Tuesday, 5 February 2008


So just like everyone else I decided I should try my hand at making a DIY ringlight. My first attempt, before Christmas was based on the design by Paul Duncan. The main modification I made was to mount the whole thing vertically using a mic stand. I drew an elipse using the loop of string and a pencil technique and made sure the axes where in the ratio of 1 to the square root of 2. In use it was pretty good for a head shot so long as you had a big enough gobo to stop the flash lighting the subject directly. But for general use it was too big and too stationary.

I wanted a really portable ring flash that would be suitable for people and things. There is no shortage of designs knocking around the strobist community but the problem I had with most of them was the mounting the flash to the camera bit. I just couldn't be bothered messing around with bending bits of metal and sourcing bolts, nor did I think you could get away with leaving the flash in the hotshoe. I made a few prototypes of my own designs but then when I saw the ring light made by Tanya Shields I loved the simple design that allowed you to hold the flash in one hand and the camera in the other.

I had been on the look out for likely materials for a week or two then on a trip into London I visited the giant Paperchase store on Tottenham Court Road. The top floor has nearly every paper and other flat craft meterial you could want (but no coroplast). I found some A3 sheets of polypropolene for £1.25 each and bought up some in back, white and colourless translucent. I also got some mirror card (£3 for A2).

I started off by drawing around a dinner plate on the back of the mirror card. I also drew around a flash head to make sure the opening would be the right size.

Then I drew around the lens hood for my largest lens. I placed it in the centre of the dinner plate circle, well roughly in the centre.

Next I cut it out.

I then turned my attention to the translucent polypropolene. I drew around the mirror card shape then drew in tabs. I cut this whole shape out and scored the tabs so they would easily bend.

To make the mirrored sides I cut strips of mirror card with tabs down one side. I scored the tabs.

Sticking the sides to the back was not easy as I only had PVA to hand. I used the whole contents of the grocery cupboard to persuade everything to keep still while the glue set. If I did it again I'd use a different glue.

And then after much drying time the finished reflector.

I used tape to stick the tabs of the diffuser to the sides of the reflector. To stiffen everything up I glued some corrugated cardboard to the back of the whole unit. In the area the flash connects I glued on 2 more peices of cardboard to provide a firm support for the unit when hand holding it by the flash (making sure the "grain" pf thecorrugations went in different directions in each peice for maximum strength)

To test the ringflash I mounted it on a tripod with the camera on another tripod behind and shot a couple of self portraits. Later in the day I tried hand holding the flash and camera. I found both techniques were easy to do and got nice results.

I tried both a shot lit only by the new ringlight (top of post) and one balanced with the ambient (below). I feel I should explain the top picture: I started the ringlight on Sunday evening and had hoped to finish it off on Monday after work. Unfortunately on Monday afternoon I got ill at work and had to go to hospital in an ambulance. I didn't get home home from A&E until late so I had to postpone the ringflash project. I did however get a souvenir of my hospital visit so decied to use it in one of the portraits.

After the first couple of uses I refined the design slightly. I covered the unit in gaffer tape so it looked a bit nicer and I added some cardboard and gaffer tape ridges to the flash mounting area to more securely join the flash to the ring when hand holding.

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