DIY: Soft Light Panel - Small Improvements (Part 2 of 3)

Improving Light Panel_038A lot has been said about Light Panels and the use of them.

This simple home made panel can make a huge difference on how your light will fall into the subject. You can use it as a reflecting surface as a shot through or simply as a fill.

The light is very soft and will wrap around your subjects in such a way that after you test it you will not want another thing.

If you have already build yours with the guidance I explained at DIY: Soft Light Panel - Basics (Part 1 of 3) now it's time to improve or tweak it a little with some small features.

The small improvements, you can make them yourself, and you will see that they will not cost you too much money and time to put together.

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First let's start by cutting our sheet of white or black fabric (1,25 m (L) x 2,10 m (H)) to the measures of our tube structure in this case 1m long x 2m tall.

Many of you were mailing me advising that you can get inexpensive pieces of Ripstop fabric (this stuff is used to make Hot Air Balloons and Parachutes). You can find them at Fabrics-n-Stuff in the UK (I've made a link on the "Stores in Europe" at the right side panel for future references).

Anyway, since I couldn't find the Ripstop fabric here and by the time I'm writing this I couldn't have any available I just made mine with a normal white fabric.
Pay attention not to get the silky shiny ones since they will block more light than the normal white fabric.

My advice is: when you're buying the fabric take your strobe with you and test it on the store to see how much light will come through it and by doing this you can choose what best fabric will serve your purpose.

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I put the assembled frame on the floor over the fabric so I can better see what I'm cutting. Choose one the corners of the fabric and align it.

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This is how much fabric space I'm leaving after cutting it out. By doing this you will have some spare tissue to adjust and stretch the panel later on.

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Now get the scissors and start cutting. Remember that with the measures of the fabric you will only be cutting 2 parts of the fabric. One on the tallest and another on the widest side.

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Here is the final shot after all cutting. See the small amount of fabric out of the frame?
I left mine 6cm all around from the edges since this is more than enough.

Now let's move into a part that many of you were asking about.

How to make this thing stand up?

Well, I use my panel with no legs because because I attach it to another panel with some collars joints. This will give me some more flexibility on where I can use it and even to transport it.

Anyway I will put here some photo options that you can make yourself and decide what best suits you.

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Here is the joints or collars (Colliers in French) bought this at LeRoy Merlin in France and they are part of the water tube section on the hardware store.
They are used to joint tubes together and be fixed on a wall as you can see by the center screw it has. They come in a pack of 5 and the pack costs 2.20 euros.

I also bought a screw and a nut so I can join 2 together so this will make a jointing section.

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Here is the picture of what I mean earlier when I said join them together.
You simply have to remove the inner nut, that comes already with the collar, because the one that comes won't let you screw completely.

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When you join them together they will look like this and they are ready to be used.

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A close up of the collar joining 2 panels together.

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I use 2 of these to assure that the panels stay firmly connected and standing straight.

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Full panels joint together with 2 collars. This is practical because you can move the panels around until you get the position you like.

You can even put one white and the other black to prevent flare on the camera or background or put a white fabric on each and create a folded white panel for something you need.
I leave those options up to you.

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You can use 45º joints to put in between the 1 meter tall tubes and get some feet for your panel.

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Here is what it will look like after making this. In this picture the panel is not standing straight because the tube for the feet was too small I didn't have a longer one so I just used a 1m to show you what this will look like but you will need at least a tube of 1,5m or 1,75m long so it can be straight.

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Another option is to use the previous made joint collars to put up 2 feet's.

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This is what it will look like.

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And another shot of it standing up. As you can see I left the 45º joints so you can compare both and decide.

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Last option for the feet standing is to use one of your spare stands and lean it to it on one side. In this example I used a Nano01 from Manfrotto that I normally carry with the strobes.

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Another view of the stand holding the Panel. I put the stand visible so you can see what I mean but normally I do not put it on the middle of the panel because this can cause a shadow on the subject. You just put it lean on one side and it will hold the panel. In case you want to keep it firm use just use a clamp to hold it better.

Now let's move to improve the quick assembly process so you won't stick your head on the ground when you need to put the panel up very fast.

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First glue some joint parts to the tubes.

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I glued like this, on the corner and in the middle part as you can see in the above photo.

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This is a piece of elastic that I bought from Leroy Merlin at 0,65 euros a meter. You will need, more or less, 6,5 meters to put it through all the tubes.

