Tuesday, September 18, 2012

D.I.Y. Photek Softlighter II Flash Bracket

I picked up a couple of Light Mods recently - the Photek Softlighter II in both 36" and 46" sizes. They are basically a bounce-umbrella with a diffuser panel to soften the light and give you more control over spill. The diffuser has a "sock" over a hole in the center that you put your flash through and then it's all good. The only problem is, with a standard umbrella bracket setup, your flash is going to be pointing  anywhere but at the center of this thing. I looked around but didn't find anything I could buy to fix this.
So, I went to the hardware store instead:

And here's what I bought:

  1. A copper plumbing fitting - the salesman at the hardware store called it a torpedo. Something to help when installing a faucet and you need to get the connector through the wall or something like that. (I don't know - I'm not a plumber). This cost me about $4.50. A short piece of copper pipe or aluminum tubing would work also. If you buy something else, make sure it will fit in the top of your umbrella bracket.
  2. A Cold Shoe Mount - I picked up a bunch of these from B and H for little projects like this. Another $3.95.
  3. 1/4 x 20 thumbscrew - Pennies.

Using a hacksaw I cut about 1-1/2" off the long end of the copper torpedo filed it smooth (you will want to measure your flash height to see how much to cut - don't forget to include any shoe mounted accessories like radio slaves). Then I removed the plastic thing on the other end and cut off the tip there, and again filed it smooth.

Measuring the strobe I determined where to drill a 1/4" hole through the copper (I actually just eyeballed it - seems I never get things exact even if I measure them). Pounded the end just a wee little bit flat with a hammer. Tapped it with a center point to keep the drill bit from wandering and drilled all the way through.

I put a small washer on the thumbscrew and then put it through the hole from the top, screwed the Cold Shoe Mount onto the thumbscrew on the bottom, put my strobe on and loaded it up into the umbrella bracket. The first time I did this I realized I needed to take a little more off on that first cut I mentioned. I wanted the "top" of my flash almost touching the umbrella shaft. So 3/4 an inch later it was much closer to where I wanted it.

Then I set the angle right. The umbrella bracket holds the umbrella at an upward angle so that the center of the umbrella will be even with the height of the flash when you mount it the way it was intended. I wanted to lessen the 90-degree angle on this copper piece and make it match that angle, so I took it all apart, put the torpedo into a vise and pulled on it to bend it out a bit. This took a bit of trial and error but was done pretty easily.

Just to make it look nicer and easier to handle, I wrapped it in Gaffer Tape. Put it all back together and it's done. Here's a closeup with the Softlighter II pulled back a bit so you can see it more clearly.

Now setting up the Photek Softlighter II is a snap. I had a clunky arrangement before, running my flash along the length of the umbrella shaft with some other spare parts from older light mods and a ball-bungie in there somewhere and it was quite a pain, so I'm very happy with how quickly and easily this works. Plus, I can mount the Softlighter with the removable portion of the shaft removed now (imagine that - something I couldn't do with my old setup) which allows placing the Softlighter much closer to the subject.

Really a pretty simple project to do and shouldn't take you more than an hour tops. (Having done this once already I could probably do it in 15 minutes).
Here's what you'll need:

  1. All the materials listed above
  2. Drill with 1/4" bit
  3. Hammer
  4. Hacksaw (or tubing cutter)
  5. File
  6. Vise (or something to hold it so you can bend the angle - maybe a C-clamp on a heavy bench)
  7. Gaffer Tape (optional)

Note that this works with an Umbrella Swivel Bracket similar to this, with the top stud and shoe removed. Any questions, hit me below in the comments.