It's DIY Thursday

Fancy yourself a bit of a … modder?

You're not the only one. In fact, of the ~10,000 people who arrive at Strobist via a Google search on a given day, many of them are looking for a specific DIY solution.

Today, the top ten searched for DIY projects on Strobist—and how practical it is to attempt each of them...

In order of searched-for popularity, the ten-most popular DIY searches on Strobist:

1. DIY Beauty Dish

Practical? Meh, it depends.

Here's the thing: Speedlights and beauty dishes are not that well suited for each other, unless you are working in very close. And even then, do not expect a lot of working power. This is because you'll have to first diffuse (or reflect) your speedlight to get it to be omni-directional, which is what it needs to be in order to reflect off of that dish's interior.

Best bet: A toss-up, between between Tom Seibert's salad bowl beauty dish or just cough up for a cheap eBay version. I chose the latter, and have been modifying it as I go.

2. DIY Ring Flash

Practical? Absolutely.

In fact, if you are on the bubble about getting an Orbis and want to try out the lighting style first, DIY is a great way to go if you are light of wallet.

This is the most detailed version of instructions I have seen. If you are looking for easy, here is an $8, fold-flat version.

3. DIY Light Box

(AKA, DIY Light Tent, Mini Photo Studio, etc.)

Practical? Totally.

Easy and cheap, too. I would go as far as to say you'd be an idiot to shell out for one of the $100 store versions.

My version, which you can make pretty much any size you want, is here. And when I say "any size" I mean any size you can find a box for.

That said, I am currently experimenting with a 9'x9'x12' DIY-ish version. Man portable. A north-light studio on the go. Post coming soon.

4. DIY Soft Box

Practical? Not really.

Generally, these are DIY versions of my favorite close-in portrait mod, the LumiQuest SB III. But if you want to experiment, you can go kinda slick or kinda not.

5. DIY Octabank

Practical? Are you kidding me?

No. Even so, it is the 5th most popular searched-for DIY term on Strobist. So someone wants to save money by DIY'ing an Octa. Probably, this is because most Octas cost an arm and a leg.

Better solution: Skip the Octa and go for the very similar light quality of the 60" Softlighter II or the Paul Buff PLM with diffusion screen. Both offer amazingly Octa-like light, with a nice flat front panel and no protruding umbrella shaft.

They are both under $100, including the front diffuser. Your time is worth more than that.

6. DIY Soft Box Grid

Practical? Possible, but not practical.

I tried it, but would not recommend it. At least not my way. I needed it for a one-off shoot. It worked, and it cost less than $10. But for continued use it was not worth the time, trouble and weight.

I would not recommend it unless you are a seamstress, and a broke one at that. In which case, make it out of cloth for much lighter weight.

7. DIY Snoot

Practical? Absolutely.

That's assuming it is appropriate for you to be shooting jobs with cardboard hanging off of your flash. If so, this is cheap and easy.

But store-bought versions are also cheap and easy. It's a pick 'em, depending on your wallet and your need to look professional.

8. DIY Grid Spot

Practical? Depends. How much is your time worth?

There are a couple of different ways to make them. Each of the afore-linked will give you a different beam shape. Which can be important.

But maybe not worth the time if you are no longer sleeping on a futon on the floor. You can buy a grid for as little as under $10 if you are willing to be very careful with it. For $30, you can get one that will last longer than you will.

9. DIY Speed Strap

Practical? Yes, if made in quantity.

If you need several speed straps (for holding accessories to your flash barrel) you can make them with some "recycled" (see what I did there?) inner tube and velcro. They work, but not as well as store bought.

Again, these are not very expensive items. As for store-bought, Honls ($10 ea.) are thicker, LumiQuests ($8 ea.) are stretchy neoprene.

Alternative uses: When not holding stuff to my flashes, these guys double as heavy dudty cable ties during transport.

And last but not least on the top-ten searched for DIY items is the…

10. DIY Strip Light

Practical? Yeah, actually.

Why? They are pretty specialty use, so buying might not make sense. Also, strip lights are frequently used as rims, which do not need much power because of the efficiency of skin when light hits it at an angle. (If you are going Dave-Hill-nuclear on your rims, go store-bought. And use big lights, too.)

But working in close, inside with speedlights, DIY strips are an easy and practical project. Here are two ideas, both small and large.


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OpenID marxmarv said...

Actually, DIY soft-brollies aren't terribly horribly unconscionably impractical, depending on your need for durability and your collection of hand tools.

Start with a large cheap reflective umbrella of your choice and the thinnest white vinyl shower curtain liner you can find. In the liner, cut a hole for the shaft and one hole for each of the umbrella's rib tips. (If you're feeling particularly fancy, reinforce with tape or hole-punch reinforcement labels such as Avery 06002. Or get that Softlighter II instead.) Cut a window or slot for the flash head. Cut off excess shaft and deburr the rough end. (If you want to get really really fancy here and have some precision metalworking tools, tap each end of the shaft tube, add a long set screw and Loctite the dickens out of the non-umbrella side. Now you can restore the original shaft length if you wish to use the umbrella naked as before.)

Now you have a more fragile umbrella (which you will probably want to start storing in a tube of its own, like an umbrella carton or a PVC water pipe section) and a scrap of shower curtain liner, which, when the liner is slid onto the umbrella shaft, stretched/hung on the rib tips and the flash unit placed through the liner's window, makes a large, fairly even soft light source that will do the job until you finally get fed up with it.

July 05, 2012 6:44 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

That said, I am currently experimenting with a 9'x9'x12' DIY-ish version. Man portable. A north-light studio on the go. Post coming soon.

I can't wait for this one!

July 05, 2012 8:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Cochran said...