When choosing the elastic make sure it's a thick one because I bought also another not so thick and it took me longer to put through the all tube system but it makes the same effect only takes longer to put it through.

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Put the elastic through the tubes. You do not need to start by any specific point.

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After putting it through all the parts it will look something like this.

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Then you just have to pull , a little, both parts of the elastic so it will stay firm and after you cut it and make a knot with the both ends it will go and stay inside the tube.

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Here is the final shot ready to transport it anywhere.

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A closer look of what it will look like after running the elastic through all the tubes and bending it all together for transportation.

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You can even use the part of the elastic that you cut and will not use to hold them together like this.

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Let's bag this baby.

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I can stiff 2 Panels with fabrics inside one Manfrotto stand bag and this is lightweight and easy to transport. Also with the elastic inside the tubes it will be much easier, and faster, to assemble and you will not loose any tube part along the way.

Now you are ready to go anywhere with them :)

For final on this improvements you can sew the fabric all around so it won't unweave.

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I bought a white elastic band (25mm width) to sew it on the corners of the fabric so it will be much easier and faster to put the fabric on the structure tube.

I measure and cut 13cm long for the elastic band and from the corner to the interior of the fabric I measured about 20cm so that the elastic could be a stretched.

I made the sew myself and this was a not so well done job since I'm not a sew man but it got very good for the purpose I wanted. So don't come with any excuses when you need to sew it ;)

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Here is the final shot. As you can see the sewing is not in a so good shape but it holds :) and I didn't make the all around sewing, blame me!!

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This is what it will look like after sewing the elastic at the 4 corners of the fabric. You can notice that by doing this the fabric will stretch a little and this would make our light task more easy.

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I decided to change my approach to attach the panel to the tubes by putting 3 collars at each 1m tube (Making a total of 18 collars for panel) instead of using the clamps.

First because the clamps are too big and clumsy and not so good at holding tight the fabric, second because it will not make possible to twist it to stretch the panel the way I want it and third the 18 pieces I needed they become very bulky to carry around in the bag.

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You can see here what I mean by twist... You attach the collar to the front part of the panel with the fabric already on and twist it to the back until you get the right stretch.

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Here is a shot of the back and front of the panel after all the Improvements were done.

See how small the collars are you can hardly notice them on the panel frame. This collars are almost like an adjustment feature that you can stretch the panel at the places you need.

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Here is the panel in action with a SB26 at 18mm a 1,5 meters from the panel. The bottom part may need a little improvement but the space was not much to make this... oh well maybe on part 3 ;)

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And if you move the light towards the panel you can get this halo effect that, eventually, could be useful in some cases.

Hope you enjoy the improvements and stay tuned for the last part of DIY: Soft Light Panel - Functionality (Part 3 of 3) where I put some examples of what light you can get with this Panels.

DIY: Soft Light Panel - Basics (Part 1 of 3)
DIY: Soft Light Panel - Functionality (Part 3 of 3) - Soon


Antonio Correia said...

Portuguese are indeed very tallented guys !!!

Congratulations Rui for this and others ideas you have been posting so far.


Anonymous said...

Why not sow the edges of the fabric to keep it from ripping. And then embed metal rings in the fabric and then run a rope between the holes to keep the screen taut.

I don't remember what this is called in english.

Anonymous said...

Why not sow the edges of the fabric to keep it from ripping. And then embed metal rings in the fabric and then run a rope between the holes to keep the screen taut.

I don't remember what this is called in english.

ruimleal said...


that's a good idea but for me this is enough for what I need.

Here is a starting point you can go from here.



Mark Hoy said...

Thanks for the information and ideas.

I'm sure if you use a larger, stronger length of elastic on each corner, to put the fabric under tension, you won't need the collars/ clips on the sides.

Mark Wernham said...

How about sewing elastic into the white sheet, making it into a kind of fitted sheet, then you wouldn't need the collar clamp things to hold the sheet tight, it would hold itself... hope that makes sense.

Instructions here for making your own fitted sheet (!)

or you could buy one...

Matthew said...

Amazing work! I had something like this in mind for quite some time! But I haven't gone around sourcing for the materials locally.

Lazy to find the fabric so decided to look at Photoflex's litepanel diffusers and reflectors, get PVC pipes and do something like yours.

But I'm planning to do mine slightly differently, without using the elastic strings