DIY Spiderlight.... SOFTBOX !

Last week I posted a DIY article on building a DIY Spiderlight. If you haven't seen it here it is:

I finally had some time to complete the softbox that was meant to go along this light fixture.
Here's what it looks like (without the diffuser panel):

I am so happy. The whole thing is very lightweight and also really strong. It also costs a fraction of a real softbox. Be advised though, this won't be done in an hour. It took me several hours to build it, and it is mostly because of the curved shape of the 4 sides. A "pyramidal" shaped softbox would have been much less complicated. But hey... does it look cool or what !

To build this baby you will need:
- a 4' x 8' sheet of black corrugated plastic. Also called Coroplast (about 20$ and you can get it at your local signmaker or hardware store).
- a roll of STRONG aluminum foil
- Spray adhesive
- Aluminum tape
- Some wood to make the frame
- Some material for the diffuser panel. I bought a piece of ripstop nylon. Seems to work fine and it is also the "standard" material for this purpose.
- a couple of "L" shaped metal brackets
- Tools: Knife, scissors, T-50 stapler + staples

That's pretty much it! About 35$ total for everything.
Here's how it was done:

Here's is a piece of coroplast with the layout of one of the big side parts.

One of the sides cut out. Notice the direction of the channels on this piece. This is important ! (No, I did NOT cut this on the hardwood floor!)

Here's a template for cutting the sides. Click for full size jpg.

Cutout of one of the top/bottom panels. Notice the direction of the channels on this piece. This is important !

When you bend coroplast in the wrong direction, it can be desastrous. To avoid permanent fold marks, simply take a very sharp knife and cut the FIRST HALF the the coroplast layer. I did a cut every inches or so. This allows the whole panel to bend nicely without any problem (at least not yet...more details coming).

Aluminum foil applied to the panel with spray adhesive.
***** UPDATE May 1st 2008 *****
It has been brought to my attention that Mylar (the stuff heat survival blanket are made of) could do a much better job of reflecting that precious light. A good thing to know. I will probably replace the alu foil with some of this mylar soon...

Here's the wood frame what will hold everything together. It will also be used to hold the diffusion panel as well. I did not picture any steps regarding the construction of this frame since the excellent strobist, do-it-yourselfer and photographer Nick Wheeleroz already did it when he build his own softbox. Click here to read his tutorial on building the wood frame. While you're there, take a couple minutes to check his incredible work too!
By the way Nick, I am a professionnal woodworker myself and i built it exactly the same way as you did. See, no need to go with fancy joinery on that thing :o)
The only difference with his version and mine is that I built it a bit thicker and added a additionnal screw from the side for increased stability.

Here's the part where I TOTALLY SUCKED at this project. The fact that I had cut the first layer of the coroplast to make it bend easier, also made it really soft. I had to temporarily attach both of the softbox sides to the Spiderlight fixture and figure out a crude way to support and secure the whole thing while installing the top and bottom panels. The side panels were first stapled on the wood frame.

I did not know what the final shape of the top/bottom panels would be so I had to take a big piece of thin cartboard and lay it down over the two installed sides and trace it out. I then transferred the layout on the coroplast panels.
Maybe I am making this sound simple but in fact it took me two whole afternoons of head scratching to figure out a way to do it all. Hopefully one of you guys will figure out a better way to do it and post it on this thread.

Oh and I forgot, the top/bottom panels were first stapled to the wood frame. Then, they were connected to the side panels using black duct tape. I know, it ain't pretty, but is holds damn well. At least it's not grey!

The completed softbox. Ain't it pretty ?

A quick look from the inside.

Lightbulbs in. Ready... set....

Yeouch! My eyes! :o)

I placed the diffusion panel (cotton sheet) over the softbox for testing purposes. Both of these shots were taken at 1/200 f2.8 ISO 80. The first one is with all 5 bulbs turned on. The second one is with only 3 of the bulbs turned on (see my tutorial on the DIY-Spiderlight for more details). You can really see the difference in brightness.

Taken at 1/1600 f2.8 ISO 80

Now a first field test (BEWARE OF THE MONSTER):
Yep. It's me. Turned off all other lights in the room and set my camera on the tripod. This shot is not really good. Here's why:
1- I was alone. I had to pre-focus on... thin air. No subject to focus on since i'm behind the camera while composing the shot. That's why it ain't sharp.
2- The softbox is still on the floor. I haven't got my lightstand and swivel bracket yet.
3- The subject is ugly!
4- Again I was alone so no one or/and no lightstand yet to hold a reflector for me.

Anyway. It does work! This was shot at 1/30 f2.8 ISO 80 (please note I shot this using a Powershot S5 IS. The f2.8 on my camera is much more slower than the real f2.8 you are getting on a DSLR lens.). Still a bit too overexposed on the lightened side. Of course this kind of light is not to be used to picture an excited child moving around.

