Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


My Custom Ring Light

I made myself a DIY ring light over the weekend that I wanted to share with everyone. Its design is inspired by the Ray Flash and its materials are inspired by this DIY ring light tutorial. Truthfully, I'd much rather own a Ray Flash, but $35 and a little elbow grease looked much more appealing than $300.

Sorry, I didn't take pictures of the building process, I don't have diagrams and this isn't a how-to post. Why? Partly because there are about a billion DIY ring light tutorials on the internet already that are probably easier than mine, but mostly because I am way too impatient to stop and take pictures throughout the building process. If enough people really love this design and need to know how to make it, I'll do another how-to post in the future. But unless I get bombarded with requests, I wouldn't count on it. It's that I'm selfish, it's just that I'm impatient.

But to give you a short description of it's design, I used galvanized rain gutter pipes (the kind that are really shiny) to reflect the light from my on-camera 550ex down into a clamp light reflector diffused with a store-bought cutting board mat. I think the picture of it on my camera is pretty self-explanatory, but let me know if you have any questions.

Here are the results of my first tests on my niece and sister-in-law. Took some time to figure out how to use this thing with good results...never worked with a ring light before. All pictures are shot with a 1/2 CTO on the flash.

Sorry for the poor image quality of the picture showing the ring light attached to my camera. My 5D is my only DSLR, so I had to use my little point and shoot Casio to get that shot.

Custom Filter Case

As (primarily) a landscape photographer, split neutral density filters are my bread and butter. I have 5 in all plus a solid ND and a polarizer. Split NDs are virtually useless in screw-in ring form, so I opt for the Singh-Ray rectangular filters with Cokin P series holders.

I've gone through several different filter cases from generic to name brand to custom to different custom, etc. There were some specific points I needed in a filter case that none of these fulfilled entirely. I wanted it to be small enough to fit in a camera bag and in a photo vest pocket, I wanted it to be able to attach to my belt or belt loop, I wanted it to be entirely enclosed when shut, I wanted no velcro closure (too loud) and I wanted it to adequately protect my filters without overkill.

Now I'm sure it's no secret among photographers that a CD wallet is a great option for this (if it is news to you - hooray!). The materials used to protect CDs are generally on par with materials used to protect photo equipment so there's no worry there. The sleeves are in a convenient binder-esque arrangement for easy browsing. It's small in width and length and relatively thin. The only problem I kept running into is I couldn't find a blasted CD case that would lay flat when opened. They all had this wrap-around design on the binding that would cause it to shut on itself like a new paperback novel.

Well this post is about a great case I found for this application as well as some of my modifications that make it the ultimate filter case.

First off, the brand of case is Case Logic and it's a 24 CD/DVD CD Wallet. It's great because it lays completely flat when opened - no spring return - and it's covered in this somewhat rubbery outer that has stood up excellently to the elements for me. It features a full zipper that is smooth and has a rubber-tipped zipper pull. It is the smallest CD wallet I have found that will still fit all my filters and its rounded corners and edges make for easy storage. I like it so much, I got two in case they discontinue it. I bought mine at Best Buy - not sure if they still sell them or not.

Now onto the mods to make it even better. I wanted to be able to attach it to my hip belt loop, so I needed to add a carabiner in the upper left corner. I did this by taking some strong string (I used a sunglasses cord I bought at REI), threading it behind the sleeves and wrapping them around the binding pegs (see picture). I then tied it at the top with a slight loop hanging over the edge at the end of the zipper. I recommend melting the ends of the cord with a lighter to avoid fraying. This made it so a small loop of the cord would hang out of the wallet in the upper left corner when the zipper was completely shut. I then attached a small carabiner to this loop and presto, you got yourself a wicked side filter wallet.

To make it even better, I put labels on each sleeve indicating the filter. I did one horizontally on the opposing sleeve for viewing horizontally and a smaller one vertically on the filter's sleeve. The vertical label makes more sense when using the wallet when it's hanging from your side. I then put little squares of thin cardboard on the opposite side of each filter sleeve. This keeps the sleeve rigid when the filter is removed making it much easier to slide it back in later.

I found this setup to work great for me. I just attach it to my right hip belt loop when I get my camera out and start shooting. I have every filter right at my fingertips in a completely sealed wallet (not water PROOF of course, but water resistant nonetheless). I can remove a filter and let the wallet drop to my side with no worries. It has stood up perfectly to many harsh conditions (especially sand and sea spray). I've never had a filter break in this wallet, it's easy to store and transport and it's cheap!

New Toys! – Radiopopper Customization

Guess what I got today...

...BOO YA!

That's right, I got my transmitter and 2 receivers from Radiopopper! These things are BADASS. If you've never heard of them before, do yourself a favor and visit I haven't had much of a chance to get some test shots using these newfangled contraptions. I did, however, want to share with you a little customization action I did to them.

Radiopopper recommends you use a piece of gaffer's tape to secure the fiber optic bead over the IR sensor of the slave unit. This is definitely the easiest and best way to mount it, but I hate waste and I don't even have any gaffer's tape, so here is my solution-you might like to try it, too.

First thing I did was cut a 2-inch long piece of the loop side of Velcro brand, uh, velcro. Then I cut a piece of craft foam sheet (get it at craft supply stores) 1 inch by 1 inch. I removed the adhesive backing from the velcro strip and folded 1/4" of each end onto itself so that adhesive met adhesive and I had a piece of loop Velcro that wrapped around on each side. This left a square 1"x1" on the adhesive side to fit the foam onto. I placed the foam onto this patch to create essentially a velcro band that was entirely loop on one side and the other side was a square inch of foam bordered by velcro on each side. I then put small strips of hook velcro on either side of the infrared sensor. So this makes it possible for me to velcro this band over the bead on top of the IR sensor for a secure connection.

I tried to describe this as best I could, but after reviewing what I wrote, I could see how I might appear to make about as much sense as a screen door on a battleship ("now make like a tree and get outta here"). A picture is worth a thousand words, so just check out the following shots and they should make more sense of it.

So that's my custom Radiopopper fiber optic bead infrared sensor attachment majigy. It works great and it's easily removable. Mine is for a Canon 430ex, but the principle applies to any flash. I highly recommend slim Velcro brand velcro. It's strong and incredibly thin. I found mine at Home Depot. Here's the velcro piece in live action.

These things are GREAT inventions. Thank you, Kevin King, for creating this magical contraption. I wuzn't smart enuff to think it up. I will definitely be posting a blog soon about the units themselves and how they work in a real, live photo shoot. So stay tuned.