When a client approached us about photographing a 16' x 16' x 16' set (a specialized home interior mock-up) inside a studio, we had some homework to do. The first question: how would we light such a large object (including people and equipment) evenly? We couldn't have those weird multi-directional shadows that happen when you have lots of small strobes positioned around a set.
We decided that a gigantic overhead softbox would be just the ticket. You know, one of those huge light banks that commercial car photographers hang from the ceiling to get that smooth, even, gorgeous light on antique and supercars. Or tractors. Or whatever.
So we did some investigating, and discovered that the big, soft, gorgeous light comes at a hefty price. The client was willing to pay what it takes to do the job right, but $10k for a 10' x 20' light was pushing the limits of what they had budgeted for this project.
A little more surfing uncovered a post by photographer and nationally-known teacher Scott Kelby. In the excellent and detailed post, he describes a car shoot at Studio75, owned by Dan Gaye. Dan built his own overhead light bank:
We were encouraged by Dan's innovative DIY solution, and got some good ideas from studying it. However, he built his in separate segments, which are semi-permanently mounted to the walls and ceiling of his studio (pictured above).
We needed a self-contained unit that included everything in one piece, which could be hoisted by four chains to a height of 20' above the floor of the gigantic rented sound stage (after many phone calls, we chose Chapman/Leonard Studios, as they have a 50' x 60' double cyc, and, most critically, a 29' high ceiling). Once hanging there, any lighting adjustments would have to be made remotely as there's no way to get to it with a set built underneath it. The client went with us to scout the facility (ALWAYS scout the facility) and to take some measurements.
After several trips to Home Depot, 3 separate Amazon.com orders, and twice browsing our local Ace Hardware, we thought we had all the parts we needed to complete the project (spoiler: we didn't.)
Construction took one person about 8 hours, but there are things that would have been significantly faster with two people. We learned a lot of valuable lessons. We spent some time on YouTube learning how to "swage," and found out that 1/8" aircraft cable is hard to work with and can be very sharp. We will post a detailed, step-by-step process and complete materials and tools list in the near future.
The only component we didn't want to try making ourselves was the 20' x 20' artificial silk panel with reinforced edges and grommets for attaching to the frame. It's made by Matthews, sold by B&H, and it seems like a great deal at about $350.
Once all the pipes had been cut to the right length, test fit, and the aircraft cable cross-braces all cut and clamped, we loaded everything into the Explorer and headed over to the giant sound stage.
The entire assembly process took two people just two hours (see time-lapse video of the assembly process at the bottom of this post). Considering that it had never been completely assembled (no place big enough to put it all together at our studio), it was surprisingly smooth and easy.
We tested the six Paul Buff Einstein 640ws strobes before raising it out of reach. They are controlled with PCB's CyberCommander, which gives us individual control over them to power up and adjust remotely. Once the set below is built, there will be no way to reach the strobes, so we needed a robust and reliable system.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on our solution, and hear any suggestions for improvement.