A poor man's gel holder for studio lights

My studio lights

I use a cross polarization setup to photograph my oil paintings. It involves hanging linear polarized film over two lights, and then having a linear polarized filter on the camera lens turned 90 degrees to the polarized film. This eliminates glare on the painting because shiny highlights from the studio lights remain polarized after reflecting off the painting, letting them be reduced by the filter on the lens. Whereas the light that is scattered off the painting in a more diffuse way, the light I'm interested in capturing, loses polarization when it reflects off the painting and can pass into the lens freely.

But that's not what this post is about (see the link for more detail on cross polarization). The problem I had was suspending the polarized film in front of my lights. 

Professional quality lights are stronger and can take holders for such things. Maybe someday I can afford those. For now I use cheap clip lights from the home improvement store, which are too flimsy and not shaped correctly for gel holders. I don't have enough hands to hold two gels and work a camera, so I need holders.  And while the lights don't get very hot as far as lights go, they get hot enough that I couldn't just tape the film directly to the lights. And polarized film needs to be as flat as possible to be effective anyway.

So that's the problem. At first I tried making barn doors and other contraptions out of cardboard, but I found that even cardboard was too heavy for the flimsy clip lights. Also it was hard to attach to the light.

Here is my new solution, which works much better:

First get a hanging file folder with metal hooks. You will also need a wire hanger, some wire cutters, and some tape. Note that the tape will be touching the metal of the light fixture. My light fixtures get hot enough that I worry about the film, but they don't get so hot that they will melt tape. If yours do, look into some heat resistant tape, clips, or something else. You'll see what I mean later. By the way, if you are looking for polarized film, I bought mine online from polarization.com.

Step 2: Harvest the metal hooks from the file folder and recycle the rest. We only need the hooks.

Step 3: Tape the hooks to your film. 

Step 4, cut the hook off of the wire hanger and discard, and bend the rest into something like this shape. Essentially a big "V" with two small hooks on each end.

Attach the wire hanger to the clip light as shown. It's important to pass the wire through the coil of the spring on the light, as this will support most of the weight. Tape is used just to stabilise the hooks on the top of the light. Here is where you may want to see how hot your fixture gets and adjust accordingly if you think it gets too hot for tape. Although that would be really hot. Also note the small hooks are facing up.

Hang the film from the wire hanger. The setup is complete. One thing I really like about this setup, besides the fact that it fulfills my goals, is that gravity tends to always keep the film hanging vertically, which is important for the cross polarized setup. I've used this setup now many times for photographing my art and it is vastly superior to holding things up by hand.

Good luck and if you have any questions feel free to reach out.