DIY Studio – The Square Ring Flash

nicks_ringflash.jpgNick Wheeler the photographer who brought you the DIY Strip Light and the Floor Lit Table Top Studio is playing with card board boxes again.

Answering to strobist’s ringflash call, Nick created a simple softbox ringflash thingy that uses one strobe to create an awesome ring light effect. (If you really like ringlights, take a look at the huge ringlight collection).

If you did not visit Nick’s stream lately, you should definitely head over there. Nick has some new shots from the previous projects (strip light and floor lit studio) with great setup shots. I tell you, sometimes I don’t know whether to stare at the pictures or drool over the setup shots.

Nick has done a great job for this tutorial, packing it is great images to explain every little step. You can see how thinking of every aspect of the construction gives professional results.

Having seen a lot of ring flash pictures popping up all over Flickr just recently, I decided to have a go at making one myself. I had a look at a couple of dozen designs and they all seemed to have one thing in common, they were all based on a ring. Nothing wrong with that of course, it is a ‘ring’ flash when all said and done, but after thinking about the problem for a while I decided to follow the advice of Huey Lewis, after all, it is ‘hip to be square’.

So for my square ring flash I used two cardboard boxes. The outer box was originally the packaging for a set of scales. It just happens to be about the same size and folded in exactly the same way as a pizza box. For the inner box I used a section from a light stand box.


To build the square ring flash I used aluminum foil, aluminum tape, duct tape, sticky tape and spray glue. To mount the ring flash on a light stand I also used a bolt, a couple of large washers and four nuts.


The first step was to mark out the section of the inner box to be cut out. This needs to be the width of the outer box plus an inch on each side.


I used a box cutter (craft knife) to cut the section of box out.


I also added some duct tape to the join to strengthen the box.


The next step was to open up a set of flaps on each end of the box. I did this by running the knife an inch (2cms) down each corner of the box and then lightly scoring across the flap before folding each one back.


With the flaps cut, I ran a strip of aluminum tape around the outer center section of the box.


Putting the inner section to one side, I now lined the main box with aluminum foil. I rolled out the foil shiny side down and traced the outline of the box on to the back of the foil with a magic marker.


I cut enough pieces to line the top and bottom of the box.


I attached the foil with spray glue and then smoothed it out with a cloth.


Next I lined the edges of the box using aluminum tape. You could do this with the foil and glue, but the tape is much easier for smaller areas.


With the box fully lined, I closed it up and drew diagonal lines on the front and the back of the box. These will be the guidelines for cutting out the holes for the center section.


Next I placed the inner box in the middle of the top of the outer box so that each of its corners lined up with the diagonal lines. Once it was centered, I traced around its inside edges with a magic marker.


I then carefully cut out the marked square with the box cutter. Be careful here to cut along the lines as we will want to use the cut out piece as a template in the next step.


Now I flipped the box over and placed the section I had just cut out so that the diagonal lines matched the lines on the bottom of the box. I then traced the outline of the cut out piece with the magic marker.


Again, I carefully cut out the marked square with the box cutter.


With the two holes cut on the front and back of the main box, I opened it up and placed the inner box over the base cut out and fastened it in place with some sticky tape.


With the sticky tape holding the inner box in place, I cut four pieces of aluminum tape and used these to securely fasten down the four flaps of the inner section.


The next job was to mark out the ring. For the inner circle, I used a small plate. This was just larger than the four flaps of the inner section. I first drew horizontal and vertical center lines on the box and then measured the size of the plate. Subtracting the size of the plate from the width of the box and dividing by two, I marked out the points on the horizontal and vertical lines where the edge of the plate should be. I then placed the plate on the box, lined it up with these points and traced round it. A good tip here is not to use the magic marker to trace round the plate, if it gets on the plate, you will never get it off again! :)


With the inner circle marked, I found a pan lid that was just the right size for the outer circle. Of course the ideal tool for this job would be a compass, but as I did not have one and I did have pan lids that were just the right size I went with what I had. Again I marked out the circle as I had for the inner one.


