DIY Softbox (Make your own cheap light mod!)

Flash. The Saviour of the Universe. Now your Flash can be made flattering for next to no cost with this quick guide!

The softbox in action with one Flash inside. 

I think everyone that gets involved in Strobism has a leaning towards DIY photography set-ups. Whether it's a simple Pringles Can Snoot, a spanky, swashbuckling Lightsabre, or an involved DIY Beauty Dish, chances are if you identify as a strobist photographer, you've had a go at one of these, at least. 

I've had a go at the lot of them. The Pringles Can was a success, the Lightsabre was fun if flimsy and the Beauty Dish made me realise that I didn't have any of the welding tools or knowhow to make it / not kill myself. Unfortunately, it was the beauty dish that I was most into. You can buy snoots for next to nothing on eBay and Lidl and Aldi regularly stock Lightsabre style lights when they do deals for Mechanics, etc. But beauty dishes or softboxes were not as easy to come by - not to mention, they cost quite a bit.

I'd shelled out for two Ezyboxes over the past five years and while they do their job really, really well, they're not very rugged. The velcro becomes easily worn, they don't handle wind or rain very well at all and constant use seems to wear out the metal support inside, making them droop sadly over time. They're handy for small studios and maybe they fare better in more friendly climates' than Irelands, but for me, they'd run their course.

It was an afternoon with Declan Murphy where I discovered the DIY softbox. I take very little credit for the design - Declan had pretty much designed the whole thing himself. If anything, I'm the stealing bowsey that's popularising it. Anyway, let's get to the important bits.
 

Another shot taken using the DIY Softbox

 

To make a DIY Softbox, you will need:

  • Any clear plastic Storage container with a removable lid. (€12.99 in Woodies)
  • An emergency blanket - the silver shiny kind (€1.49 in Dealz)
  • Black Gaffa Tape (€2.50 in local Hardware Shop)
  • Cable Ties (€1.49 Dealz)
  • Sandpaper
  • A Screwdriver
  • A Candle 
  • The Hotshoe stand that comes with the Flash
  • A Marker / Felt Tip Pen

While we had most of this stuff in our possession, the whole lot should easily come to under €30 altogether. 

 

It doesn't look like much, but by taking off her glasses and letting down her hair, we're gonna turn this mundane storage box into a fantastic piece of lighting equipment that will be the belle of the ball. 

It doesn't look like much, but by taking off her glasses and letting down her hair, we're gonna turn this mundane storage box into a fantastic piece of lighting equipment that will be the belle of the ball. 

Now that you've all the gear, let's start with the lid of the Storage box. The emergency blanket needs to be cut up, flattened and gaffa taped to the inside of the lid. It's as easy as that. This basically forces the light out of the other end of the box - no lost light. 

I'm so handy with gaffa tape. Look at that professional application. 

I'm so handy with gaffa tape. Look at that professional application. 

Now with the storage box lidless, take the container bit and sandpaper and sand down the bottom of the storage container. This is essentially the point where the light will be coming out. Sanding both the outside and the inside of the box will make it opaque and soften the light coming through. Sand until you have a nice even surface that you can no longer see clearly though.

It doesn't look it, but man does it feel amazing after a good sanding. It really softens the light too!

It doesn't look it, but man does it feel amazing after a good sanding. It really softens the light too!

Now, with the gaffa tape again, tape up the sides of the container. You don't want the light spilling out everywhere and the tape will prevent it coming out of anywhere else but the 'front'. As you may have noticed from the above image, you'll want to gaffa a little lip on the front too, to ensure the spill of light is minimised and it's directional too. Brilliant, that's the exterior all sorted so.


You all still with me? 
 

Now, take your Hotshoe Stand and place it at one of the short ends of the boxes interior, about midway in. Trace around it with a Sharpie. 

Now for the bit that exposes my lack of understanding of DIY in general... Light your candle, hold the end of the screwdriver directly over the flame for about 20 seconds and it will be hot enough to slide though the plastic with a bit of force. Hey, it works. I'm open to better suggestions, though! 

Create small holes at points around the Stand. Using the cable ties, lock in the stand so it doesn't move. Keep the locking parts (the square ends that keep it held together) on the outside of the box so that they don't get in the way of the flash attaching to the stand. 

But Jesus lads, be careful with this bit. Last thing I want is someone impaling themselves with a hot and waxy screwdriver. 

Sharpie lines still intact and cable tied down. This sucker doesn't *budge*. My thigh suffered only minimal shanking related injuries.

Sharpie lines still intact and cable tied down. This sucker doesn't *budge*. My thigh suffered only minimal shanking related injuries.

And that's it. Repeat the above step again at the other end of the box to ensure a nice even spread of light throughout. Stick the flash in, point it back towards the reflective lid, close it up and get your assistant to hold this lightweight, awesome mod at flattering angles and you're quids in! You can't get better than this for the price!

The finished product. Just the one flash in it, but it's enough!

The finished product. Just the one flash in it, but it's enough!

Below are some other sample shots from the box. Any questions or comments are welcomed! I hope you get use out of this and if you do make one and use it, why not pop a link to your work in the comments below? Good luck!

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