Here’s a list of my five favorite ways to save on traditional flash modifiers. Some of these modifiers are DIY, so be ready to use scissors and other crafting tools if necessary. I’ll try to list only the cheapest options with the assumption that not everyone has DIY crafting materials on hand. There are always ways to make a light modifier for cheaper depending on available supplies. This list assumes you have light stands ($15+ each on Amazon).
To buy a professional brand soft-box will often cost anywhere from $120 to over $300 depending on size. Bigger, in this case, is often better. The bigger the box, the bigger the light source appears and the softer your subjects shadows become. The cheapest decent sized soft-box on Amazon is now around $30. I did a ton of research into the price effectiveness of DIY softboxes. Many claimed $20 or less, but unless you already had cardboard or tents or metal brackets or foil or sheets, then the cost for going DIY wasn’t cheaper than buying a real softbox with a speedlite bracket too. Here’s a link to the cheapest, biggest, speedlite-ready softbox I could find on Amazon. $30 Softbox — $40 Octobox with Grid
The Beauty Dish
Everyone loves how they look when shot with a beauty dish. A good beauty dish costs around $100 and even the cheapo brands start at around $50, so the DIY option here might make sense. My current favorite DIY beauty dish will run you about $30 and some time. Take a look at the build over on Forty Sixty Photo: DIY beauty Dish. I also have a little DIY beauty dish I did that only uses poster board and hot-glue. The Forty Sixty build looks pretty close to real when finished, where mine is blatantly made with craft supplies.
Snoots cost way too much. Unless you’re using them all the time and in every shoot then skip the $15 -$110 price tag for a single modifier and instead buy a $10 roll of Photofoil from which hundreds of custom snoot shapes can be molded (including a soft-box if you’re handy). If you’re unfamiliar with the snoot, check out this nifty explanation (The Snoot). The snoot is a useful light modifier, but Photofoil is more than capable of handling the job and has done so in cinema shoots for over fifty years.
The Light Ring
Light rings make awesome catch lights in a model’s eyes and they’re also great for setting up a magical one-light shoot. Unfortunately, a light ring is often its own light source and not simply a light modifier, which leads to some extra cost and confusion when trying to match the light ring’s output to your kit lights. The average on-camera light ring will cost about $50 and not be a flash but instead be some form of continuous lighting. The flash based rings run upwards of around $300+. I’m so glad I did the research for this article, because I forgot about this great little modifier kit from DIY Lighting Kits: Ring Light. This kit does make it impossible to mount the flash directly to the camera, but that’s normal as most lights are off-camera for studio shoots anyhow. If you need an on-camera solution try something like this: Origami Ring Modifier. Using the ideas from the Origami ring light I could see making several unique shapes that served the same function and create “neat-o” catch lights too.
The bounce, or reflector, is another favorite of mine as it’s basically a cheater fill-light without all the extra hassle. A decent sized collapsible bounce will cost around $15 and while there are cheaper ways of making bounces, there’s really no cheaper way of making collapsible 5-in-1 bounces. Here the link to the $15 24″x36″ bounce on Amazon. If you happen to have access to a hardware store and all you want is a huge silver bounce, consider the Polyshield. I can buy 4’x8′ sheets for around $10. Another bounce option is a mylar emergency blanket held up by two assistants or glued to a sheet of cardboard. It’s not as easy to use multiple times, but is helpful when needed. I try to keep an emergency blanket in my photo bag for other reasons, but using it as a huge sun-gathering reflector is not out of the question.
That’s my list of inexpensive flash modifiers. For under $150 (the cost of just one pro light modifier) I can put together a decent looking modifier kit that will create similar results as the pro kits. That sounds pretty good to me. Now I’m off to try making that origami ring light because it looks neat.