Sunday, April 18, 2010


Continuing with the theme of DIY light modifiers, this time I wanted to try to make a beauty dish.

This was quite a cumbersome project because I had a pretty specific shape in mind. I wanted a quite wide and shallow dish, wider than I could get with any of the plastic containers I found, so this ruled out the tupperware approach. I also went past the lampshade section at several stores and scoured fleamarkets for shapes I wanted, but almost all had downsides: if it was the right shape it was usually a heavy material like glass or metal, if the material was light (like the fabric lampshades) the shape wasn't quite right.

So then I thought, why not try to make it out of paper. Not the most conventional material, but it was something I wanted to try. I had a metal lampshade from an old broken ceiling lamp that was the shape I wanted, so I figured I would use that as base and put layers of paper on top, using wallpaper paste to keep it all together.

Step 1: the initial paper layers, cut up into shapes that would cover the metal so I wouldn't accidentally glue it stuck.Next, we have more paper layers applied with paste. (Though it doesn't look much different...)It's solid, and it's holding. Balanced on top of the lampshade used to form it.
I had big problems coming up with a flash-mount for this project. I tried making one out of cardboard (though quite thin), but when adding the elastic band to keep it onto the flash it completely lost its structure, warping way too easily. With that experience I really wanted plastic, so I started looking around...

At this juncture I would like to bring up a quote from one of my favourite movies, Zero Effect:
When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them.
But when you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.
It might seem strange in the context, but to me it is the very essence of DIY; to have a goal in mind, but no planned way of getting there. You make up the plan based on what you find to use. When you go out looking for materials for a reflector, for example, you're not thinking "I need a round, white plastic dish with a X cm diameter and Y depth." You go out looking for reflective materials, and if you find something neat, you use it.

So that is when I looked around my apartment, I tried to not look for anything specific, but something that might fit after modification. With that in mind, I found an empty canister of instant coffee...Which I took the knife to.Just the right size for the flash head!

I don't have any pictures for the assembling, but what I did then was to cut up from the center hole of the paper dish so the plastic flash-mount would go through. Add some adhesive tape liberally to connect the whole construction.

That was one part, but I still needed a primary reflector, and I didn't have any convex mirrors handy... What I did have, though, was some of the aluminium foil from the lightpot project. So I cut out a couple of circles and put those onto same sized paper circles with the same clear book plastic as previously. Then I did a simple radius cut, and dragged it onto itself to form a cone.I made two since I didn't know which angle would be best. Left is with just 1/8 covered, so it's a bit flatter, reflecting less towards the sides. The other is with 1/4, being pointier. (Still haven't decided which one to go with.)

The moment of truth...It's alive! The attachment for the primary reflector was quite a hack-job, though. Not having a real plan, I just used some thin cardboard from a pizza packaging. This proved incredibly unstable, so I really want to come up with some other construction for that.

Another part of it I didn't really like was the uneven character of the paper. Lowering the flash output quickly shows the bumps on the surface...
This is most likely due to using paper strips that were too wide, so placed on the curving surface of the lampshade it couldn't fit naturally. I also used the inner surface of the lampshade to shape it, so the inner surface of the dish is the layer placed last; if I had done the opposite and used the outer surface of the lampshade then the cumulative weight of the paper and glue might have been able to eliminate some of the bumps.

But it works. I did take some test-shots but since I'm not too satisfied with the final construction yet I want to wait until I have it really ready... I've also started thinking about making another dish based on the adjustments I had in mind, so I might do that, which would give me another chance at documenting that part in greater detail.

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