DIY Light Panels to craft the light in my portraits

I did a shoot recently where I needed to light full body portraits. I found that regular umbrellas and softboxes fall short in getting the entire body illuminated consistently. After reading about National Geographic Photographer Joe McNally’stechniques of shooting with lighting panels, I have researched getting some for myself. The purpose of these panels is to light full-body portraits on location. They consist of a metal frame (aluminum) with fabric in between. The challenge is have them free standing and able to be held up at different angles with light stands.

There are pre-made panels available from the US. Lastolite is the company that makes them. They look fantastic, but after researching the cost of purchase and shipping to New Zealand, I decided to embark on the journey of discovery that is making your own professional photographic lighting equipment = LOTS OF HEADACHES! The positive side of this is that with the knowledge I gain sourcing materials and getting the panel fabricated, I will be able to produce custom sized frames that suit specific needs not available elsewhere.

This is the shape of the panel with the fabric laid out on the floor and the metal corners holding it down.

STEP 1: I sourced Rip-Stop fabric from Spotlight relatively easily. The good thing about this material is that its lightweight. You can gaffer tape it over a window and be done! I’m definitely carrying this with me in my lighting bag.
SETP 2: Source metal corners and T-junctions from Advanced Steel Products. I tried all the hardware shops and could not find something suitable. Eventually I found a manufacturer in New Zealand that makes 25mm diamater compatible units.
SETBACK 1: Make frame with tubing. I found 25mm steel tubing from a hardware supply merchant. I had this cut to length and was able to construct a frame which was really robust. Unfortunately, it also weighed too much for practical use. It also could be dangerous if the wind caught it and it landed on someone. Back to the drawing board!
STEP 3: Found a supplier who makes 25mm aluminum tubing from Ulrich Aluminium– from which I was able to make the frame, much lighter and practical than full steel.

My aluminum tubing getting cut down to length in the factory.

SETBACK 2: Tried to sew the fabric seams to hold the tubing with my Aunties borrowed machine. Managed to break the needle and tangle the thread in the machine after sewing only 20cm of fabric. Back to scratching my head about that one…
STEP 4: Find a professional to help with the fabrication! Through Toi Poneke Arts Centre, I was met costume designer Darlene Bennett. We have since collaborated to transforming mere ideas into reality beautifully executed.
And here is the final “prototype”:

The Light-Panel assembled in the studio, with heavy duty backdrop stands and superclamps holding the center bar.

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