DIY photography gear being all the rage, and me being a bit of a Mr Fix-it, I decided to see if I could build my own soft box.
I feel that I should start this blog by telling you that you can buy a mini-soft box for fairly cheap, but if you’re like me and like building stuff (or are incredibly skint), read on…
To build one like mine, you’re going to need the following stuff:
- Most importantly – the diffusing material. I used a very thin cutting board that I found at the local supermarket. You might also be able to use: A piece of a white, translucent shower curtain, a thin white plastic bag or a piece of white silk. What’s important is that whatever material you use, it has to be white and let some light through.
- A few cereal boxes – if you have any that are white on the inside, it would be better than the natural colored ones that I used.
- Some black tape – for that professional look.
- Some sticky Velcro.
- You also need a ruler, a utility knife or scissors and a pen or pencil.
To start off, measure the top and side of you flash head. Add about 1 cm or a 1/4 in. because it doesn’t need to be that snug. Also, measure how deep it can go onto the head. I found that 7 x 4 x 4 cm (2.75 x 1.5 x 1.5 inches) works well for a Nikon SB-800.
Take your cereal boxes and draw two rectangles of about 17 x 24 cm (6.75 x 9.5 inches). Please note that you can make your soft box any size you want, I just found that this is a good size. If you don’t want to do too much math you can just use the measurements that I give you (and they’ll, uh, probably work just fine.)
Draw a line through the middle of the wide side of the cardboard (at 12 cm, duh). Use this line to center the wide measurements of the flash head. If the top of your flash head is 7 cm wide, you want to measure 3.5 cm either way from the center line and make two marks. Then measure 4 cm into the cardboard for the depth and use that point to measure 3.5 cm on either side again (confusing, I know… just look at the picture and use your noodle).
From the two corners of the new rectangle, draw a straight line to the far corners of the cardboard.
Cut it and trace it onto the second piece of cardboard. These two pieces will make the top and bottom piece of the soft box. To figure out the side pieces, you might just need to do a little math…
If you have an SB-800 and are following my measurements, cut a rectangle 14 x 17 cm (5.5 x 6.75 inches) then follow the directions above, but make the rectangle for the flash head 4 cm wide, not 7.
If you’re using different measurements, use the following math equation to figure it out:
Take the measurement from the wide side of the piece you just made (X1). Multiply it by the measurement of the side of you flash (Y2). Then divide that number from the measurement of the top of your flash head (X2). This should give you the right length to make the wide end of the side pieces (Y1). Don’t let the Xs and Ys scare you, this isn’t that hard to do. Note that mine didn’t come out perfectly, but it was really close.
Next, tape them together leaving a little space in-between each panel so it will fold up easily.
After it’s all together, measure the front for your diffusion material and add a little (say 3mm or 1/8 an inch). This will be the size of the front of your soft box. I’m not going t give you the measurements that I used because I cut mine a bit too small and you probably didn’t make all your measurements perfectly either, so sizes are going to vary a little.
Add about 2cm or an inch to that rectangle and mark it on your diffusion material.
Cut some notches on each corner so you can fold it.
I needed to score the cutting board that I was using to be able to fold it. You may or may not have to, depending on what diffusion material you use. I didn’t score it enough and it cracked in one spot so I covered that with gaffer’s tape. It’s right on the edge so it doesn’t affect the light.
Next tape everything up and add the Velcro to the edge of the soft box and the diffusion material.
Add a little Velcro to the back flaps, the front edges and the diffusing material and Bob’s yer uncle!
If you’re careful about all those measurements, you should be able to fold it up.
Here’s a picture without the diffusion material on the front. Note that it’s a really good idea to always use a dome diffuser on your flash when using a soft box like this. If you don’t have one, be sure to set the flash head to its widest setting. Also note that I used white tape that I had lying around to make the inside of the box white. I think this also helped to make the soft box a bit stronger, but you could also use white spray paint… Just get the inside white so that it reflects a much light as possible.
Here’s a picture of the quality of light coming through the soft box as seen on a white wall.
And here’s a comparison of the effect on a small subject.
Note that these small soft boxes aren’t going to help soften the light if your subject is more than a few feet away, but they’re great for macro work and close portraits!
Also have a look at my blog about general DIY Photography Gear.