As an amateur photographer I take a lot of inspiration, and learn new skills, from my son who is a qualified professional photographer.
Problems with Trying To Make Your Own Softboxes and Beauty Dishes
Softboxes and beauty dishes can be expensive so there are lots of websites and YouTube videos showing how you can make your own; often softboxes from lightweight materials like cardboard, hardboard, tinfoil and white cotton sheeting (or similar materials), and beauty dishes from plastic bowls.
However, I wanted something more substantial. Something made from wood and metal that was more durable and looked more professional. With this in mind, making a dual purpose box where you could easily remove the reflective plate and replace it with cotton sheeting to transform it from a beauty dish to a soft box would be ideal.
Coincidentally I'd recently seen an episode of 'The Salvager' on TV where Rico does something similar to what I had in mind when he creates a lamp from the top of a 5 gallon paraffin drum and an old surveyor's tripod sticking all the bits together using car body filler. All I needed then was to look around for a parabolic dish of a suitable size e.g. minimum 6 inches at the base with a minimum 12 inch diameter at the top and no less than 6 inches in depth; cylinder, conical or cone shape would be unsuitable because it would reflect the light incorrectly for the purpose.
The only suitable metal object I could find was a preserving pan, where I could cut a six inch hole in the bottom and use the disc I cut out at the deflector at the top for the beauty dish and spray-painting the insides with silver car spray-paint for the reflective surface. However, large preserving pans are quite expensive, and the other concern is that with all the additional weight the boxes would need additional support e.g. their own tripod; but other than that for anyone wishing to have a go the project is doable.
Interfit Great Value for Money
Then we stumbled across a website (Interfitphotographic.com) that sell quality beauty dishes and softboxes specifically for Bowens flash lights for about a fifth of the price of what we'd seen when we first started our research. This modest price made their products very attractive, with their price being not much more than the cost of making your own boxes and dishes from cheap materials; especially as the purchased product is going to be a lot more substantial, durable and better quality.
The beauty dishes and softboxes we saw on the Interfit website were the modern S Type fitting, whereas our Bowens flashlights are the old L type fitting. So in buying the InterFit lighting equipment I would still need to do some innovative adaptive work to marry the new beauty dish and soft box to our old Bowens flashlight units; as discussed in detail below.
With this in mind, we made our purchase. When they arrived we were delighted to discover the beauty dish included a softbox covering and was designed so that the reflecting plate from the top can be removed to use it as another softbox; or alternately keep the reflecting plate on and use the translucent cover to produce a hybrid soft shadow effect.
Benefits of a Beauty Dish and How it Differs from an Umbrella
Adapting Old Studio Lights to Fit New Studio Lighting Equipment
If you want to extend your photographic skills you'll be looking to convert a spare room or attic into a film studio and setting it up with lighting, lighting equipment and backdrops to get those professional studio finishes to your family photos.
The challenge, if you're working on a shoestring budget is equipping your film studio with lots of expensive equipment on the cheap. This article tackles one of those challenges by looking in detail how you can make your own adaptors to fit old studio lighting to new studio lighting equipment; specifically adapting L Type fittings to S Type Rings to fit Bowens Flashlight. But with a bit of imagination, especially if you are a dab hand at wood or metal work these ideas can be adapted to meet your own requirements and equipment.
Other aspects of photography and photography on a shoestring are covered separately by me in other articles on this site, and links to them can be found below.
Beauty Dish for Softer Shadows - Adapted to Fit S Ring
Making Lighting Equipment From Scrap Metal
Using Car Body Repair Compound
Good Tips and Ideas from Rico in The Salveger
Mark I and Mark II for Joining S Type Lighting Equipment to L Type Bowens Lights
InterFit Bowens Beauty Dish
Discussed in detail below are the two methods we tried for making an adaptor to join the L Type Bowens lights to the S type softbox and beauty dish. Our first attempt was based on ideas we found on other websites in joining the L type ring to the S type ring back to back, so that the S ring ends up the wrong way round but still works.
Provided you cut slits into the S type ring for the two prongs on the outer rim of the Bowens lights to slip through so that the L type ring sits snuggly into the Bowens light then the Mark I adaptor does work quite well except the L type ring is only thin aluminium that can bend too easily and if it gets distorted fitting it firmly in place can become fiddly. Therefore in the Mark II I dispense with the L type ring replacing it with an adaptor made from wood to join to the S type ring; woodwork being more my forte, anyone more into metal work would make their adaptor with metal.
