When you have a tiny photo studio like myself, you have to be inventive. A few days ago during a portrait session, we really wanted to go a bit farther with the pictures and include all the upper body, but for some reason, the light wasn't working. The Softlighters were too big, but I have no alternative. That's when I went online to search for options. Strip boxes were what I was looking for. However, most strip boxes don't work for speed lights, or they have to be heavily modified. Further researched revealed a very promising product: The Saberstrip. It's a plastic tube with reflective material on the inside, with a fabric covered window over the length of the tube. You attach a flash to the bottom, the light reflects all over the inside of the silvery tube and out onto your subject, long and skinny. The footprint is ridiculous: 4 inches. Exactly what I needed.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of reviews or example about the product online. I searched everywhere. Some reports show that people like the product, but I still wasn't convinced it would be working for me. I had to make a decision to risk ordering them and having to return them, or build my own and test with with those. I decided to go with the latter.
Here is what I used:
- 2 cardboard mailing tubes (4" wide, 37" tall) with lids
- 2 rolls aluminum duct tape (not the grey plastic stuff... the REAL aluminum kind)
- 1 large roll of black tarp tape (similar to electrical tape, but as wide as duct tape. But any kind of strong tape, even regular duct tape, will do, as long as it's not white
- 1/2 yard of white ripstop nylon
- a pencil
- a ruler
- a very sharp pointy exacto knife (carpet knifes won't do - I tried...)
- 2 cold shoes for speed lights (which came with your speed lights)
- 2 backlight stands (regular light stands are too tall)
- 2 speed lights (preferably with a wireless trigger system). Make sure they fit the tube BEFORE you begin working.
Laying down the cardboard tube, I measured 21.5 cm from the bottom (the approximate length of my speed light) and drew a line around the tube. I measured 5 cm from the top, and drew another line. Then somewhere on the tube, I drew another straight line from the bottom line to the top line. I figured to make the window about 10 cm wide, so I drew another line 10 cm from the first, along the length of the tube. Voila, the window. Now the the hard part: cutting the window out without cutting off any fingers.
Then, with the same black tape, I covered the rest of the whole tube, expect for where the window is, taping down the top lid. If you leave the tube white, it's harder to spot where the window is, and later, when you are using your saber lights during a shoot, you'll be thankful they are easy to direct.
Once it was cut out, I cut lengths of the aluminum tape. I peeled off only the top 3 inches of the tape, laid it on the inside of the tube and then carefully pulled the backing off, patting it down as I went, pulling all the way through until the backing is all off and the strip is laid. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I also covered the top lid with the same material (inside only). Then I cut the nylon to size, 5 cm give on each side. The trick to getting it really tight over the window is to apply it first on the top and glue it on with some black tarp tape all along the width of the window. Then cut two small pieces of black tape, pull the nylon downwards and out as hard as you can, apply one piece to hold it and then the other corner, pull down and out, fix it with tape.
I needed a hole on the bottom lid of the tube that lines up with the 1/4" thread of the speed light's cold shoe. Make sure to place the cold shoe just right so it will not overlap the width of the lid. Drill a small hole in the lid where you marked it. Place the cold shoe on the TOP of the lid, so that it will be on the inside of the tube. Holding the lid in place, screw the cold show on the light stand bracket. Tighten it well. Now the lid is held in place. Now tape the cold shoe firmly down onto the tube lid. You can cover it up with aluminum tape afterwards, but that tape is quite brittle so tape it down with a different tape first. Again, make sure there is no overhang, otherwise the lid won't fit anymore afterwards. Attach the speed light. I use the Godox V850 with a wireless trigger that will fit the tube, so I don't have to keep open the tube to adjust the settings. Carefully place the tube over the speed light, hold the bottom lid and push down from the top, until it's in place. It may be a bit tight, but that's ok. It will hold better.
This configuration will only work vertically. The plastic lid is not strong enough to support the weight of the flash and the tube if moved about. Keep that in mind. The actual Saberstrip product is way more versatile, and I'm hoping that eventually, I will be getting myself a pair.
I haven't really had time to test the saber lights properly, but as far as I can tell, they will work fine for what I need them for. Lighting a white background without spill? Check. Rim lights? Check. Lighting the upper 2/3 of a person for a portrait shot? Check.