet soft in the horizontal direction. In short, I need a tiny little strip light.

At times like this I call the entire Strobist R&D team into action, with orders to spare no expense in the creation of this one-off (actually, two-off) lighting tool.

Thus, only the finest cardboard (that I can find in my closet) and gaffer's tape was used. Not trying to impress you here, but the budget for a custom lighting tool such as this can run upwards of forty to fifty cents.

Hey, good light ain't free.

All kidding aside, what we have here is basically a set of modified cardboard snoots. I made them out of a shirt box (used, of course) a sheet of typing paper and some gaffer's tape.

I made them "inside out" so that that shiny white cardboard side of the shirt box would be on the inside, to bounce the light around more efficiently.

I basically made a set of rectangular snoot-type tubes and closed off one end of each tube (to keep the light from spilling out.) Then I cut a rectangular window in each, and covered that with a sheet of typing paper to act as a diffuser.

A little tape was used to hold the thing together. This was the last of my grey gaffer's tape - I'm getting black next time.

The tape ridges on the side are my best approximation of what I will need in terms of light spill control. This will likely be adjusted and/or augmented while I am shooting.

I like doing macro stuff because it is easy to make whatever kind or shape of light source you need on the fly, for next to no money.

Oh, and remembering that I am going to orient these things horizontally, I would point out that that is a really crappy thing to do to a hot shoe mount. And we are trying to keep those little buggars from breaking, remember?

The solution is to not use the hot shoes to mount the flash. I will likely bend them to about a 45-degree angle and bungee them to a light stand, using the interior angle of the bend to hold it to the stand with the ball bungee. I'll do pix of the set up with the time comes, and blog it when the story runs.

Now to solve my next problem: Making the object appear to float in mid-air...


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Anonymous Josh Wand said...

Now to solve my next problem: Making the object appear to float in mid-air...

In my experience, there's very little that can't be solved (in the studio, anyhow) with monofilament, gaff tape, and fun-tack.

May 17, 2006 12:04 AM  
Anonymous Douglas Urner said...

A sheet of clear plex or some glass helps too . . .

May 17, 2006 1:03 AM  
Blogger David said...

It's a little more complicated than that. There's 110v AC involved. I think I have it figured out, tho. The more interesting part will be not to unintentionally defibrilate myself...

May 17, 2006 1:10 AM  
Anonymous Douglas Urner said...

Ok, now I'm really curious . . .

May 17, 2006 11:24 AM  
Blogger Chuck Kimmerle said...

Defribrilate? Size of a fist? Hmmm...I wholeHEARTedly wish you luck with the shoot.

May 17, 2006 3:36 PM  
Blogger David said...

You guys are making this out to be WAY more exciting than it is.

No human organs are involved. Just 110v AC in a rather exposed way. Just gotta be aware of it and be safe about it.

(Where's a photo of Jim Carrey's "Fire Marshall Bill" from In Living Color when you need it....)

May 17, 2006 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Jim Mucklin said...

And they say creativity is dead. Take your model like say Kate Moss and go to Home depot and get the big Wagner power sprayer, fill it with contact cement and spray here down, when she dries stick some pins in here and mount her on a big block of hard foam and shoot from above. For lights get the news truck with those big lights to nuke her till she smokes.

May 18, 2006 7:16 AM  
Blogger Marshall said...

This might not qualify technically as a "helpful" post, but is there anything cooler than black gaffer's tape?

May 24, 2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger David said...

No, there's not.

And I am SO glad to be done with the grey roll I bought without thinking.

May 24, 2006 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, this blog is the best!!! I love how you bring us in and get us wondering then show us the magic in your artistry. This last post just leaves me grinning from ear to ear. I love how you bring it all back full circle.

Any way, thank you, thank you, thank you. I now just need to go out and find some of used strobes that I can afford.

Oh yeah, and get a dslr.

From reading the site, I think I am going to make my purchases in that order.

October 05, 2006 2:36 PM  
Blogger David Vickers said...

I've just given these strip lights a go and built two of them after remembering about this post.

I've put some information up at on how to build them and some pictures in the Strobist pool on Flickr.

I'm really pleased with them - thank you DH for showing us these.


October 28, 2007 2:14 AM  
Blogger Joel MacKenzie said...

It's been almost three years. Is the end product posted somewhere?

March 04, 2009 2:24 PM  
Anonymous Paul Both said...

I'm pretty sure this post was the run up to the CFL light shot:

But I could be wrong...


March 11, 2009 10:40 AM  
Blogger Laura Nelson-Green said...

We used to work direct overhead floating with armature wire and hot glue. Once we shot Almay skin cleaning pads above product bottle straight on, be we could overlap the product to cover the wire arcing up from behind the bottle. The top pad was hung from two very thin mono-filament lines. I have a polaroid somewhere...

January 03, 2014 4:19 PM  

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