As the softbox and beauty dishes from InterFit are of the modern S Type fittings whereas the old Bowens lights use the old L Type Ring we obviously needed some kind of adaptor and with this in mind we scoured the web and found few 'L Type' to 'S Type' ring adaptors all of which were very expensive (almost the same price as the Beauty dish from InterFit itself).
The beauty dish from InterFit comes with its on S Type ring fitted but the softbox we wanted doesn't, so we had to buy an extra S type ring specifically for the softbox, e.g. one that also includes the side holes for the rods from the softbox to fit into. We also managed to find one supply for the old 'L Type' ring which we bought along with a 'S Ring' for the softbox. When they arrived I set about doing a Rico style fix of gluing the two rings back to back using heat resistant car body filler as glue to create our Mark I adaptor so that the 'L Type' ring would fit into the bowen light and the S fitting into the softbox; albeit the S ring is back to front but it works just as well.
Mark I - How to Make an L to S Type Adaptor Ring for Bowen Lights - Step by Step Guide for Sticking the Two Parts Together With Car Body Repair Compound
Making the Beauty Dish Fit an L to S Type Adaptor
Making it Detachable so the L to S Type Adaptor Can be Used on Other Equipment
Having made the L to S Ring adaptor to fit the S Type Softbox to the L Type Bowens Flashlight (Mark I and Mark II) I also wanted to use the same adaptor with the Beauty dish which comes with an S Type Ring fitted. As the S Ring on the adaptor is the wrong way round it would be a case of marrying the two rings S Type rings together (back to back) with an adaptor that would allow it to be detachable, not only because we needed the L to S ring adaptor for the softbox but also in the future, if we buy new S type Bowen lights, we'll not need the adaptor as both softbox and beauty would then fit directly to the lights.
For a solution I was thinking metal, although I have plenty of bits of scrap metal in my home DIY workshop metalwork isn't my forte so I had visions of spending ages utilising the material I have to make some kind of ring or tube out of metal to grip and secure the two S Ring fittings back to back firmly in a way that it would be easy to fit and take off as required; a big but not insurmountable challenge.
Before setting about to make something by hand from scratch I looked around the shed to see if anything could be adapted, I tried paint tins but they were the same diameter as they rings; then I spotted an old sweets tin which was just the right size for the job, what a stroke of luck. And once I used a tin opener to cut the bottom off the sweets tin it was a perfect and snug fit for the S rings creating a natural snoot that both ends of the rings fit snuggly into so when used the light is directed directly onto the deflector from where it is bounced back into the main dish and then deflected onto the subject being photographed.
To make it more secure the only adaptation I needed to make to the sweets tin was a couple of bolts at the beauty dish end to firmly hold together (which can be unbolted in the future if we no longer need the sweets tin attached) and a couple of strips of metal fixed to the top of the tin to lock the lugs from the S Type ring in the L to S Type ring adaptor firmly into place, as illustrated in the photos below.
The only real problem with using wood is it adds to the weight so additional supports are required, and can be made quite easily as shown below.
Adaptations for Snoot S to S Adaptor for Secure Fitting to Beauty Dish - S Type Fitting Back to Back and Removable
Mark II - Fitting S Type Adaptor Ring to L Type Bowens Lights
An Alternative Option to Joining an L Type Ring and S Type Ring Together
The Mark I version of the adaptor described above works but the L Ring is only thin aluminium and bends easily and the two prongs on either side of the Bowens light unit protrude too far preventing a snug fit unless you drill a couple of slits in the appropriate location on the S ring. Therefore in practice the Mark I version is fiddly to use; wasting time trying to get the L ring to sit into the light properly so that it stays in place when in use.
Therefore, Mark II which dispenses with the L Ring altogether by screwing the S ring straight onto a wooden ring that slips over the outside of the Bowen light unit by about an inch which is far enough back for the outer case of the light unit to support the wooden ring and keep it firmly in place.
The Mark II has been tested and works well; it slips on and off the light units easily when needed and stays firmly in place once fitted. The steps to make the wooded ring as an adaptor between the L Type Bowens flashlights and the S Type ring are as follows:-
- Start with two pieces of wood e.g. pine or plywood that's about inch thick (18mm) and more than 10 inches by 10 inches (250mm x 250mm).
- Cut a hole in the first piece of wood that is slightly larger than the diameter of the Bowens light e.g. just over 160mm (6 inches) e.g. you don't want the ring to too tight otherwise it'll be difficult to fit, especially as the metal rim of the light unit will expand when it gets hot and the wood shrink as it dries out. So you need a hole that's a little loose but not too floppy.
- Mark out on the wood where the outer screws on the Bowens light unit is and cut slots in the wood slightly larger so the wooden ring slips over the screws easily with a gap around; which will make slipping the wooden ring over the screws a lot easier when in use.
