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Snoot + Grid

April 7, 2012

Super quick DIY photographic accessory for your flash… a SNOOT GRID. A snoot is a simple device able to control how the light of a flash diffuses in space: basically, it is just a tube (with circular or square/rectangular section) affixed to the flash, that reduces the angular spread of the light and constraining it to a certain shape. If to the end of the tube there is a honeycomb-shaped grid, the result is that the flash is turned in a very nice soft spot, quite useful in portraits and product photography.

I’m not much of a strobist (i.e. a photographer with special love of lighting setups, often bordering obsession), but I have always been curious about flash modifications. Flash is quite helpful in many situation, but its extremely hard light makes it difficult to use it, most of the times… Having a way to turn my flash into a softer spot would really be a useful trick.

Now, while in commerce there are many many snoots and snoot grids, it is possible to build one with minimal effort, time and money. So, I decided to try following one of the various online tutorials. The good news is that it is possible to build a snoot grid in 20 minutes!

For the first snoot grid I used coroplast, that is a kind of corrugated plastic shaped like cardboard (two sheets of plastic with long square-section cells in between). Sheets of this corrugated plastic are easily found in most hardware stores, but also office depots. The idea is to build a grid using the cells of small sections of the coroplast. So, I cut the sheet in small section, each one wide as the width of the flash head and 2cm deep. Stacking some of these section until the height of the flash head is reached, it is possible to assemble a grid. To stick one layer to another, the simplest thing is to use double-sided tape: a small piece in the middle will be enough. The external box of the snoot is just another piece of coroplast cut to measure and bent to build a box (then closed using tape). The result is a simple tube which fits well the head of the flash.

Building the snoot grid, there are some basic rules:

  • the longer the snoot, the more concentrated is the light spot. On the other hand, short snoot will have wider spread.
  • the shape of the section of the snoot does affect the shape of the spot, but do not expect an exact match.
  • the larger are the cells of the grid, the harder will be the spot.
  • the longer are the small tubes of the grid , the softer and weaker will be the spot
  • the darker the material of the snoot, the weaker the spot.
  • the more “irregular” is the grid, the softer and less definite the spot

I just randomly picked some measure, and was pleased by the result. If you are a control freak, you may have to experiment a bit more…

I took some picture of objects I had around; it is always difficult to convince people to pose for me (especially women). The results seem good enough… A nice soft spot of light. In the examples, I had the flash and snoot grid affixed to the camera, but this accessory may (and should) be used also on slave flash units.

A word of caution: the light output of the flash is greatly reduced, but your camera does not know it. In order to correct this, you’ll have to use exposure correction OR flash exposure correction (manual mode is also an option, if you feel braver), until you get the desired level of brightness in the photo. Since the tube is just an attachment, it is possible to bend it a little to better direct the light spot.

As an alternative to coroplast, it is possible to use drinking straws. Everyone recommends black straws (to cut light output) but, while at IKEA shopping for furniture, I spotted a pack of colored drinking straws… and I decided to try to see if a colored straw will produce a colored, soft spot. The idea is to build a grid using small sections of the straws, arranged in rows.

I cut the straws in section more or less 5cm long (I got three section per straw) and arranged them in layers, again using double-sided tape.  As the external box I used black thick paper, cut to measure, bent to a box shape and closed using tape. Also the second snoot grid was quick to build, and produced good results.

So, the only remaining question is: does colored straws produce a colored soft spot? The answer is, unfortunately, NO… Even if the straws are semi-transparent and colored, they do not act as gel… too bad :(… Next time I’ll add a small slot to the side of the snoot to be able to insert a colored gel.


From → Photography, Project

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