I have worked as a studio photographer for more than 20 years. In this time, I have come to realize that even though I use high end lighting equipment on a regular basis, some of my best images were done with inexpensive speedlights and some DIY speedlight flash modifiers.
Speedlights are definitely one of my favourite light sources. They’re portable and easy to use but not big like studio strobes.
But sometimes light equipment brands don’t offer the right accessory for your needs. Then you have to get creative and make your own.
All it takes is some ingenuity and DIY attitude to transform household items into great light shaping tools. We’ll show you how to do this and create unique images while saving some money too.
Here are 10 DIY projects to create great light shaping tools for your speedlights.
For a beginner’s guide to photography lighting equipment, check out this article here.
Silicone Kitchen Accessories Become Filters and Snoot
Your local supermarket is full of useful things you can turn into light mods! You just have to bypass their original purpose and find new ways to use them.
My favourite section for this is the kitchen accessories aisle. I often find stuff like these collapsible silicone cups with assorted colours and this silicone funnel.
The silicone collapsible cups are stretchy and fit perfectly in front of my speedlight. They work great as colour diffusers you can use to create a tint effect on an image.
You can use the silicone funnel as a snoot. It creates a controlled light spot that allows precise lighting on a specific area of the image.
Baking Paper Becomes a Light Softener
Another really useful item from the supermarket’s kitchen aisle is a roll of baking paper.
This is probably the fastest and easiest way to soften light. You just need to wrap the baking paper around the front of your speedlight to create a small dome.
The more baking paper you use, the softer the light will be.
Steel Wool Diffuser
Here is another great find this time from the supermarket’s cleaning supplies aisle.
It might sound awfully strange. Why would somebody use steel wool as a light modifier? Well, I have been using it for years with great results. Here’s how you can start using it too.
The mesh these steel wool balls are made from is perfect to work as a light diffuser. You just have to place it in front of a speedlight.
It scatters light creating radial diffusion without a hotspot.
Pringles Chips Can Turned Into a Snoot
The supermarket’s snacks aisle also has something to offer.
The shape, size and silver interior of Pringles cans makes them perfect for a lot of DIY light modifiers. It’s amazing how they fit just right in front of most speedlights on the market.
I will show you here a couple of snoots and barndoors projects but there is a lot more you can do with these cans.
First if you don’t want it to look too cheap and messy, you can start by painting the can matte black. This will give it a higher end photography accessory look. Unless you mention it, no one will ever know they are Pringles chips cans.
Note: Consider wearing gloves if you don’t want to get your fingers painted black like I did.
Next, grab an x-acto knife and cut off the bottom of the can to get a bottomless tube.
Fit the tube to the front of your speedlight. This might require a little moulding to adapt to the speedlight head shape, but it will fit.
Use the plastic lid in front of the tube to produce a soft spotlight with feathered edges.
To make this spotlight narrower you can use black cocktail straws in the front of the tube.
The straws will force the light to go in only one direction. And this will produce a harder and more concentrated light spot.
A different approach is not to cut the bottom of the can, but instead cut two flaps that work as barndoors.
This will offer a way to control light spill depending on the barndoors position and desired light effect.
Other variations include cutting different openings in the can to produce other lighting effects.
I use a can with lots of poked holes to create a dispersed light effect on backgrounds. Or I cut shapes like stars or hearts to create fantasy light effects.
Drawing Transport Tube Light-saber
This one you can find in any arts and crafts store. It is really easy to convert into a light-saber-type light shaping tool.
As it is an extensive tube, it is actually a smaller tube inside a slightly bigger one. This means you can build two light-sabers from one tube.
It is important to choose a translucent white and lightweight tube. Otherwise it might cause too much stress on the speedlight’s head and potentially damage its tilting mechanism.
The idea is to turn the small light beam coming out from the speedlight into a big light tube. This will produce a big spread of soft and even light.
This even light spread along the tube is due to the use of a blind spot convex rear-view mirror on the opposite side of the tube. The mirror reflects back the light, making it even.
You can also use aluminium foil to reflect the light. It will not give the same result as the convex mirror that reflects the light much better, but it’s an option.
With this light accessory, you can create a 360° light spread with the tube as is. Or you can have a smaller degree light spread using silver tape glued inside the tube. This makes the light reflect and create a narrower spread.
Disposable Plastic Bowls as Beauty Dish
A lot of DIY beauty dish projects have been done with metal salad bowls. And most of them are really nice. But they tend to be complicated and time consuming. This is because they involve metal cutting and grinding. Honestly, this is not for me.
But I still want my own DIY beauty dish. Here’s what I did.
I decided to have a go at it using simple plastic bowls that you can get for next to nothing,. Also, plastic is a lot easier to cut and mold than metal.
I used a big and deep plastic bowl, a smaller salad bowl, two bolts and six nuts.
I started by outlining the flash head shape with a sharpie to have an idea where to cut.
Then I cut an X in the centre of the outlined shape.
I folded the four flaps back to use them as a support base for the attachment to the flash.
You must do all of this carefully as the plastic might break.
Then I made two holes on the top and bottom of the smaller salad bowl and placed the nut and bolt on it, screwing it all the way.
The easiest way to make these holes is to use a hot nail that will melt the plastic.
Then I painted the smaller bowl silver and the outside of the bigger one black.
This is an optional step, but take into consideration that the plastic used is really thin and translucent. It is wise to paint it so you won’t have light spill.
Painting it will also make it look more “professional” and not just two plastic bowls put together with a couple of screws.
It is important to make sure the paint you are using is appropriate to use with plastic. Otherwise it might create a reaction and melt it.
Once it dries up, it is easy to make two holes on the big bowl and use the remaining four bolts to secure the smaller bowl to the bigger one.
A lot of people like to use Velcro strips to secure lighting accessories to speedlights. I personally prefer to use rubber bands. They are easy to use and don’t require to glue velcro to both parts. They also don’t come off with heat and hard use.
The light produced by this simple DIY beauty dish is great. It’s also not too far off from the light produced by big brand highly expensive beauty dishes.
I couldn’t really ask more from something that cost around $3 and took less than one hour to build.
You can build other variations to this beauty dish too. Use a different bowl in the middle or paint the inside of the big bowl silver or gold. This will create different light reflections, especially in skin tones.
Even if you are not necessarily looking to save money, these DIY speedlight light modifiers are still a great thing to try. You’ll get to explore different light types than the ones created by commercial modifiers.
This type of ingenuity and creative attitude is what sets you apart from everybody else. It also moves you forward to better light knowledge and better image creation, and opens up your imagination.
Give this DIY photography lighting idea a try, I’m sure you will like it!
Looking for more cool Photography ideas? Try our post on making your own light box or even using this tutorial to turn photos into paintings.