How to build a reflector rig for cheap

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Reflectors are a portrait photographer’s best friend. They give you the flattering result of a two-point lighting setup without the expense of a second flash. (For tips on setting up good lighting and taking better portraits, see the July “Digital Photo” column.)

The problem with reflectors is that they can be difficult to position if you don’t have an extra pair of hands. Well-healed photographers might want to invest in a specialized rig, such as the Photoflex LiteDisc Holder, which makes it easy to position the LiteDisc (or whatever type of reflector you’re using) at a variety of angles. But these accessories aren’t cheap. The stand alone will cost you around $60.

However, you can accomplish the same task for much less money by building your own rig. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • a piece of foam core or sturdy white cardboard cut to 18 inches by 18 inches
  • two A-Clamps
  • a light stand
  • Framing shops are a great source for inexpensive foam core. Just ask if they have remnants available. Sometimes they’ll even part with a square for free. You can pick up A-clamps at any local hardware store. My favorite type is the Pony 3201 clamp. You can spot them easily by their distinctive orange handles. They usually cost around $3 each—and they’re worth every penny. In fact, I recommend getting four of them because they’re so darn handy.

    You can find light stands online for around $30. If you don’t feel like investing even that much, then hit the swap meets, garage sales, and classifieds. You can usually find a serviceable light stand for less than $10. This will bring your total investment for this rig to less than $25. And you’ll use the Pony clamps and light stand for lots of other photo tasks too.

    Building Your Rig

    Assembling your reflector rig takes about 30 seconds. Extend the legs on the light stand (photo 1) , then pull up the midsection of the center pole to about 6 feet. Attach one A-clamp towards the top of the pole to serve as your cross piece. Then attach the reflector to the cross piece with the second A-clamp as shown here (photo 2).

    You can raise or lower your reflector by extending the center pole upward and downward. Remember, you want to position the reflector so it’s bouncing light on to the model’s face. If you need to change the vertical angle of your reflector, add a third Pony clamp to the pole near the bottom of the reflector. Swivel the clamp toward the reflector to push the bottom of the board farther away from the stand as needed.

    If a breeze kicks up, you can stabilize your reflector setup by using the fourth Pony clamp (photo 3) to secure the bottom of the reflector the same way you used the two clamps on top. Set your camera bag on one of the legs of the light stand to keep the setup from blowing over.

    When you’re finished shooting, just remove the reflector from the stand, collapse the center pole, fold the legs, and attach the Pony clamps to the light stand so you don’t lose them.

    [ Derrick Story is the author of Digital Photography Hacks , published by O’Reilly Media. ]

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