When I completed Strobist as a project in 2021, I promised to check back in when I had something worth sharing. Today, I’m announcing my new book, The Traveling Photographer’s Manifesto, which seeks to do for traveling photographers what Strobist always tried to do for lighting photographers.

Thanks for giving it a look—and for your comments and feedback.

SLC-OE-01: $20 DIY Portable Doorway

Pictured above is Moishe Appelbaum, of Midwest Photo fame, whom you may remember from Lighting 103.

Moishe is lit with a single small flash. But the gentle wrap of the light—and the soft glow of the suppressed specular highlights—should cue you in to the fact that the light modifier itself is huge.

Today, we'll learn how to make a door-sized modifier DIY style, for about $20 and in a form factor that is super easy to transport. (It collapses down to about the size of a folded light stand.)

For the ten years before I joined the staff of The Baltimore Sun in 1998, I worked for a chain of papers that competed with them. And that sometimes meant competing with a Sun photographer named Jed Kirschbaum.

This was not always an easy thing to do. Jed didn't carry around a lot of lighting gear, because he was great at scrounging light from his environment. Later, when we were staffers together at The Sun, he told me that he always considered doorways to be his own personal giant soft box that he did not have to buy or carry around.

This was very smart. Most every location had a doorway, and it usually separated brighter from darker zones of light. Presto, your own personal giant soft box.

As a light source, a doorway was doubly great for a headshot. Because if you opened the doorway 45 degrees you had not only a soft, giant light source at a 45-degree angle, but also a ready-made background in the door panel itself.

And unlike a window, a doorway created a broad and tall light source big enough for a full-length portrait.

But doors aren't everywere. So eventually I figured out how to cobble together my own substitute for the giant, soft light of a non-existent doorway. And do so in a way that did not excessively impede my wallet or my gear bag.

Off to Home Depot and WalMart

So what we'll be making is a friction-fit "T" frame, supported by a light stand, and using that to support the white twin sheet that serve as our diffusion panel.

For the frame you'll need two items, both super cheap: a 5- or 6-foot section (however they sell them) of 3/4" PVC pipe, and a 3/4" friction-fit "T" connector. We'll be disassembling it for easy transport, so you won't even need any PVC glue.

For the diffuser, you'll need a white twin sheet. I suggest WalMart because the sheets are thin and cheap, both admirable qualities for our purposes.

Making Your Diffuser Panel

It really couldn't be easier. First, let's cut the PVC pipe.

Using pretty much any kind of saw (but hacksaws work great) cut 2- to 3-inch section off of one end of the PVC pipe. Next, cut the remaining long length into two equal pieces. (You don't have to be super exact. Just get it close.) That's all of the PVC cutting we'll be doing today.

Next, we'll prep the sheet.

We are going to cut a slit that will let you mount the sheet to the PVC frame without clamps. In the thickly folded hem that usually signals the head end of your sheet, cut a centered T-shaped slit as shown:

If your PVC is not too long for your sheet you won't even have to cut the ends of the hem, as you can assemble the PCV frame and diffuser sheet right from that center slit.

Putting it All Together

First, slide the small section of PVC into the bottom of the "T" joint. This will make for a better fit to mount the frame to the top of a standard 3/8" light stand fitting.

Second, slide the long PVC pipes into the hem from the center and assemble the frame as shown.

Finally, mount it to a light stand and you're good to go.

Using Your Diffuser Panel

So this thing is great for taking the light from a harsh speedlight and making it absolutely gorgeous. That is because it is so big that each square inch of the sheet is transmitting very little light energy, and that makes for a beautiful wrap and nice speculars.

Generally you'll use this indoors both for the low power of the speedlight and for the suceptibility to wind. But you can totally use it outdoors at dusk on a calm evening as well.

This is an open diffuser, so you have to account for your raw light overspray. Long story short, if you have a background lit by this light source, you'll want to position your flash and diffusor so that the raw light does not land within the frame.

That said, remember to back the flash up enough to get an even spill on the sheet. The the angles and distance will be a balancing act.

You may even want to widen your zoom setting to 24mm, and orient the flash head vertically to help the beam pattern match the shape of the sheet.

(You can make these diffusers more contained with respect to raw spill light, but that is a little more complex and we'll get to it in a future post.)

If you are outdoors at dusk and the post sunset sky is your backdrop, no worries, Just mind your angles to ensure that raw overspray from your flash does not encroach if you are using a backdrop.

For Moishe, above, I am using the backdrop my friend Sara painted for me. Which brings up a good point: If you have a backdrop (or a nice wall, but a backdrop is better) you can use a single speedlight in just about any disused room and create beautiful portrait light in no time flat.

This was exactly the case above, as Moishe dropped by a lighting class we were having in a meeting space at Midwest Photo, and I pulled him in for a quick dozen frames. With a light source this big (bigger, even, than a 60" octa) it's hard to go wrong.

A Couple of Tips

First, get the source as close as possible to your subject. This will help in several ways:

• It'll look fantastic. The wrap and apparent size will create very flattering light.

• It'll be more efficient when used up close. This is always a factor when lighting with speedlights.

• It'll help you control your angles as far as oversprayed raw light hitting the background.

Second, I like to shoot right at the trailing (shadow side) edge of the sheet. Or even to cut a slit nearish to the trailing edge, and shoot through that as shown:

This helps my single light to wrap into the shadow side better—almost like a bit of on-axis fill against my key light.

Third, this light makes an ideal on-axis fill for taming (or cooling) the shadow areas of a multi-light portrait. Because of its size, you can place it right behind you and shoot from in front of it. Gorgeous. (This can also be a nice on-axis key light setup, especially in black and white against a white wall and overexposed.)

Finally, for transport, take one long section apart. Just leave the T-connector and bottom pigtail pipe attached to the other piece. Then use the sheet to wrap it all up together. It transports super easy, wherever you are carrying your light stands.

These things are super easy to buy, make, carry and use. They give you a versatility and look that you simply cannot get with your normal-sized umbrellas and/or softboxes. We'll definitely be using them further along in the Lighting Cookbook.

As far as DIY light mods go, this is as close to a no-brainer as it gets.

FROM: Strobist Lighting Cookbook, Odds and Ends


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