Build a Photography Studio: Softbox, Directional and Umbrella





Introduction: Build a Photography Studio: Softbox, Directional and Umbrella

About: I'm Awesome!

Photography is essentially capturing rays of light through a (short) window in time and holding it as a static, 2D image. Light captured in the photograph is controlled by 4 parameters:

1. Aperture size. This is the size of the "window" inside the camera allowing light to strike the film/photosite . Bigger windows (smaller f stop numbers) provide a sharp image at the right focal length only. Smaller windows (bigger f stop numbers) provide a greater depth of field.
2. Shutter Speed. This is the length of time that the shutter allows light to pass through to the film/image sensor. Numbers are described in fractions of one second, so higher numbers are actually shorter amount of time (1/500 second). Shorter shutter speeds create sharper images of moving objects.
3. ISO. Is an international standard of film speed declaring how sensitive the film is to light. A film speed of 400 is twice as sensitive to light as a film speed of 200. Digital cameras maintain these exposure settings for consistency.
4. External Light Source. Sunlight, artificial light, flash bulbs and lamps. Usually more is better. This Instructable's focus will be to shedd light on External Light Sources.

The more control the artist has over the lighting conditions, the more control the artist has over the final image. This is why photographers use a studio with adjustable, bright lights. A bare bulb or lamp creates sharp shadows that often distort the way the 3D subject is perceived. The goal is to create a light source that can be viewed as a single source, to cast a shadow and show definition of the subject, but dispersed enough to cast soft shadows.

My Instrucable will demonstrate how I made a studio with a Softbox, a Directional and an Umbrella to create the lighting conditions I want.

by Steve Glen

Step 1: Softbox

Floor lamp
Aluminum foil
Metal coat hangers
Clear packing tape
White tissue paper
60 W natural white compact fluorescent

Exacto knife (I like the orange handle ones because they are thin and precise)

1. Twist the coat hangers with the pliers to give a frame that will incorporate a large space around the fluorescent bulb: 14-18 inches side to side with 6-10 inches front to back. The idea is to give an even light source so round the backdrop. Tape it up.
2. Apply the foil by bending the top 1-2 cm of the foil over top of the hangers. Foil without wrinkles creates an even and beautiful reflector. Secure it with tape.
3. Stretch the tissue paper across the frame to create an even screen and tape it up.
4. Install the light bulb.

Pro Softboxes are completely enclosed but I left mine without a lid allowing light to bounce off the ceiling to simulate natural light. I choose the white fluorescent because it is brighter than tungsten and I don't need to correct my white balance as much as I would with tungsten.

Step 2: "Directional"

Bedside lamp
Aluminum foil
Metal coat hangers
Clear packing tape
Black electrical tape
White glue
White tissue paper
60 W natural white compact fluorescent

Exacto knife

1. First, visualize the intended screen; then visualize the reflector. Make the reflector screen by bending the coat hangers into a symmetrical reflector frame 22-30 inches wide and 22-30 inches high.
2. Use electrical tape to secure the frame to the base of the lamp.
3. Foil the frame with clever taping skills.

4. Bend the coat hangers into the shape of your desired screen.
5. Use electrical tape to secure the frame to the base of the lamp.
6. White glue a three strips (1-2 inches wide) of tissue paper around the screen frame. This is done for two reasons: it softens the look of the screen by slightly hiding the wire, and it provides a small cushion to keep the screen from ripping as it is moved around.
7. Tape, using packing tape, the tissue paper to build the screen then cut off excess paper.
8. Install light bulb.

With a much larger, flatter reflector this light provides a much softer light source than the softbox. The reflector is angled to push nearly all the light back through the screen; this photo shows the final shape of the reflector but the screen was adjusted to nearly parallel with the screen.

Step 3: Umbrella

Umbrella, large
Aluminum foil
Boom microphone stand
Clear packing tape
Black electrical tape
White glue
White tissue paper
3 million candle power rechargeable spotlight ($20-$35)

Exacto knife

1. Trace the pie shape pieces of the cover and cut a foil template. Use the template to make (8) reflector sheets. White glue tissue paper to each of these wedge slices.
2. White glue the wedges to the open umbrella. Trim excess.
3. Build a 60 degree cone of foil and place it around the tube between the stretchers and the top cap of the umbrella.
4. Anticipating the weight of the spotlight, mount the umbrella through the microphone stand with plenty of packing tape for strength and a little electrical tape for colour.
5. Install the spotlight at the end of the umbrella. Use packing tape to secure the light on the top side of the umbrella tube with the spotlight facing towards the foil cone. Remember to keep the trigger accessible and that tape acts as heat insulator; too much around the body of the spotlight will cause it to overheat.

This Umbrella becomes an incredible tool for fill flash. Spotlights will have a warmer colour then the natural lights so using this setup is an easy way to warm up your photos.

Step 4: Studio Prep

The Studio is your personal adjustment environment. Foil up those windows to block or retain light. Foil covered in tissue paper is an excellent ceiling reflector used to bounce flash off the ceiling creating more natural looking shots.

Build a simple, exaggerated backdrop. Take many test photos to see what works. You would be surprised (positively and negatively) at what some backgrounds appear through a camera.

Create a comfortable environment for you and your subjects. Set up a stereo, bring in some plants or whatever it is that makes you feel free to create anything you visualize.

Have Fun!

Step 5: Photos

Steve Glen

Created 2007

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Finalist in the
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    7 Discussions


    2 years ago

    You can also get aluminum tape in building material stores that will help with the ribs of the umbrella. It is also good for the edges of the aluminum foil used to light proof windows. I constantly find uses for it. Reflects heat as well.

    Thanks for this. Reminds me that you don't have to spend a fortune on equipment with some creativity.
    Have you concidered using spray glue to adhere the foil to backing and tissue to foil? Might cut dry time and won't see the glue lines?
    Cheers and thanks again for posting.

     Thanks for this it was one of the inspirations for my ible here Next build for me is the umbrella version you made. 

    Thanks. I had a lot of fun making this project and snapping photos!

    Looks like a fun project. And a good way to learn about how light works.