Instructables
Picture of DIY Softbox from an umbrella
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As a devout reader of David Hobby's wonderful blog "Strobist" I have a great debt to pay to the online photo community for teaching me much of what I know about photography and in particular... lighting. This is my humble attempt at giving something back.

So this buddy of mine has a really cool 26" softbox (Wescott Apollo) that is unique in that it has an internal umbrella shaft and can be used with an ordinary lightstand and speedlight, without any additional hardware. So these softboxes are great, except they cost $140 USD so I set out to make something similar for $23 and it works like a champ! I also wanted something that looked at least sort-of professional, was collapsable and fully portable.

What you will need:

1 45" Westcott silvered on the inside, black on the outside umbrella (needs 8 internal ribs and MUST be a single fold design, ie. NOT a compact umbrella)
4" of 16ga wire
1yd translucent fabric
thread

Tools:
pliers
wire cutters
needle or sewing machine
tape measure

These two photos show the starting umbrella and what the inside will look like with a strobe in place
 
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Step 1: Remove the fabric from the frame

Picture of Remove the fabric from the frame
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So your umbrella needs to have 8 "legs", and you need to carefully cut the threads on EVERY OTHER leg, that hold it to the fabric. The goal is to then pivot the 4 (now) free-floating legs to be paired with each of the adjacent 4 still attached legs.

After you cut the outer threads attached to the tips of the metal supports, you will need to re-glue the tips back on to prevent them from poking through the outer fabric.

Step 2: Tape the free floating legs to the still attached ones

Picture of Tape the free floating legs to the still attached ones
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Just use a couple inches of gaffers tape for this.

Now you should have an umbrella with four doubled legs
KayB641 year ago
You can purchase different types of ripstop nylons from Seattle Fabrics.

http://www.seattlefabrics.com/nylons.html
Great idea, I had actually done the same thing a while back and it served it's purpose well. One thing that I did notice about your setup is that you are very limited in the angle you can place the softbox at due to how it is mounted . The part that will tilt is inside the box. To remedy this would be a great addition to this technique. I have mounted strobes in the rear through a hole, mounted them externally to shoot into a hole in the diffusion fabric, etc. Thanks for sharing!
 Does anyone know where to get the fabric that is on the umbrella? I would rather get a few yards of it and use it to build from scratch.

Ben
Very nice! Looks like some serious sewing, but I bet some fabric tape would do the trick for those of us not too good at sewing...
What will happen if the umbrella I use have a purple exterior? Will the shot be purplish?
no unlessyou have stuff behind your softbox that can reflect it back onto the mimage. if you have a white diffusion, that should be good enough. just make sure the reflective material is is not so transparent that the purple can be seen
mce1286 years ago
Cool idea, but I have a couple suggestions to make it even better, and more like a standard softbox, and not really add about a buck or two to the cost for some extra fabric . First turn the light around so it is shooting outward and move it back a little deeper into the umbrella, the reflectivity of the lining will serve to help direct any stray light caused by my next suggestion outward. Secondly, add a second panel of the translucent fabric about 1" - 2" inside from the outer sheet (this is typical in a softbox.) This will spread the light and make it so the outer panel won't have a hotspot in the middle from turning the light around. You should wind up with better output with the flash facing forward.
sdhigbee (author)  mce1286 years ago
Great feedback! The reason I kept the light facing backwards was to increase the uniformity of the lightsource (from the small strobe head) but had I built the face of it with a double layer of fabric, it would have mitigated this as well. I didn't think of the double layer idea... it would eat some light, but would probably help the quality of the light.
mce128 sdhigbee6 years ago
Yeah, it will eat a little light, but probably less than is lost by having it reflect off the back for primary lighting. It definately gives you very nice quality light to have the double fabric. White rip-stop nylon works really well.
paultsmith6 years ago
excuse me if I am being negative but here is a thought. Why bother with the entire mod, couldn't you just have placed the diffusion screen on the umbrella without having to do all of the work of shortening, wiring, sewing and making the box rectangular? I was thinking of using this as a regular reflective umbrella but putting a diffusion screen on the outside. Wouldn't that accomplish what you have hear, except the catch lights would be circular rather than square? Great mod with excellent level of detail.
sdhigbee (author)  paultsmith6 years ago
That is a great idea, but one of my goals was to get a square reflection and hence a square light source. You could easily built an octabank by doing exactly what you describe, with much less effort, but then you are back to the same round/spoked reflections.
Wayfarer6 years ago
I did this a while ago, and it's an idea that works. The one I have now is starting to peel a bit these days, so perhaps it's time for a new one. Not a bad investment for a cheap brolly and a can of silver paint though - I made this current one in 1964...
You made the last one in 1964.. which means you will have a few good old-time instructables in your pockets to share with us youngsters :-P
Well - I shudder to think of the home-made photography gear I've thrown out over the years in house moves - wish I had some of it back just for old times sake. Everything from spotlights and floodlights (anyone remember photofloods?) to coffee-tin enlargers and 'electronic' (well, they had knobs on!) darkroom exposure meters (several of each). Flash-guns (bulb!!) from cake-times and folding colanders. In photography, as in most other things, I've rarely bought anything I thought I could make. And even the failures always taught something. Thing is, most were answers to problems since solved by technology. Like wire close-up frames for a hand-focused cameras - long before autofocus, when even a decent manual SLR was beyond the dreams of avarice. Dimmers and cross-faders for slide projectors - but who uses projectors these days? Even - with a group of others, years ago - a 5x4 studio camera, later sold for charity. I'll have to think about how much is still applicable in digital days - that people in here haven't already thought of (and they seem to have thought of pretty much everything!). Problem is, these days, I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast! My most recent idea is for a bank of electronic flash, made up from cheap disposable cameras - but I'm going to have to find someone who knows more about modern electronics than I do...
dombeef6 years ago
Cool!!
codester6 years ago
Sweet! I really want to make one of these!
mantislee6 years ago
Excellent mod! I mainly use my two Westcott collapsible white shoot-thru umbrellas and my silver just sits in the corner. I've been considering buying a softbox, but this mod might just work. Strobist fame in 5...4...3...2...1...
LinuxH4x0r6 years ago
Very nice! Simple, but effective.