Studio photographers use portable V-flats for all sorts of things, from reflectors to flags, portrait backgrounds to negative fill. A typical V-flat is simply made by adhering two large 4×8-foot sheets of foam core together along a hinged edge so that when they open up they create a V shape when viewed end on. The most versatile V-flats are white on one side and black on the other so they can do double duty to reflect light or subtract it as needed.
I love my portable V-flats and I use them daily. I have even made the effort to take these portable V-flats on location even though they’re incredibly cumbersome, especially when navigating office corridors and elevators. Then one day a friend of mine visited my studio for a shoot and brought along his own V-flat—one that was much more compact and portable. With one look I instantly understood that his portable V-flat was far superior and incredibly useful for a traveling photographer. Within hours I’d made my own and began putting it to use the very next day.
So without further ado, here’s how to make a portable V-flat that folds down for travel and expands to stand a full eight feet tall on set.
Start with a 4×8 sheet of 3/8-inch foam core, preferably white on one side and black on the other. Using a ruler or tape measure and pencil, divide the board into four equal sections by drawing on the black side. (This will ultimately be the side that’s scored in order to fold over and keep the white side on the interior to help it stay clean.) Measure two feet in from the long edge and four feet in from the short edge, then mark every couple of feet from edge to edge. Draw pencil lines between the marks along each axis to indicate the centerlines and then with a straight edge in hand use a sharp craft blade or utility knife to score the foam board along these lines. Be sure to do this without cutting all the way through. But just in case, work on a durable surface that won’t be damaged if you accidentally cut too deep. Once you’ve done this to both axes, the board is foldable along the short side and the long one.
Next, stand the board on edge and choose one of the cuts through the middle of the long side of the board—the cut that bisects the long side—and use your knife to cut fully through the board 24 inches from edge to center. This single cut is crucial for allowing the flat to fold up and leaves the other three scored hinges intact to hold the flat together.
Pause here and fold the portable V-flat along each axis, making sure it folds up into a now much smaller 2×4-foot size. I like to fold the long sides first, then fold again on the short axis leaving the cut edges on the outside to prevent pinching the board and putting excess stress on the seams.
At this point, the portable V-flat is functional but not yet ready to stand up to the rigors of travel. To beef up the joints and protect the edges, I use matching black gaff tape along the folded edges. (Fold the board first then apply the tape to ensure there’s enough slack in the hinge.) Do all three scored lines, but leave the fully cut segment open. To really beef it up, use white gaff tape to reinforce the white side of the hinges.
To use, simply unfold the flat and stand it tall with the sides folded out at a roughly 90-degree angle. The un-taped cut edges can lean on one another for support, though temporary gaff tape or a clamp could be used to hold them in a pinch.
The resulting foldable flat works perfectly for human subjects as a flag, reflector and negative fill. Its one shortcoming is for use as a background, simply because of the fold in the center of the board. But, in my opinion, the immensely user-friendly portable nature of the folding portable V-flat more than makes up for this, so it’s incredibly easy to bring along a couple of versatile flats on any location photoshoot.