This post is for my photographer friends who want to save a few $$ on studio equipment. I've been wanting to pick up a grid or two for my little 24"x24" softboxes, but they typically run about $150. Ouch! There are a number of DIY grid projects on the internet, but most are fashioned from paper - a medium which doesn't lend itself to being portable, storable, and durable... not to mention presentable.
How about a professional style fabric honeycomb grid that is easy to attach, simple to store, and hardy? Yes, it can be made for less than $10. In fact I made two for $15. And they work great! Putting one of these grids together is about as simple as, well, playing with scissors, connecting the dots, and stapling stuff. Read on...
These instructions are for a grid that fits a 24" x 24" hot-shoe style softbox, such as the Interfit Strobies 24" Softbox or the Lastolite 24" Ezybox. It would be simple to modify the pattern to fit nearly any dimension of softbox out there.
What you'll need:
- About 1 1/2 yards of black felt (medium weight) from your local fabric store
- Black elastic banding, again from your local fabric store
- Stapler and staples. A lot of staples in fact, at least 300!
- Silver sharpie
- Black sharpie
- Fabric cutter or a good pair of scissors
- Ruler and tape measure
- Cutting matte
Staples, really? Is this a joke? No, in fact, since we're going to be stapling up about 150 little boxes with more than 300 staples, your grid will be very sturdy. If you make a mistake and need to pull any staples out, you'll see why. Staples and felt are a fairly strong combination. You will be able to cram this grid into your supply bag, pull it back out, stretch it over your softbox, and repeat. Try that with a paper grid!
Before You Start
Before you buy your felt, you'll want to decide how deep your grid will be - the deeper the grid the more directional the light. I opted to build both a 3" and 2", and from early tests I think the 3" version will see the most use. The pictures here show the making of the 3" deep version. The only difference will be how wide you make the strips, 2" or 3" - the lengths of each strip will remain exactly the same.
When you are at the fabric store be careful not to "accidentally" load any bolts of fabric into your cart - yes, they make great backdrops for the studio, and there are boundless possibilities, but they sure will add some cost to this project.
Step 1 - Cut Felt Strips
We need to cut one 74" strip, one 72" strip, and nine 50" strips - each 3" wide (or 2" if you don't want your grid as deep). I'll let you figure out how best to do the cutting - I'm pretty handy with tools, but cutting large pieces of cloth can get hairy, the stuff just doesn't want to stay put. My wife's rotary cutting tool (shown here) sure was handy - like a miniature pizza cutter for cloth!
Step 2 - Use the silver sharpie to mark a dot every 2" along each strip.
Each dot will eventually connect to another dot on a different strip. Easy enough. Don't get too worried about accuracy, just make sure there's a clearly visible dot approximately every 2".
Step 3 - Form the first row
Using the 74" strip and the stapler form the first row of the grid pattern. The 74" strip loops back on itself - make sure the dots are on the outside of the loop, facing away from each other, so you can line them up. Follow the pattern shown here, carefully putting two staples across the width of the strip at each of the designated staple points. Use the diagram and photograph below as a reference for the finished product.
Really work at getting that stapler in there, squish the cloth a bit, to make sure those staples line up nicely along the invisible line cutting across the fabric at each staple point designated by a silver dot.
No, it doesn't look like anything special at this point, in fact it looks fairly pathetic, but it is the foundation for everything to come and it will shape up soon enough…
Step 4 - Add the first 50" strip.
The pattern is shown here.
Here's how to do it. Connect the second dot on a 50" strip to the dot on the outside edge of the 74" strip as shown below, as before using two staples across the width of the cloth where the dot is.
Now, skip two dots and connect the fifth dot on the 50" to the other outside edge of the first loop of the 74" strip, as shown here.
The next dot connects to the inside of the next loop of the 74" strip, as shown here.
Skip two more dots… continue repeating the pattern.
The very last loop is different, only skip one dot in this case, and connect it up to the cloth below it, as shown here.
There's a little loose flap of cloth on both the beginning and end of each row, just leave these loose for now, we'll staple them up later.
Now, just repeat this same pattern over again, for each of the nine 50" strips:
Soon you'll have a nearly complete grid.
Step 5 - Close the grid with the 72" strip.
Start this strip in exactly the same way as the 50" strips, but when you get to the end there will be plenty of material left. Loop the remaining strip back on itself and staple each remaining dot to a matching dot on an outside loop. The picture below shows this process nearly complete.
By now you're a pro and probably don't need my little diagrams, but here's the pattern for that final strip:
Step 6 - Clean up those loose ends.
Simply staple up those loose ends to the strip under each, so they don't stick out anymore. Doing this doubles up the thickness of the outside walls for extra rigidity.
Here we can see the unstapled edges:
And now the edges are stapled up and clean:
Step 7 - If you are tired of this project, skip to step 8.
But if you really want to make your grid look pro, pull out that black sharpie and blacken the staples.
Step 8 - Attach elastic straps.
About 3" from each corner of the grid cut two small holes near the top of edge of the grid. Thread a 3'+ length of elastic from one corner to the next, tie off at each end.
Repeat again for each side and you'll have four elastic straps.
Step 9 - Set your new grid on your softbox
Loop the elastic around the back of the softbox, and put your fancy gridded softbox to work!
I put the grid to use in a recent head shot setup:
Early in the setup I grabbed a quick test photo - you can see here how well the grid is directing the light and preventing spill.
Now, onto a really bad one-light setup with my son. This first shot is with the bare softbox, no grid installed:
Now, the same setup, but with the 3" deep grid. Note the lack of spill on the background and on the feathered falloff on the lower body:
Now the same with the 2" grid:
I love the 3" version, and seeing the results, I might even build a 4" version someday. I hope you find this a useful addition to your studio, and after you build one post some links in the comments below to photos you've taken using your grid. I'd love to hear from you and see the results!
By Adriel Henderson