DIY: Mini-Softbox


Sketched templates
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry.)

Here’s another just-for-the-fun-of-it DIY photography project. I had another Cinnamon Toast Crunch box (the oversized, reinforced kind from Sam’s Club) and didn’t want to stick the whole thing in my recycling tub if I could make something from it. Last time, I used it to make a snoot. This time, I tried a mini-softbox, loosely based on the LumiQuest Softbox III (mentioned previously).

Materials:

* cereal box (mine was lined with a plain white interior)
* tape (I used a combination of Scotch tape, painter’s tape, and masking tape)
* white typing paper

Tools:

* ruler
* scissors
* marker

I started with measuring my cardboard snoot, so I’d know how large to make the opening of the softbox, so it would fit on my flash. It was about 2 inches high by 3 inches wide. And I wanted the fitting to be about 1.5 inches deep. So I drew the rectangles for that.

The rest involved complex (for me) angles, so I estimated — and got pretty close. If you’re better at three-dimensional geometry than I am, feel free to calculate and make your own measurements. Or just copy mine from below:


Measurements for each side
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Keep in mind that you’ll need two of each size above. The measuring and estimating was the second-most difficult part of this for me (the most difficult part was taping four loose pieces together with only two hands). Anyway, as shown below, I cut out the four pieces, folded them in the right spots, and taped them together.


Cut-out pieces of cereal box
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


Each piece folded along the line
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


Starting the taping. This step was the most difficult for me
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


Completed taping of the small side
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


Started taping the diagonals. I used Scotch tape to hold it in place
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


Finished the diagonals with painter’s tape (and later added masking tape)
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

The wide end didn’t turn out perfectly rectangular, though it was pretty close. And the two wider sides jutted out a bit further than the narrower sides. I could have snipped them off to fit, but I left it as is.

I set the whole contraption on a piece of white paper (8.5″ x 11″). The width fit just right, but the paper was slightly too long, so I folded the ends over and then taped the paper to my frame.


Measuring the paper
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


Paper folded over the ends and taped in place
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

It was time to test. The LumoPro LP180 was already warmed up from lighting all the above photos, so I slipped the mini-softbox over the flash head. It was slightly too large. So I cut a few small rectangles of cardboard and taped them inside the “mouth”. That turned out to be perfect for both the LP180 and the Yongnuo YN560-II (which I tried later).

Here’s what it looked like firing — a nice big and soft light source (well, bigger and softer than the bare flash head). And from the back/side, you can see the “light leaks” — the blue painter’s tape wasn’t solid enough to keep all the light in. I later added some masking tape for greater stability and more light-blocking.


Finished mini-softbox
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

Following are some test shots I took with it. I noticed that the flash light’s color was changed slightly, which is common with most modifiers, but not enough to be an issue. The LumiQuest version adds warmer tones, while my homemade one seemed to make the tones cooler. If I were to use them both in conjunction, there might be a slightly noticeable difference between the two.


Roll of painter’s tape, lit by LP180 through homemade softbox
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


My wife, looking straight at the softbox
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


My wife, looking to camera right with softbox at camera left
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


My daughter, lit by softbox at camera left
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)


My son, lit by on-camera Yongnuo YN560-II with softbox
(Copyright © 2014 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)

The last one was the only image I tried with the flash on-camera. I thought it turned out fine for on-camera flash; the flash is high enough above the lens and the softbox is wide enough that it didn’t look exactly like direct flash. I still prefer the off-camera tests.

◊ Conclusions

The downsides? My version doesn’t fold flat (the LumiQuest version does) for storage or travel, so it takes up space on a shelf. It’s not incredibly fragile, but that is just paper on the front and tape holding it together. Dropping something on it or bumping it hard enough into a solid object would rip the paper or knock the whole thing out of shape.

The upsides? It was basically free and only took 20 minutes to make. Now that I know the measurements, a second one could probably be whipped up in 10 minutes or so.

Note: Most cereal boxes don’t have white/shiny interiors. The results would likely be quite a bit different with a normal cereal box. I suppose you could cut white paper to match and either tape or glue those pieces of paper inside to cover the brown of a normal cereal box.

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