Friday, January 16, 2009

DIY Light Panels

So, we all know photo gear is well worth its weight in, well...carbon fiber, maybe. Lighter is better right? Enter the world of reflectors and diffusers. They go with us everywhere: on location, in the studio, the family room on Christmas morning. Portability is key.

Lenses are worth every penny we spend. Good glass cannot be substituted (probably just ticked off some Holga and Lomo fans, but i don't care). Doesn't everyone drool just a little bit when you hear the word Profoto? However, sometimes, just sometimes, you have a hard time convincing yourself to get out your wallet and buy the gear. Radio transmitters are just a few dollars worth of plastics and electronics, right? $40.00 dollars for Tupperware® over your flash? $200.00 plus for light panels (isn't it really just semi-transparent, high-quality fabric and some molded plastic or aluminum framing?).

I decided to build a couple of them to decide for myself.

The PVC is all 1/2" and no individual component is longer than around 30". This means i can tear it down and set it up easily, and its is very travel worthy.

PVC and all connector pieces was procured from a local hardware store for $12.00.

10' 1/2" lengths x3
1/2" "T" adapter x4
1/2" female threaded adapter x2
1/2" male threaded adapter x6

All pipes were cut (vice and hacksaw) to proper sizing and connector pieces were adhered with standard PVC cement (i had this on hand already, but can be found anywhere PVC is sold for just a few dollars).

The fabric is white satin from a local fabric store. It was on sale @ 30%. $22.00 before tax.

72x60" x2

I used Velcro (purchased from the fabric store) and quilt binding as a backing for the Velcro to reinforce the satin. This should help prevent any tearing of the satin from repetitive "Velcro action".

3yds Velcro @ $11.00
6yds quilt binding @5.50

The short (cut) ends of the satin needs to be hemmed so it will not fray. The hook (hard) side of the Velcro is stitched onto the hemmed edge with the quilt binding underneath. The loop (soft) side is stitched 5" in from the hemmed edge with quilt binding under. This 5" allowance provides room for the 1/2" PVC.

The PVC assembles in an "I" formation. A center post provides easy attachment for a support system. I used a Manfrotto Super Clamp with Manfrotto Magic Arm.

All materials purchased for this project totaled less than $60.00

As an afterthought, color coding the appropriate connectors and PVC pipes will allow for quick assembly. Colored electrical tape or a multicolor permanent marker set would work perfectly.

Here are a few shots using the new panels.




For the record, they do work pretty well. I have used many great products over the years and have found very few DIY products that compare to quality built photographic product. At the very least, the value gained in building something yourself is lost when you have to repair or rebuild it because of wear and tear.

This was a fun project and I already have ideas for modifying it to be more versatile. I will keep you posted...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Slow-Sync Flash for High Speed Photography...

To understand a bit about how flashes can freeze your subject matter, you need to know how flashes operate. Hot shoe flashes or speedlights/speedlites (depending on your brand) use power settings based upon duration of light. Longer duration equals more light in an image and shorter durations will provide less light to an image. Available power and flash duration are very important specifications to understand when attempting this style of photography.

As a general rule, the lowest power setting of your speedlight will be the shortest duration. This is crucial for freezing your subject.

Images in this post were shot through a 16x22" Photoflex softbox to provide the style of light I wanted to achieve. However, using a light modifier, like a soft box or umbrella, will diminish the power output of your light. Therefore, having enough light fall onto the subject without sacrificing any time is absolutely imperative. A simple solution is to cram as many lights inside the modifier as necessary to achieve the proper light output. Leave all your lights on the lowest power/shortest duration. (Tip: If you are using multiple heads in one modifier, try using only one model of flash as variances between brands and products will occur. Flash duration at the same power ratio may be different from one model to the next.)
All shots were captured with Bulb exposure and appropriate apertures for Depth of Field. ISO value was adjusted to compensate for different aperture settings. Two Nikon SB-800's were placed inside the 16x22" box and were triggered by PlusII Pocketwizards. Water drops from a straw created the splashes in the milk and ice cubes were used in the orange juice for a greater displacement of liquid.

A final thought about light contamination. Obviously using any long exposure (in this case, Bulb) the camera will see any spill of light from any other light source. The ambient environment in the shooting room was VERY low to avoid as much unnecessary light as possible from entering the lens. Lens hoods were used to keep lens flare out and the box was feathered away from the camera to avoid any light spill from its face.

Thanks to my assistant Megan.

Hope you enjoyed the quick tutorial. Please drop a note here if you have any questions.