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Monday, July 30, 2007

DIY Ball-Bungee Speedlight Soft Box Mount

I don't use my soft boxes very often, as a shoot-through umbrella is a more efficient diffuser, cheaper and more portable. But a soft box does give a nice, rectangular specular highlight, without the visible ribs of an umbrella.

(If there are any ribs visible in my vicinity, I prefer them slow-cooked, and smothered with a Carolina-style, mustard-and-vinegar BBQ sauce...)

But for headshots, a speedlight/soft box combo has plenty of power to work in close -- remember that power/distance relationship. And it gives you those cool, window-like highlights in the eyes.

Quick tip: You can accentuate the window-like specular from a soft box by putting little gaffer's tape dividers on the front panel.

Be sure to take them off when you are done, as the tape will leave permanent residue if you let it stay on and dry out. And do not use duct tape, as it will mar the surface instantly. You can use black masking tape, though.

(I leave mine on, because I like the effect and generally use the soft box or nothing but people.)

Here is her eye up close in that previous frame. She is not really catching the vertical divider, mind you. I was just playing around with a quick and dirty CLS setup here, and not shooting to show the effect. But you can still see the horizontal divider working.

(Did he say CLS? Yes. I am trying to learn more about it to see when it makes sense to use it and explore its limitations.)

Anyhow, back to the ball bungee soft box thing.

As much as I would like to take credit for this idea, I got it from Pat Murphy-Racey, who was on my Purple Team at the Eddie Adams workshop in 1989. Pat used to have a business (and cool website) that sold turn-key arena lighting systems, which is where I found out about what he calls "The Cheater."

He used those thick blue rubber bands you get what you buy broccoli. But I don't like broccoli. So I use ball bungees. The longer models work best (mine are about 8" long, unstretched.) The shorter ones are a very tight fit. If you are using rubber bands, you need four broccoli rubber bands (better get eatin') or maybe those "Live Strong" style rubber band bracelets.

Don't leave them stretched for days on end, though. They'll weaken and snap.

So, here we are, speedring on stand, via the typical umbrella adapter. This will allow you to mount the soft box on a stand and tilt it.

Note that my speedring (that is what the little thing that connects a soft box to a normal flash head is called) has a 1/4x20 female thread in the bottom. I think this is pretty common, but yours may not have it. If not, this system is still good for hand-holding a speedlight and softbox (or for having someone else hold it) for a quickie portrait.

Stretch one band/bungee around as shown. Put the ball on the edge for a firm hold.

If you are using rubber bands, you'll use two in each direction. You could also use a wad of normal rubber bands in place of a single big one, I suppose. But the ball bungees turn out to be very secure, so I recommend those.

By the way, if you can't get ball bungees in your country, you can get them at Amazon for $10 for a pack of 25. They are very useful things to have around the house.

Then you place the other band/bungee across in the other direction. This creates an "H-shape" elastic suspension across the opening of your speedring.

It probably seems pretty obvious by now, but all you do is to wedge your flash into the middle of the bungees. The hold is surprisingly strong.

Remember that you'll want to turn your flash in the appropriate direction to make your beam of light best cover the soft box panel. I like to set my flash to its widest beam spread, and I get good coverage.

Here it is, all assembled and ready for the soft box to be mounted to the speedring. It is very secure. I would have no problem suspending this thing over water, for example.

You can dial your flash way down and take a photo of the front panel of the box to get an idea of how smooth your coverage is. (I.e., do you have a hot spot in the middle of you panel.) You can always use a Sto-Fen or Tupperware as a diffuser to smooth it out. But that eats light, and is really not necessary, IMO.

Remember to swivel the base of your flash independently to expose your infrared sensor if you are triggering via CLS or eTTL. For close-in headshots, the wireless TTL mode will pretty much get you dead-on exposures, as the main subject area will be lit by the flash.

But manual is always available and offers more control and precision, whether you trigger with CLS/eTTL, by PC cord, or by radio remotes.

So, that's one way to mount a speedlight in a softbox. What are your little tricks/gear/hacks for doing this? Share 'em in the comments.


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25 Comments:

Anonymous Steve said...

Supoib!

A great idea david, dramatically cuts down the need for brackets=less weight and more room in your bag

July 30, 2007 9:18 AM  
Blogger IllOgical said...

Mmmmmmh, riiiibs

(as Homer would say :) )

July 30, 2007 9:35 AM  
Blogger Simon Terry said...

So wrong on the BBQ ribs, so very wrong.

Come to Dallas, David, I'll show you BBQ.

July 30, 2007 9:43 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Illuminatingly brilliant!

July 30, 2007 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Norman said...

Another option I found is to use a Stroboframe flash bracket with the softbox speedring by simply putting the cold shoe on the underside of the bracket's top bar and hanging the flash upside down.
You could see this setup here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/15851331@N00/872574485/

July 30, 2007 10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great idea (clearly the original source has more brain cells that I do).

Is this stable enough, though, that the flash won't slip out if bumped, etc. (It would obviously be an expensive mistake, though equipment is made to be used as well ... if I'm too afraid to pull anything out of a bag for fear of scratching or damaging it, etc., why buy it in the first place :-)

July 30, 2007 11:01 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

It's really cracking me up that "People who Bought" ball bungies at Amazon... also bought umbrellas, light stands, books about photography...

Like, clearly... photography is the only use for ball bungies :)

July 30, 2007 11:43 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

HAHA.

