If you've been watching photographers like Scott Kelby, you see that he often uses V-flats, a tool for studio portrait and product photography. A V-Flat is an easy to make lighting tool that every studio photographer should own. It is most commonly used as a light reflector, but can also be used as a backdrop. In its simplest form, it is two large foam panels that are “hinged” together by tape forming the letter V.
Usually, v-flats are extremely expensive (well over $150) for just the materials. But in this tutorial I'll show you how to make one that works just as well for under $25.
Your first stop when making your own V-Flat should be a local art supply shop or craft store. Depending on where you buy your panels, they may be called foam core, mounting board, or gator board. While V-Flats are most often used in portrait and fashion photography, I have also seen them used in product photography.
If you do not find foam core large enough in an art supply store, another option is to purchase foam insulation board from a hardware store, which is inexpensive and comes in very large panels. A large sheet of insulation board costs only $10.
The size of the foam core is dependent on your main use. When shooting your subject at full length or three quarters length, I would recommend a panel size of 4 X 8 feet. Any larger and the panels become much harder to manage. Any smaller and you won’t get enough reflected light on your subject. Now that you’ve got the size of your foam core, you need to decide on the thickness. I’ve found the ideal size to be anywhere from a half-inch to a full inch in thickness. Any thinner than a half-inch and the V-Flat may not be able to support itself and will fall over.
Depending on where you buy your foam panels, you may have a choice of different colors as well. The two most common colors are black and white. If you’re lucky, you may find foam that is white on one side, and black on the other. This is ideal if you are on a budget, as you can reverse the panels and have a black V-Flat and a white V-Flat all in one handy lighting tool.
The only other item needed for your V-Flat is tape. While duct tape can be used, I prefer a type of tape called gaffer or gaff tape. It is commonly used in television and film productions and while it may look like your common duct tape, it is very different. Unlike duct tape, gaffer tape is a more flexible and doesn’t leave behind a residue when removed. Another advantage of gaffer tape is it can usually be found in different colors. This isn’t as important when using your V-Flat as a reflector, but will come in handy if using it as a background.
Now that you’ve got all your materials, it’s time to assemble your V-Flat. The first step is to place your panels on top of each other and make sure all the corners are flush. If your panels are black on one side and white on the other side, make sure the same colors are facing each other. Now take your tape and run it along the longest length of your panel. It’s very important that you only use half the width of your tape on the top panel. Next, flip the panels over and adhere the other half width of the tape on the other side. The idea is to make a “hinge” with the tape so you can open the panels like a book. Once you’ve finished taping your first hinge, turn your panel inside out and repeat for the other side. This will cover the small strip of exposed tape in the middle of your hinge, and also make the panel stronger.
When done you should be able to stand up your V-Flat and open it like a book so it will stand on its own. When done correctly the panels will also fold flat for easy portability and storage. That’s all there is it to it! Not that you’ve built your first V-Flat, start experimenting and see what it can do for you.