DIY 36″ Ring Flash

I’ve been wanting a high powered ring flash for a while now, but don’t want to plop down $500 or so for an ABR800 and moon unit -So I’ve made my own. It’s 36″ across, 6″ deep, with a generally parabolic / umbrella shape – The original plan was 16 ribs with 4 segments, but eight ribs with two segments will work well enough. The math made my brain hurt, but I got the general shape right to point the light forward rather than just out in general.

It’s powered by 4 speedlites positioned around the center hole. There’s a shiny pie tin on the inside to diffuse and spread the beams, so it should be soft without problematic hotspots.

I know i can get the same effect by standing in front of a large softbox/plm but with the light in front and so much closer, i have more control over light falloff, and if I want the portrait to fade to black, it’ll be a bit easier this way with the flash closer to your subject (google Matthew Jordan Smith shooting Tyra Banks) – more control is always better.

Let’s talk about getting it set up.

Note: USPS boxes were used, not new. I didn’t take the free flat rate boxes and use those, lol.

I’ll discuss my methods in case you’d like to make one of your own a different size. The first step was to cut out the various bits.For the central hub, I needed space enough for a hole to shoot through and four speedlites, so I made an octagon that was 12″ across. I plugged that into an octagon calculator I found online, and found that each edge would be just about 5″ – so I cut out a 12″ square, and made a mark 2.5″ from center on all sides. Cutting across the corners at those marks gave an octagon with 5″ sides. Perfect.

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Now I had to get it into a curved shape. I wanted this middle section to go out about a foot on either end, so I did some more math, and found that an inside edge of 5″ and an outside edge of 15″ would lay flat with no curve. Any size smaller, and once paired up with its neighbors would cause it to curve into a bowl shape. I didn’t want too much curve for this segment, and decided on an outside edge of 12″ – so I ended up with a trapezoid (took me a while to remember that word from 3rd grade) that was 5″ on the short end, 12″ on the long, 12″ apart.

The outer rim I wanted to curve more than the previous one, so I shortened the width, and made the inside and outside edges closer. This outer rim ended up being 12″ inner edge, 15″ outer, 6″ apart. This curved nicely, and ended up giving me a bowl about 6″ deep and 36″ across.

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The hole to shoot through was made up of a can of cashews, with a pie dish around it like a skirt. The flashes would hit the pie skirt and bonce around the interior, reducing hot spots and diffusing the light fairly well.

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I took a bracket I had lying around from some 24″ pop up softboxes I never use (they’re not that great, I prefer the umbrella softboxes) to reinforce the center, and as a way to mount the contraption on a stand.

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Four holes were cut for the flashes, spaced evenly around the hole. I used velcro straps to keep them in place, and they held in place pretty well. Another 4 small holes were cut so that the optical triggers could see the flash occurring, even with the heads inside, and the bodies out.

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I traced the finished shape on a larger piece of cardboard to attach the ripstop nylon to. I cut a circle that ended up being about 2″ from each edge, and stretched the nylon across this frame, with a hole cut to fit the cashew can. The face piece stabilizes the rest of the dish. This was then attached to the main bowl et voilà – I had a super ghetto-rigged Moon Unit. While not as powerful as the AlienBee ABR800 that goes along with that modifier, four speedlites is pretty damn powerful for headshots and beauty.

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It gets some weird looks when I take it out for shoots, but once the model sees the shots, they don’t care – results are all that matter, and if you’re looking for a big, soft, wrap-around light, something like this can deliver that.

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If you’ve got a few flashes, give it a shot! It can probably be done with fewer speedlites, but that might necessitate some work-arounds to get the light even, but I’d love to see your results.

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Fernando Pinales Reply

    Great tutorial and walktrough, i’m not thinking about making or buying a ring flash now, but i enjyed reading the process with the pictures, and seeing the results. May i ask, are those photos with the Yongnuo 50mm?

    • Shooting on A Budget Reply

      Nikon 50/1.8G for Michelle (1 & 3) and Nikon 85/1.8D for Celese if my memory serves.

  2. Popopop photo Reply

    This is full of awesome sauce!!! Thank you for sharing it with us…

    I’m tempted to make it bigger say… 48 inches!!! 😀

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