When i worked for a camera store in Philly my manager once explained to me why the softbox grids are so expensive. He said that because of the way they are stitched together they all need to be made by hand rather than by a machine. So the high price tag was due to labor costs and the in ability to produce them on a large scale.

July 05, 2012 10:24 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

So will that big #3 involve PVC and some McNally King sized Diffusers?

Maybe something like this:

It will probably be safer then the lumber and foam core suggestion from one of those photographer's videos on Youtube.

July 06, 2012 12:42 AM  
Blogger Lanthus Clark said...

Being a bit of a DIY'er myself I tackled a Beauty Dish once, (which turned out to be very good!) and the "how-to" page for it's construction is still the most popular page on my blog

I'm going to check out a couple of the other projects you linked in this article and give them a go too!

Thanks for a great blog David, it's one of my first stops each day!

July 06, 2012 12:50 AM  
Blogger RFS said...

It's easy to make a softbox with a white styrofoam (disposable) ice chest cooler. They come in sizes up to 25x15.
You cut a hole in the side to push the snout of your speedlight into, tape tracing paper or other desired diffusion material over the front, and you're ready to shoot. Since the styrofoam is sturdy, you can add as many speedlights as you have room for. Just make sure they're pointing away from the diffusion so the light bounces around in the cooler before it hits the front.

Make sure that the speedlight sensor remains outside the box so you can use your camera's auto flash controls. I haven't tried to mount one to a light stand, but I'm sure it would be fairly easy with thin plywood and a 5/8 inch brass spigot to fit your light stand.

July 06, 2012 1:18 AM  
Blogger Benjamin Geiger said...

I know this qualifies as a derp question, and I apologize if you've already answered it, but...

What's the practical difference between an octabox and an equivalent-sized softbox? Why would you want one over the other?

July 06, 2012 1:40 AM  
Blogger i e R said...

the original branded product are expensive, Hence we DIY, but as soon as China steps in... why DIY? again comes to the topic, do we support rip offs?

July 06, 2012 6:07 AM  
Blogger Sando said...

Well about the practicality of DIY of a Beauty Dish. This image is shot with my version of the Chinatown Special. It's not like I always use a Beauty Dish but sometimes it's nice to have and in my opinion it works....
Even got an entry on my blog about the build of that thing and of a DIY Sunswatter for that matter...

My whole blog is in two languages English and German.

Ciao Björn

July 06, 2012 7:10 AM  
Blogger Yugo said...

What a great post! In the midst of internet DIY one-upmanship, it's so refreshing to see a simple guide to what ISN'T worth trying to DIY.

July 06, 2012 9:35 AM  
Blogger CMurray said...

If it's big enough, couldn't you use the lightbox as a soft-box, too?

July 06, 2012 10:06 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


The octa has an equal wrap on the horizontal and vertical axis. A soft box is typically rectangular, so will have a differing wrap based on the orientation of the box.

July 06, 2012 12:53 PM  
OpenID myamericanmyth said...

Not really lighting related, per se, but thought people might appreciate this recent little discovery regarding the Hoodman loupe :)

July 06, 2012 1:02 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Next question should be, "did you attend UF and are you from Polk Co FL."

July 06, 2012 2:25 PM  
Blogger DougOrama said...

I made my DIY dish out of a 19-inch mixing bowl and I have it rigged so I can use either a speedlight or on an AB. I don't put a diffuser on the speedlight and it gets a nice, consistent spread and pretty good output. Maybe it's because it's a because it is a shallower, wider dish than bowls others have used.

I made the worklight reflector ringlight deal and I couldn't get much of anything out of that one, even without a diffuser on the front, so I scrapped it. But I made one out of a plastic deviled egg containter that's great. Looks like a tupperware Orbis. One of these days I should post it somewhere with instructions...but I'd have to build another one.

July 06, 2012 7:46 PM  
Blogger PaulL said...

Glad to see this post, actually -- some DIY projects are no-brainers; others, as you've pointed out, just aren't worth the effort or time :)

Your DIY posts have helped me a lot over the years, David...even if sometimes the "help" was to help me decide to buy something instead of make it!

By the way, here's another really easy DIY striplight...

July 06, 2012 8:11 PM  
Blogger alohadave said...

Alternative uses: When not holding stuff to my flashes, these guys double as heavy dudty cable ties during transport.

I use the speedstrap that I got at the Flashbus to hold my umbrella to my lightstand when I'm traveling, and for storage. It's actually the only thing I use it for since I already have velcro on my flashes.

July 07, 2012 9:57 PM  
Blogger Don J said...

Another route for a DIY softbox ... you can use the Christmas lights that are usually useless for 11 months of the year....

July 09, 2012 12:15 AM  
Blogger Nicolai "Cuki" Gamulea said...

Here's my take on a DIY soft box grid:

July 09, 2012 10:03 PM  
Blogger Marcell said...

My latest DIY project using optical fibers:

July 10, 2012 3:59 PM  
Blogger Ken Wallace said...

Yep--I made the salad bowl / pizza dish DIY beauty dish, also known as the Chinatown special (due the parts being purchased from a restaurant supply house in China Town). It was hilarious that the parts come up as a set (bowl, pizza dish and flash bracket!) on Amazon! It was a fun project, but after purchasing the materials including a Dremel tool to cut the metal bowl I can't say it was cost effective if you factor in how many hours it took. But I have solid 24" beauty dish that is probably much better in quality than the eBay version, and a Dremel tool for destroying stuff in the future.

July 11, 2012 2:42 PM  
OpenID said...

Glad to see this post, actually -- some DIY projects are no-brainers; others, as you've pointed out, just aren't worth the effort or time :)

July 17, 2012 2:51 PM  

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