V-flats are an essential item to a portrait photographer’s studio. A typical v-flat is two pieces of foam core connected on the long side with gaffer tape, and they are black on one side, white on the other, and have a smooth surface. They can stand on their own when set in an approximate 120 degree angle or less, and serve multiple purposes in the studio. While either side can be used as a backdrop for your subject, the white side is great for bouncing light onto your subject, and the black side can be used to absorb light and intensify shadows, or block light from your light source. Recently, I found the need for a set of v-flats and thought I would share my experience in finding the materials, the challenges I encountered, and how to assemble them.
The Materials Needed
My searches began for foam core, because that’s what I am used to calling it, but I soon discovered that it can also be called “gator board” or “ultra board.” To be more specific, the exact item I was trying to find is 3/16″ thick gator board in 48″ x 96″ size (4ft x 8ft) with, of course, black/white sides.
After extensive searching, I found what I was looking for online, but the cost for shipping was at least $100 (and my local art supply stores only carried them only in white). After more searching I discovered a nearby camera store had EXACTLY what I was looking for, and at almost half the price! The camera store doesn’t offer shipping for that item because of its size, and even if they did, it wouldn’t be cost effective when the shop is only an hour away from me, but my car is too small to hold such a large item. Thankfully I was able to bribe my in-laws with homemade lumpia to pick them up for me in their RV on their way home from a camping trip! I also decided to get a “spare” v-flat, as they can get beat up pretty quickly need to be replaced yearly if used often.
I highly suggest looking in your area for art supply stores, camera stores, or even sign shops to see if these versatile boards can be found locally. If you find that there is a shop close enough to drive to, I suggest connecting with another photographer (or a few) in your area and make this a trip that benefits everyone. It’s always nice to help out fellow photogs, and I’m sure they’ll be thankful you thought of them, even if they don’t have an immediate need.
Building the V-Flat
Now that you know where to begin shopping, I’ll show how I assembled the v-flats in a small space.
1. Gather Your Supplies
For this, you will need
- A roll of 2-3″ gaffer tape in both black and white colors
- 2 clamps
- A pair of scissors.
Gaffer tape is fabric based and easily re-positionable, but be warned that it can rip the paper backing on the boards. The adhesive on the non-brand rolls I purchased had stronger adhesive than I expected. If you are going to do this without the assistance of another person, you will also need 2 cubes to hold the boards on their side. Apple boxes or posing cubes work perfectly in this instance.
2. Find a Space Large Enough to Work In
Since the boards are 8 feet long, you’ll need approximately 11 feet of space long-wise to work in. I was able to complete these with only 4 1/2 feet of width, the exact space I have between my widow and the end of my couch in my living room. You don’t need an entire room to do this. To do this on my own, I held the far end up using a posing cube and an apple box to sandwich the boards and keep them upright.
3. Use Clamps to Hold the Boards Together
Line up the edges of the boards and place clamps 2 to 3 inches from the edge to keep them from slipping out of place while you are taping them together. Be careful what clamps you use, as some of the stronger clamps from hardware stores can crush the foam core and leave dents. The ones I used in the photo above came from Amazon.com and did not crush the boards.
4. Place the Tape Along the Edge
Start by placing the gaffer tape along the edge with about an inch hanging off the end. As you can see, I didn’t have it centered, but it was close enough. There are two ways to proceed from here if you are doing this on your own: either run the tape the entire way and run the risk of tape sticking where you don’t want it to, or go slowly and do it little by little. I chose to go the slow route and moved about 6 inches at a time.
Facing towards the end I began taping, I kept one arm over the boards and held the roll of tape upright in my armpit. After lining it along the edge, pull the tape down firmly on each side and rub downward to evenly smooth it out. Repeat this process until you reach the other end.
5. Cut and Tuck the Ends
Cut the end of the tape but be sure to leave at least 1 inch to tuck over to the other side. I do not have a photo that shows how I tucked the ends, but I will explain. After removing the clamps from each end and moving the boxes holding up the opposite end, lift one board up as if you are swinging it on a hinge like a box lid. You will need to lift it to at least 90 degrees to the other board, but more is better if you can manage. Pull the excess tape over the end and firmly press to adhere. Once you do that to both ends, completely swing the board over to the opposite side so the black sides are now facing out.
6. Repeat the Process for the Other Side
Tape the black side as you did the white, but do not leave excess tape to tuck over the end. If you want a little extra durability in the hinge, feel free to do this, but you will be able to see the black tape on the white side and it is harder to cover up. I only tucked the white over and covered whatever white tape you could see with small pieces of black. I don’t think this is completely necessary, as the edges are not likely to be seen in photographs.
Stand your newly minted v-flat on end and enjoy this multi-use tool to its limits.
Let me know what your experience is creating your own v-flats and how this tutorial helped you in the comments below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do believe I have some lumpia I have to make for some really fantastic people.
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