That's pretty much it! Later this week i will install the diffusion panel with velcro on the wood frame. I will also work out a way to make the spiderlight removable with some sort of washers and wing nuts...
As soon as I have my lightstand I will do some more serious testing with hopefully better subjects than me.
Might take a while though... I want to order my first "off-camera" flash. But then I have to decide between Nikon or Canon, but then I have to decide of my next camera as well... and so as lenses and BLAAAHHHHH!!!!!

Anyway. Just give me a couple weeks. I'll be updating this thread as soon as everything is in.

Hope you like the softbox!

Here's some more test shots:
1/60 f2.8 ISO100, No diffusion screen, Softbox on left, DIY reflector on right

1/40 f2.8 ISO100 No diffusion screen, Softbox on left, DIY reflector on right

1/40 f2.8 ISO100 WITH cotton diffusion screen, Softbox on left, DIY reflector on right. Again,please note I shot this using a Powershot S5 IS. The f2.8 on my camera is much more slower than the real f2.8 you are getting on a DSLR lens.

Next chapter: Mounting the whole kit on a light stand!


Nick said...

Hi Alex,

This looks fantastic. Great job with the coroplast, the final product looks really professional. I hope you don't mind if I "borrow" some of this design for my mark II softbox? :)



Entropy said...

The best way to focus for a self portrait is to stand where you'll be in the picture,with the camera, and focus on your tripod's head. It'll be the same distance in the end. The camera does not care which way it's facing ;)

Alex Campagna said...

Thanks a lot for that tip! It makes sense! :)

Terry Smith Images said...

One thing I've used quite successfully before on home-made soft boxes is white shower curtains. The diffusion is great, and a totally white shower curtain is very cheap.

Also, Jim Talkington over at Pro photo life makes diffusion panels out of Rosco Tough Frost Diffusion # 3026. A 20x24" sheet is only $5.50 at B&H. I've never used any of it myself, so I don't know how it will take the heat.

Jim blogged about your blog, so I'll ask him this question on his blog post!

Mike Seymour said...

Thank you for posting all this. It's been very helpful.

Entropy, thanks for the self portrait tips.

juanBONILLA said...

Hey Alex, you've inpired me to try both the spider lights and the softbox. I may deviate a little on the softbox, but I'll try to stay true to the design as much as I can. I will blog about this post in my blog in case you want to stop by and comment. Again, thanks for the inspiration. Fantastic work!

Paulo said...

Hi Alex,

This is great stuff. I´ve been working on a softbox using recicled materials and cheap light bulbs. It´s almost finished, and so far i spent less than $20. It doesn´t look as good as yours but it´s extremely light and does the job. If your interested, I would be very pleased to share de design and the results.


Paulo (from Portugal)

Alexandre Campagna said...

By all means Paulo! When you have it online simply post your link here and i'll gladly take a look!

I just got my light stand and swivel bracket today! I have my softbox installed, but no subject to shoot right now besides me. So as soon as my roommate is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of DIY stuff, i'll post some pics.

Thanks all for your interest!

Paulo said...

Hi Alex!!!

This is the link:


Feel free to coment.



Randy said...

Just wanted to know to what you used to mount it to the lightstand and if you could post some photos would be great. Thanks

lotso said...

I'm interested in how mounted it onto the stand

Agos said...

This is really a clever idea. The coroplast makes it look VERY sexy, this is definitely something I'm gonna try as soon as I'm over with my exams.
The only thing I'd point out is that it looks from the shooting data that there's not much light coming out... but I suppose that going up to 9 lamps could do the trick.

Brian Kreider said...

Great work, I love the ideas and the design.

Here is an idea for the softbox construction. Instead of using the spiderlight as the frame for the softbox, could you not make a small frame that would fit around the spider light and then use that to attach to the spider light. With this approach you could take the softbox off the spider light and still have it stable.

Scott Fillmer said...

thanks for the how-to on the light box, that looks great!

Alexandre Campagna said...

I have made a few more posts recently with details on how to mount it on a stand, plus a real food shoot with the whole package.

Just check under my archives under June 2008.

Thanks all for you kind comments!

Pouya said...

absolute best tutorial!! Thanks you!

Anonymous said...

Can you post the pattern for the ends of the softbox like you did for the sides?

Martin said...

Hi Alex,

Thank you for the excellent description on how to make the softbox.

But I can only find the template for cutting the sides - not the top/bottom. Can you provide this template as well?

Thanks in advance.


Anonymous said...


Great Tutorial. Does anybody know another word for "coroplast"?

I'm from Germany and I have no clue where I can get that sort of material!!!
Thanks in advance!


Alexandre Campagna said...

Thanks all for the nice comments!

I am sorry but I do not have any templates for the ends. I had them "cut to fit" (see tutorial) once the thing was partially assembled.

The real name for coroplast is "Corrugated Plastic". You will find it at your local signmaker's store.

Anonymous said...

Gday mate,

Just thought I would share mine with you. Im an electrician so I had a few pieces laying around. All I need to do now is make the softbox and figure out a way to mount it.
Thanks for the ideas and the inspiration :D




creatiffe said...