- Test and make any adjustments as appropriate, then use the first hole as a template to cut the same size hole in the second piece of wood.
- Glue the two pieces of wood together and cut them to size e.g. into a square of about 10 inches (250mm) by 10 inches (250 mm).
- Round off the corners and sand all edges smooth.
- Take for small angle brackets, see pictures below, place against the side of the S ring and mark the height on the side of the angle bracket.
- Bend each angle bracket 90 degrees in a vice (as demonstrated in the photos below); they bend easily by hand when in the vice so no tools should be needed to do this.
- Screw the angle brackets to the wooden ring clamping the S ring to the wood as illustrated below.
Your adapted ring is now complete and ready for use. If you're more comfortable working with metal than wood you should be able to design your own adaptor from scrap metal to make something similar.
The only real problem with using wood is it adds to the weight so additional supports are required, and can be made quite easily as shown below.
Illustration of Fitting S Type Adaptor Ring to L Type Bowens Lights Mark II - Making an L to S Type Ring Lighting Adaptor From Wood
Additional Supports for Wooden L to S Type Adaptor
Taking the Weight and Supporting the Lights
This is a two part solution, firstly firmly securing the wooden L to S Type Adaptor to the Bowens lights and secondly supporting the light itself so that with the additional weight it can still be adjusted and held in place at any number of angles to direct the light at the subject at the most desirable angle.
The first solution, holding the adaptor in place on the light unit is a simple one. In my design described in detail above the two side knobs normally used to secure adaptor rings to the front of the light unit protrude from the back of my adaptor by about 6mm (1/4 inch). I took advantage of this by using two pieces of 6mm plywood (which is a strong material) to the back of my wooden adaptor and mounting two kitchen cupboard hinges on them; so that when the adaptor is slipped over the front of the light unit the hinges can be pulled down and with their strong spring hold firmly over the top of the Bowens two knobs and help to clamp the wood adaptor in place, as shown in the photos below.
The second solution is an adjustable wooden support hinged to the back of the wooden adaptor that is used to hold the lights in place and adjust their height to the desired angle. For this I used plywood because of its strength, making a simple strip with a long slit in the middle that goes over the centre screw knob of the lights own stand. And to make it adjustable and hold the light at any desired angle I drilled a series of holes down each side of the wooden hinged slat and made a T shape centre piece with two bolts either side to match the corresponding holes in the slat. The T centre piece then just slots into the appropriate holes in the slat for the desired angle and holds the light in place by resting in front of the lights own leg support knob as shown below.
Making Support and Securing L to S Type Adaptor to the Bowens Lights - Mark II Adaptation for L Type Bowens Lights to S Type Lighting Equipment
Beauty Dish S Type Fitted to Bowens L Type With Adaptor Mark II - Includes Intermediate Back to Back Snoot Adaptor
How Do You Take Your Photo
Links for Further Information - Lighting Solutions and Photographic Services
- Interfit Studio Lighting
Interfit Photographic Limited: Studio Lighting and Photographic Distributor, specialising in Interfit Studio Lighting, Interfit Studio Flash, Lighting, Studio Lighting Photographic Products.
- Proper Job Productions
Proper Job Productions - Multimedia Productions specialising in Professional Photography and Video Productions for Gigs, Weddings and Special Occasions.
- PJP on PhotoBox Pro
Landcape and Portrait Prints and Posters Sale
Studio lighting on Amazon
A place for you to add all your Lighting and Photogenic tips and comments
Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 15, 2017:
Thanks for all your feedback, and for the additional information and advice from your own experiences.
Amine on February 05, 2015:
It folds up into something the size of a trpoid bag so it's pretty portable. But it takes several minutes to put together and take apart and getting the rods out of the speedring at the end is so difficult it often needs two people to do it. For a large directional light it's great, but I'd never use this on a shoot without an assistant it's just too massive
Kristen from Boston on February 03, 2013:
I've used a softbox for taking product photos for my websites and eBay listings. The change in the pictures was amazing! They look so much more professional when you have the correct lighting.
sherioz on January 20, 2013:
I love the idea of being able to make some of this equipment from scrap metal. Very creative.
anonymous on November 23, 2012:
There seems to be no end to your ingenuity and innovation, you have blown me away once again and those serious about setting up a great photography studio on the cheap and are willing to do some extra work will be bowing to your excellence!
neotony on November 14, 2012:
so that's why some people look so gorgeous in pictures! wow this is so enlightening!
GreenMind Guides from USA on November 12, 2012:
Good lens - really helpful!