Projects // V-Flats and Catchlights

I have two DIY projects I’m looking at starting and I thought if I blog about them it will help me to plan them out!


The first project is to find easily accessible and relatively cost effective materials to make v-flats. V-Flats are an alternative to traditionally framed and mounted backdrops. They are basically two large sheets of polyboard gaffer taped together to make a v-shape. They can be solid black, solid white, one colour on either side or can be painted (for example, using the Dulux texture paint I used for my MacGyver backdrop). They are easily moved, stored and (apparently) cheap. However, cost-effective and easily accessible in the US doesn’t always translate to here in Australia.

I first came across v-flats on a Creative Live tutorial with the amazing portrait photographer Sue Bryce¬† where she talked about being able to walk into a hardware store in the US and pick up polyboard in the home installation section to make her own v-flats. The effect was incredible, but it doesn’t seem to be as easy as that here.


An example of one of Sue Bryce's lighting set ups from her blog, using v-flats

An example of one of Sue Bryce’s lighting set ups from her blog, using v-flats


I have a few avenues that I can look into, I’m just trying to keep the costs down as much as possible. Even to buy the paint I used on my MacGyver backdrop was expensive, and that was just a small sample pot! So I welcome any and all suggestions!


Ring Lights / Square Lights

The second project I’m looking at came about in a roundabout way and sort of requires some explaining. You can get certain “tells” about what lighting set up a photographer uses by looking at the lights reflected in a subject’s eyes in a photo. For example, this photo of my sister you can see that I have used one relatively large key light camera right by the reflection in her eyes. These are called “catchlights” and are actually highly desirable, even when shooting with natural light. Without these, the eyes tend to look lifeless, flat and dull.




One of my favourite kinds of catchlights are formed using “ring lighting”. Basically a ring of light is wrapped around the lens or the camera and causes a focused, even wash of light that has very little drop off behind a subject, but also gives this amazing ring of light in a person’s eyes.


Stephen Colbert by Mark Mann

Stephen Colbert by Mark Mann


This photo of Stephen Colbert by Mark Mann shows very obvious ring lighting catchlights in his eyes. While really effective in portraiture, ring lighting is often used in macro photography (such as close ups of flowers or small insects) as it gives such a focused, solid output. Ring Lights can be huge, highly expensive pieces of studio equipment, right down to D.I.Y versions using cardboard rings and household lightbulbs (not recommended unless you know a lot about electrical workings or an electrician).


Left: Canon Ring Light Macro Attachment, Right: DIY Ring Light

Left: Canon Ring Light Macro Attachment, Right: DIY Ring Light


Anyway, when I was in a hotel in Sydney recently for the AHBL con, the bathroom mirror had this amazing frame of solid light that gave off this warm, even light. But better yet, it made these perfect square catchlights in your eyes. It reminded me a lot of this photo of Mark Sheppard, which is one of my favourite photos of him and I wish I knew the photographer.




See the very straight v-shaped catchlights (probably caused by two lights placed under him pointing upward). It was like that but perfect, straight angled squares. So now I’m obsessed with finding a similar mirrored framework, and shooting through it to cause these square ring lights. I have no idea where I would even go about finding this, but that is my second D.I.Y. project!

Both of these projects involve studio lighting and I’ve found that even though it is difficult and complex I’m really enjoying trying to teach myself. So hopefully I’ll have something to show you soon with either project!