Large Photography Soft Box on the Cheap

Introduction: Large Photography Soft Box on the Cheap

About: Special Effects designer, nerd, maker, a monocle and high collared cape away from being a mad scientist.

Here is a oldie but goodie from my podcast MechanicalMashup. You can view the video below on the build...

 I was in need of a couple of large soft box lighting systems for my podcast MechanicalMashup. Now going out and seeing how much these cost caused me a nearly catastrophic tube failure in the brain. I knew that I could build these for around 50 dollars a piece with stuff from the hardware store saving me thousands of dollars, yes thousands!

-Hand saw
-PVC cutter (If you dont have one of these see the item above? It will do)
-Utility knife
-Drill or screwdriver

Raw Materials:
-4'x4' black coroplast (From HomeDepot)
-Aluminium tape (In the heating section of HomeDepot)
-6 3/4" PVC 'T's
-8 3/4" PVC caps
-2 8' lengths of 3/4" PVC
-2 1" PVC 'T's
-2 1" to 3/4" reducer 
Note sometimes you can find a PVC 'T' that is 1" and 3/4" combined so you can forgo the reducer
-2 6 plug power bars
-6 Plug in light sockets (You can get these in the electrical section at HomeDepot)
-1 3 to 1 plug socket
-2 coat hangers
-3 DuckTape (what would a ible be without the handy mans tape?)
-1/4 or 3/8 plywood 12"x3'
-Screws 3/4 to 1 inch long and #6 size
-PVC hangers
-CFL lamps (all spectrum 23 watt preferably)

The 3D CAD model for this in the free CAD package Sketchup is here:

Files for the 3D model

Oh and here is a pop out reflector and or chroma key you can use in conjunction with this LINK

AHHH HA! so to play the movie on my computer you have to click on the movie and then hit the space bar. No idea as to why you cannot just hit play. So for those not able to view the video try that first.

Step 1: Reflector

The reflector is just the coroplast, and aluminium tape.
-First cut out the coroplast (in this case 3'x2') so that the flutes or the tubes run along the 3' lenght (This is very important)
-Now using the aluminium tape cover one side of the coroplast

Step 2: Shape the Relector

-Along the 3' length of the reflector measure 9" in from each side and fold it along these edges.
-Cut and straighten both coat hangers
-Place a piece of duck tape half on half off along the 2' edge and flip the coroplast over
-Place one of the straightened coat hangers on top of the sticky side of the overhanging tape and up against the edge of the coroplast
-Wrap the duck tape over the coat hangers and over the back edge of the coroplast
-Cut the parts of the coat hanger off that stick out from the edges and then tape over them
-Repeat on the other side
-Now re-bend the folds you made in the first step but now it will hold its bent shape.

Step 3: Place Backing Board and Mount Electrical Thingys

-Now cut a piece of plywood 5" wide and 2'6" long
-Tape it in position on the back (the non shiny side) of the center panel centered both top to bottom and side to side
-Roughly place out the powerbars along the 3' length and centered on the center panel (If you are one of those 'precise' people then measure this out but it really is a waste of time)
-Flip the reflector over and position powerbars and mark 2 places each for the screw holes on the back of each 
-Place two screws for each power bar through the coroplast into the plywood leaving them proud so you can mount the powerbars

Step 4: Finish Off the Reflector

-Cut two holes big enough to pass the power bar cords out the back of the reflector
-get the 3 to one plug in and plug both power bars into it
-place 6 plug in light sockets evenly spaced into the powerbars
-screw in CFL's

The reflector is done! 

Step 5: PVC Frame... the Bases

Inspired by the PDF book Tinker Tubes (LINK)
I built the frame to hold the reflector. Pretty simple really first we make two bases that compose of 3 'T's each and 4 end caps (all 3/4 inch), 2 x 3" lengths of 3/4 PVC tube and 4 x 16" lengths of tube (I guessed the lengths of tubes) 

Then put in (but dont glue) a 3-4' pipe up the center 

Make two

Step 6: Clip on Friction Fit Height Adjuster

 The Clip on friction fit height adjuster or CFFHA ( the sound I make when someone punches me in the gut :) ) is one of the coolest things Tinker Tubes the PDF mentioned at the begining has to offer. The build of it is in the video as well


-Take the 1" 'T' PVC fitting and glue two 2" pipe pieces into it along the one axis that has two holes in the 'T'
-Then cut length ways along the nipples in two spots and fitting to create a gap about 60 degrees apart (have a look at the pictures and this will make sense I swear)
-Trim up the ends of the pipe that sticks out so they are flush with the fitting (this is an optional step)
-Glue in the 3/4 to 1 inch reducer in the remaining hole

Step 7: Final Assembly

I love it when a plan comes together....

-Now on the reflector at the middle of it along the height screw on some PVC pipe mounts (see the first picture) with a 24" piece of 3/4 PVC captured in it
-Snap on the two fittings made in the last step each to the uprights from step 5 
-Mount the ends of the 24" tube you just screwed to the back of the reflector
-Adjust the light to the right angle and plug it in
-You can glue the rest of the fittings in but I like being able to collapse the light to store it and travel. The friction of the fittings seems to be enough to be stable.

Now I know some of you will say that it is not dimmable, you are right, sort of. You can mix differing brightness CFLs as they are easy to change or what I did was put in 6 23 watt CFLs. If the box is too bright then un screw one and if that is not dim enough un screw another repeat as nessasary.

Also to note is that like any flourscent light you need to give them 5-10 min to warm  up to full brightness.

This also works great for a shop light that can pretty much be mounted 

Remember that if this is not fully clear to you to watch the podcast video at the beginning of the instructable. Also the other project in the video is also on instructables at:
Rain Shield for your Camera

Oh and here is a pop out reflector and or chroma key you can use with this light LINK


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    10 Discussions


    4 years ago

    has anybody tried making this with silver metalic spray paint?
    i also painted my car with a roller and some Aluminium Killrust paint and i think that might work well too for the reflector


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks. I'm going to make one myself.

    I thought of a couple improvements that you might want to consider. Put an additional horizontal PVC as you did on top, but closer to the floor to increase stability. Also add a white fabric over the the box to make a soft box light whenever you don't want to cast hard shadows (too hot).

    About the video. Oy...those commercials are annoying. Now that I got that off my chest, your lights are way too bright for your light color skin. I noticed a little washout when you wore your country gear. Perhaps a simple white card reflector on the other side of your face might have balanced out the brightness in your camera.


    10 years ago on Step 1

    Sadly I could not find any coroplast at any local hardware store :(.  So I settled on 1/4'' ply, making appropriate cuts, and using door hinges :).


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    you can use carboard too, just apply some enamel all over to make it waterproof ;-)


    8 years ago on Introduction


    Have you tried spray gluing Alum foil as opposed to using tin-tape, as tintape is pricey? should get the same results...

    Great job though added to my to-build list....

     Is it just me that the video will not play for? It did work last night and now the video does not seem  to play....


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Works fine for me. Thanks for the Instructable.
    Definitely grabbing the supplies for a couple of them on payday.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

     Cool! Just my puter then... Make sure to post some pics and update us on any modifications you may do. 


    10 years ago on Introduction

    looks fun, you should include a picture of your finished product and some comparison lighting shots.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

     Added the pictures as you requested thanks for the help in making the ible better Mike