Hi, Alex! it's great!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
trying to do something like yours.
can you give template for cutting of another side, in this post you shared only with one side ;)


jim said...

hey Alex... great job. is there a pattern for the top and bottom panels like you have a pattern for the side panels?


Matt said...

I'm wondering how I might best scale this down a bit. I don't think I really need a 3'x4' light. I don't have a room for a studio and I'm really just getting in to studio photography.

What do you think about one or two lights with 3 bulbs in a straight line, and maybe a box of 2.25'x3' (same proportions)?

Also, from those of you who have done these, do you have any more specific advice about the material for the diffuser? Thickness or weight, number of sheets, heat/fire considerations?

Great post. I love it!

Alexandre Campagna said...

If you scale it down, you should only scale down the softbox, not the light fixture. These bulbs are not powerful enough to be scaled down. Believe me 5 cfl's is a minimum in my book. Just look at the camera settings in the above examples...
When I built this thing I did considerable research on the diffuser material. The best material (according to the majority of photographers/articles out there) for this purpose is white rip-stop nylon. Since CFL's already output diffused light, you only need 1 layer. (You don't need an extra panel inside like studio strobe softboxes).

As for the fire hasard issue, CFL's don't get really hot, the only concern you should have is wiring your electrical box correctly and insulating the wire from the box near the holes, so that the wire doesn't get damaged by the box's sharp edges.

Glad you like it !

Matt said...

Any reason why you picked the 4:3 ratio? Would a 3'x3' box be just as good? What are the implications of the different shapes/sizes?

Alexandre Campagna said...

I don't see why a differend ratio/size softbox you have an impact the image.
It all depends on what you want to shoot.
If you want to do portraits, the dimensions in this tutorial are just about adequate... if not enough. But if you want to shoot products, or anything in smaller scale, you can go smaller.

Matt said...

Just a quick search I did for emergency blanket:

Emergency Blanket

This is what I plan to use. Great idea from whoever came up with it!

i e R said...

alex, kudos to you, u did a wonderful job, and i believe u'll inspire a lot of DIYer to do it themself. even i am doing one myself, hope i can post up picture and stepbystep of how i did it. thank you

Anonymous said...

How did you achieve the curved markings on the side panels? That's where I'm getting hung up. Thanks, and great job!


Terry B said...

Did you use a certain tool to make the curved marks?--Terry

Matt said...

Any reason why this must be curved? Would a "truncated pyramid" work just as well with respect to lighting effect and projection?


Aamer said...

I started building this but had to abandon it in the middle.

I am selling the already built lightbox with wires and plug attached, along with the corrugated plastic.

All you need to do so is shape the plastic and put it on.

See my craigslist listing

felidale said...

cool tutorial...very funny, the last thing i had expected to see here was the complete hafele...haha . There is all kind of use for this book

matt said...

Hey Alex.
I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation assuming you want a parabolic dish for maximum light reflection. I understand ideally it is best to place the lights at the focal point of your parabolic dish and in my opinion (according to quick calculations) I think you could benefit from a slightly shallower soft box :-D

I'm no mathematician or engineer in fact I'm a fine arts student with a mathematical background but I think that anyone looking into building one of these should take into account parabolic light reflection (like you would designing a solar cooker). And from there design your net.

I am currently working on designing a net which accounts for parabolic light reflection using rough numerical methods although if there is a pure mathematician in the crowd it would be great for you to speak up :-D

I am very interested in your design approach Alex, your construction is inspiring and I'm interested in how you came up with your template. Also why did you align the top and bottom channels running perpendicular to their curve? in order to make the box rigid?

Anonymous said...

is there any way you can post the template for the other side of the box?


ogi said...

I'm planning to make this softbox. it's gorgeous. Could you send the templete for the other side of the box? Thanks:)

Pouya said...

okay peoples! stop asking for the other templete maybe he doesn't check this anymore or maybe he doesn't want to put it up haha i get so many email updates of the people asking the same thing...

Timothy said...

Thanks for the blog. I did a similar light but with six lights. I added a second switch so that I have a couple different stages. First stage one light, second with 3, and the third with all six lights. It has a central light with 5 surrounding. Now I got to make a soft box, but I am going to make it octagon. Thanks for the ideas.

Eenimon said...

Thanks for your tutorial!
This was very inspiring for me to build my own Softbox / Spiderlight.


stupify said...

Nice one sir, thanks for sharing this more power to you and to your endeavours

Anonymous said...

Great Ideas. But what about dimming the unit. Wouldnt that be a good thing to do? You could have any light you want.

Jonah Blaeser said...

Hey Alex,

First of all: Very nice Softbox, I think I will build one myself :)
But i have a question? How did you attach the Softbox to you lightstand and which lightstand do you use? It would be very nice if you answer me. Thanks! :)

Greetings from Germany

Ed James said...


I love this softbox and I'd love to make an exact replica. I see that you have your measurments included but I'm having trouble figureing them out. Is there a way you can dumb it up for me :-)

I'd like to get started on it soon because out first child is on the way and it would work perfectly for new born shots.