With the ring marked out, I used the box cutter to cut out along the outer circle outline. Again, cut this out carefully as we will want to use the cut out piece as a template later on.


Next cut out along the line of the inner circle. Once again, do this carefully as we want the inner section and the ring intact.


The next step is to prepare the diffuser panel. For this I used a piece of cheap, white, thin cotton fabric. I placed it flat on the table and then used a pencil to trace the outline of the main box. I then marked a new line an inch (2cms) inside this outline.


Here you can see the cut out diffuser panel placed on top of the main box.


Next I placed the inner section from the ring over the inner box and marked out the outline of the square hole.


Putting the diffuser to one side, I used aluminum foil to fasten the inner ring cut out to the inner box. I created flaps from the excess tape and folded these over the top of the circle.

At this point I also started thinking about a way to mount the flash onto a light stand. To do this, I used a long bolt some washers, five nuts and the lid from a plastic food container. I used the lid to make a couple of large plastic washers.


I cut the lid into two strips as wide as the inside of the main box. I made a hole in the middle of each of these just big enough to pass the bolt through.


Next I stuck a piece of aluminum foil to one side of each plastic washer.


I marked out the position for a hole in the center of the bottom of the main box and looking from the inside, I had the following: bolt, metal washer, plastic washer, bottom of box, plastic washer, metal washer and nut. The plastic washers had the aluminum foil on their respective outsides and this was stuck down to the inside and outside of the box. I also added some duct tape to the out side of the box for extra strength.


With the bolt in place, I tapped up the rest of the box with duct tape.


The next step was to add the diffuser panel. I first made diagonal cuts in the center hole and then clipped the ends off these to make flaps.


I tapped these flaps onto the inside of the inner box with duct tape.


The next job was to glue and tape the diffuser to the front of the box. To stop the spray glue getting on the diffuser or the inside of the box, I tucked the fabric into the inner box and placed the cut out ring and inner square back in there holes.


I then applied the spray glue, removed the extra pieces and stretched the diffuser tight across the front of the box. I then added duct tape along each edge to hold everything in place.


The next job was to make a black facer for the flash. I used a sheet of thin black card for this. I placed the main box on the card and traced its outline plus an inch (2cms) as well as the outline of the inner box.


I then cut it out with scissors. I made diagonal cuts on the inner square and folded these back as flaps. I also folded back the outer edges to make flaps. To get the outline of the ring, I placed the ring template in its hole, put the black card over this and then flipped the box upside down and put it on the table. When I lifted the box away, the ring was laying on the paper in the correct position of the hole. I then just traced round this with a pencil.


Next I cut the ring out of the card.


Here you can see the facer placed on the flash.


To fasten it down, I sprayed the underside of the two pieces with glue and pressed them onto the flash. I also ran duct tape around the outside edge of the box to hold the outer piece and glued the inner flaps on the inside piece.


The last job was to make a hole for the flash head. At this point I was not sure if I would need one or two flashes for this project so I marked out two to be on the safe side with the intention of trying it with one first to see how it worked.


I used the box cutter to cut the hole for the flash head. Be careful at this point not to make the hole too big as you want a nice snug fit to hold the flash in place.


Time for a test fire. As I suspected the ring is a little hot in the corner that the flash enters. Pulling out the diffuser on the flash helped here.


The next thing to try was mounting the whole thing on a light stand. This however highlighted a problem with the design. The cardboard at the bottom the box flexed too much around the bolt causing the whole thing to flap around. I fixed this by running a thin strip of wood across the bottom of the box with a hole in the middle for the bolt to pass through.


With the wood strip in place it fastened to the light stand without any problems and would easily hold a second flash.


That’s it, one square ring flash. Please check out my Flickr stream for some shots of the flash in action.


More Ringlights:
The Cheapest Ring Light Ever
Just Fab’s Turkey Pan Beauty Dish
Another Ringlight
Great Way To Build a Ringlight
Ringlight Bonanza with Joris van den Heuvel
What Can You do With Six Speedlights and a Coffee Can