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Gear & Apps

Great Instruction On Building DIY V-Flats

By Kishore Sawh on November 19th 2015

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I love V-Flats. Allow me to reiterate here: I LOVE V-Flats. I actually can’t think of anything, photography equipment related (other than a dirt cheap DIY emergency reflector as shown here) that is as useful in the price range it’s possible to have them for. Now please understand the precision of my wording there, because you can buy premade V-flats, though not common, and they can cost in the hundreds. Even when making them yourself, you can run into the hundreds if you choose to use materials like Gatorfoam and other little pieces I’ll mention a bit later. That said, you can still make a set of V-Flats for under $100 for sure, and they’ll be good.

Before I go any further, I think it pertinent to speak briefly on the use of V-flats. Three years ago, I think it was actually rather common to run into photographers who hadn’t the foggiest of what V-flats were or what they did, and some that knew had a notion that they were more the reserve of the major studio. Why this is I can only speculate, but I imagine that given their typical size being inhibitive to transport, many people didn’t have them and many shops (when there were camera shops) didn’t stock them. Anyway, there seems to be somewhat of a V-Flat renaissance, which was bound to happen.

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A V-flat, at the most primitive level, is a light modifying tool comprised typically of two large foam boards, either black or white, used to cut/flag light, or reflect it. That’s it. They can also be used as a backdrop or even flooring and are often used in this way. And used as such can be great at misleading the viewer to think the image was shot in a perfect studio, when in fact, it could be your garage.

Their versatility makes them a venerable photographic Swiss Army Knife, and now you probably are interested, and or already want some. The video below is one of the better examples I’ve found, if not the best, on homemade V-Flats, and comes to you at the grace of photographer Felix Kunze. Kunze has a great body of work with a focus on using non-models as subjects, but there are celebrities in there also. If you think you’d like him to have some social/industry proof before you buy what he’s saying, it may help to know he’s assisted for both Annie Leibovitz and Mario Testino, the latter of which makes me green with envy.

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Shot with Sun as key and the emergency DIY reflector for fill

[REWIND: 7 min + $7.00 = Rapid Build DIY 2 Sided Reflector]

I really do think this is a great V-Flat build, and if you want to spruce it up a bit yourself, you can check out the Westcott Scrim Jim Swing Hinge Corner frame connector (though I believe it will create a gap between the boards), or the Book Light legs for a bit more stability on the floor. Whatever you decide, just decide to make some, and spend a little more for a lot of satisfaction.

You can also check out this review of Join The Breed’s Masterclass, in which V-Flats play an important part, and you get a really good look at how versatile they are when Melissa Rodwell uses them in studio.

Source: ISO1200

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Karen Borter

    Bookmarked and will be utilizing this either this weekend or next to make at least 1 for now. Thanks for the link!

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  2. Amanda Coplans

    I’m based in London in the UK and am having trouble finding the right material for the v flats. Nobody seems to know what foamcore is.They keep offering me polystyrene. Does anyone know what it is called in UK ? If you could tell me the exact material that you make the v flats from, I can describe it and see if it goes under another name in the UK – maybe it’s called foam board here, which I found, but I don’t want to order the wrong thing? I found Gatorboard, but it is extremely expensive, so I’d like to find something cheaper, that does a good job.
    thanks
    Amanda

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  3. Sedric Beasley

    The problem I have with V-flats are they are not portable for travel in a small car.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I think anyone can sympathize with you there, but it’s just the nature of some equipment. Forget just a small car, you’ll need a pick-up probably to move them around. The size you should be looking for is no shorter than 8 feet tall, in my opinion and about half that wide, so you’ll need something large. But I still stand by the fact that if you have as studio or shoot from home or have the means to transport them, get em.

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  4. robert raymer

    I always enjoy a good how to video, but my main problem with V-flats is not how to make them, it is where to find reasonably priced panels either locally, or that don’t cost a fortune to ship.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Right, I’ll give you that it really isn’t easy to come across the materials depending on where you live. If you’re going to get the higher quality materials for V-Flats that last, in the size you want 8 feet by 4 with nothing less than an inch thick, and get that shipped to you you’ll likely end up paying around $200 – $250 a set, and you should have 2 sets. Check out Setshop.com if this is a route you’d like to take, and you’ll find what you need there, but be prepared to pay decently for shipping. – Unless you’re in NYC which is where they’re based.

      That said, check out local hardware and art supply locations, and even companies that do framing, if there are any set design or even signage businesses. They often have the materials but use them for other things. If there’s a local theatre (stage) you may find they have too that they don’t mind parting with.

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    • robert raymer

      Setshop has the best prices I have found, but not being in NYC anymore, the shipping came out to just as much or more than the cost of the flats themselves. I have looked everywhere else I can think of, including sign shops and theaters with no luck. I have even considered insulation panels from hardware stores, as they are relatively inexpensive, but they need extra work to get flat black or white. Oh well.

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    • Phil Shepherd

      Have you checked Home Depot or Lowes? Tough to transport in medium to small vehicles, but $20 rental vehicle and $14 for 4×8 foamcore puts us under $100

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