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Light Saber – DIY Saberstrip

Recently, I came across a nifty light modifier for small battery flashes called the Saberstrip. It’s a tube with a mount for the flash at one end, and a mirror at the other end, and a long window covered with diffusion fabric. The long linear light source makes a diffuse shadow in one direction. They can be doubled up and oriented as an “L” to give a look closer to an umbrella or soft. One big advantage of the Saberstrip is that it’s not a big sail that’ll catch the wind out on location. At US$135 plus another 15 for shipping, though, it’s rather expensive for the hobbyist.kat-01

There have been some DIY designs posted around the net using 3 and 4 inch PVC pipe. While pipe like that is an obvious choice given the original design, PVC of that size is heavy if it’s schedule 40 or 80. Additionally, thinner walled 4 inch sewer pipe tends to curl inward when a long window is cut out of it. It’d probably be possible to eliminate the curl of sewar pipe with a heat gun and spacers, it’s more work. Another DIY design used metal furnace duct but that’s difficult to make self supporting and the sheet metal tends to have sharp edges that are hard to smooth over and render unsharp. Cardboard tubes, being brown, would need to be lined with something.

So after thinking on it for a while, 2×3 inch PVC downspout (~US$9 at Lowes) seemed like the best alternative. It’s light, white, and will support itself. After thinking on it some more, it seemed that a white lining would not be as efficient as a shiny metal mirror-like surface. The company 3M makes aluminum foil tape (~US$7 at Lowes) that’s 2 inches wide. Lining the inside of the downspout and an a cap for the end with aluminym foil tape should efficiently distribute the light inside the tube.

Here’s the two of the DIY Saberstrips I made: one with the diffusion material on it and one without, to show the construction. Note that the diffusion material is being held on with masking tape, hence the yellow at the top and bottom – they are not char marks. The plan is to trim the diffusion fabric and apply velcro to hold it in place. The total project cost was under $20 for both because the only things I had to buy were the downspout and the foil tape, I had all the rest of the materials lying around.

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I cut the windows about 3 inches from both ends of a 40 inch long piece of downspout. The long side of the window is in the center of the beveled corners of the downspout. Cut the downspout with caution: the pieces I had were not of uniform thickness, so the force needed to pull the knife through it varied depending on the thickness. I used a utility knife with a hooked carpet blade in it, carefully puling through the downspout, always watching for where the knife would go if it slipped (been there, done that, absolutely no joy).

After I cut a piece of left over downspout to make an end cap for the DIY Saberstrip, I lined all of the inside walls of the tub with the aluminum foil tape. It took about 4 strips to completely line the inside with some overlap so none of the white insides showed through.

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And here is the other end with a short piece of left over laminate flooring I had around. It was convenient because it had a built in pad that the flash can be strapped against. I drilled four holes for 10-32 bolts with washers to hold the downspout to the floor strip.

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On the back side of the floor strip, I mounted a home-made cold foot cut from an aluminum ruler. It’s attached with two 1/4 inch long sheet metal screws with washers to hold it away from the surface.

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The DIY Saberstrip is then mounted in a cold shoe that atop a 5/8 inch stud. By using a cold shoe/stud like this, the strip can be rotated and tilted in the umbrella mount. (Of course, it needs to be snugly tightened so it does not come unscrewed and land on the ground…)

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The flash is then mounted on the other side of the flooring with a velcro strap. The flash is firing in this photo, but it’s hard to tell, especially since there is no diffusion fabric in place.

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Here you can see the spot from the flash firing in the horizontal strip without the diffusion fabric again. (The hanging white sheets are from the high key portion of a portrait session. It was all still set up when I took these photos.)

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All these shots of the DIY Saberstrip are nice, but how does it perform?

Here’s a BTS shot from the low key portion of the sitting using the diffused DIY Saberstrip with a gridded flash in the back as a hair light:

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Below is a shot with minimal processing from the camera my wife was using for the real shots. You can see the catchlight from the strip in her eyes. Simply beautiful.

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Posted in Behind the Scenes and diy and Portraits by david on February 3rd, 2013 at 6:38 am.

7 comments

7 Replies

  1. Nice striplight. I wonder how this would work with a softbox, creating a rimlight or something along those lines.

  2. Great idea! I’ve got some extra PVC gutter hanging around. Wonder how that would work in place of downspouts? Definitely something to play with. Thanks!

  3. Given the aspect ratio of the light, it should be similar to a strip soft box (we have none). A grid or barn doors might need to be made for the front of this, but black foam core or poster board should do the trick.

    I’d thought about gutter, but not all of them are symmetrical in cross section and the open ends would make them floppy (or that was my thinking) when trying to anchor them at one end and rotate them around like the real Saberstrips are used.

    I made these in the first place because going on location with all manner of light stands and umbrellas is kind of a pain. Two of these perpendicular to each other are a pretty good approximation of an umbrella. They’re also fairly light to hand hold with nearly none of the sail component in the wind. (Many of our umbrellas are bend up because of wind…)

    I posted not so much as a blueprint but as a starting point for ideas for the DIY-er. I think the thing I like the best out of this exercise (besides the light) is the home-made cold foot. I can certainly make/use that again for other projects…

  4. WAY COOL. Thanks for this. Just built mine today. Took me about 45 mins.

    Took some shots of my son. Look forward to experimenting more.

    Going to make a few different sizes as well.

    Appreciate you posting this.


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