I did the same thing when I was challenged with one of those egg drop thingys. Same idea, a 'h' formation with some rubber bands, you'd surprised how strong the hold is.

July 30, 2007 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't use my soft boxes very often, as a shoot-through umbrella is a more efficient diffuser, cheaper and more portable."

haha. I've always used shoot-thru umbrellas for their soft, flattering light. Having never tried silver umbrellas, I purchased a pair of the silver westcotts after you recommended them over shoot-thrus on this site quite a while back, and I absolutely hate them (okay, maybe hate is too strong a word). Now, my silver westcotts collect dust, while my shoot-thrus continue getting used.

July 30, 2007 12:53 PM  
Blogger Scot said...

"I was just playing around with a quick and dirty CLS setup here"

Forgive me but what is CLS?

July 30, 2007 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

Tough a great idea David, for me speed rings and quick, DIY lighting setups are diametrically opposed--if i want to deal with fiberglass poles outside of a studio setup it usually means I am going camping, not shooting on location. If I am in a studio, and own an expensive softbox, I'll use something with a little more juice than a speedlight can provide. I keep an Westcott Apollo softbox in the trunk for times when I need a quick location softbox. It goes up as fast as an umbrella without the hassle of a speed-ring so I can stick a speedlight or quantum light inside and still keep my lighting kit small.

July 30, 2007 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked the idea of some kind of tape to make the softbox look like a window, so I pulled out my velcro sticky back tape (leaving the backing on so it would not stick) and put lengths of it across the front of my little softbox. I attach the ends with permanent attachment of the other side of the velco with the sicky removed (about an inch) attached to the black part of the softbox. So I can remove & replace them at will with no residue.
Debbi

July 30, 2007 2:28 PM  
Blogger Stacey said...

CLS stands for Nikon Creative Lighting System.

July 30, 2007 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

CLS :-)

There's a good boy David. Nowt wrong with auto flash, it does have its place.

Regarding the softbox, you could always set-up the box on one stand and then set-up the flash behind on it on a separate stand. Can't imagine that's going to be an advantage though. But that's the set-up I'm going to start using for an umbrella because I don't like how brackets put the flash so high above the centre of the umbrella.

July 30, 2007 3:05 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

I just put some blurb on my blog about the two light stands idea and then it occurred to me that you could just rubber-band / ball-bungee the flash to the stem of the umbrella. Better and more efficient solution.

July 30, 2007 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do know that you can just buy it ?

Long URL:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?shs=chimera+speedring+flash&ci=0&sb=ps&pn=1&sq=desc&InitialSearch=yes&O=productlist.jsp&A=search&Q=*&bhs=t

Basically searched for : Chimera, speedring, flash.

Just a thought.

July 30, 2007 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@andrew smith

CLS can shoot manual as well.

July 30, 2007 5:12 PM  
Blogger Uncle Frank said...

I'm looking forward to your findings on CLS. Some of your fans in the Nikon camp find merit in using the SU800 as a Commander for multiple SB800/600 speedlights in iTTL mode. And even in manual mode, CLS lets us adjust our remotes... remotely :-). I just know you're gonna teach us some neat new tricks we can play with CLS.

July 30, 2007 5:19 PM  
Blogger Jameel Morrison said...

Westcott makes a softbox based upon the umbrella structure... No speedring required! Pardon me if my naivete is at play. You can see what I'm talking about at:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/62245-REG/Westcott_2334_Apollo_Mono_Softbox_with.html

July 30, 2007 5:39 PM  
Blogger gabe rodriguez said...

timely post. i just got a call for a shoot this week where i'll likely put this to the test. thanks.

July 30, 2007 6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Photek Softlighter is pretty amazing. It's a shoot-through umbrella, softbox and reflecting umbrella all in one! I love it.

http://www.adorama.com/PTSL54.html?searchinfo=photek%20softlighter&item_no=3

July 30, 2007 6:59 PM  
Blogger Don Sweener said...

Check out my Sunpak 555 stuffed in a photek octabank and how all the images look. All done in my kitchen. Back drop is a piece of white vinyl from a Home Depot Display. The octabank is 70 bucks well spent for any photographer. folds up to nothing and works great for portraits. Email me for comments. cliquephotodesign@verizon.net

July 30, 2007 8:43 PM  
Blogger valkner said...

First, your site is great. I've learned more (and spent more money!) than I ever imagined, but my photos are infinitely better for it.

Just thought I'd send an idea I whipped up your way for a flash bracket. It's super stable and lets you rotate the flash head to match the rotation of the softbox. And, best of all, you can make it for under $5

I put up a tutorial and pics on the Strobist flickr:
http://flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157604076718870/

March 09, 2008 12:29 PM  
Anonymous David said...

A great site, however this page doesn't display well using Safari. The text overlaps onto the photos.

Just an FYI.

May 06, 2009 9:07 AM  
Anonymous Kevin Ford said...

I was thinking about ways of doing exactly this, and found this tutorial, much better than any way than I was thinking about using. Thank you very much for the great resource that you have provided here and for the wonderful ways of looking around the obstacles that often come up.

I look forward to the many things yet to be posted and the many resources that you have here that I have yet to find. Your site is responsible for my progression in the art of photography and much better photographs after every tutorial read and much happier clients as a result.

May 06, 2009 12:09 PM  

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