Flash Barn Doors

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017


Barn doors are like blinkers for flashlights: flaps that you add to your light sources to adjust how much light hits your subject and where that light is directed.

The addition of barn doors to your extreme macro lighting is one of many useful techniques that we can borrow from the world of studio photography.

Barn Doors With Strobes

Barn doors are typically used in the photography studio with hard light sources like strobes. The leaves are attached to strobes and the photographer then adjusts the pivoting of the leaves to adjust lighting. Barn doors allow for very confined flashlight strips or areas, and flash feathering.

barn doors for a flash unit

Barn doors for a consumer handheld unit. These are a relatively new innovation for consumer flashes but can be found on ebay. They work very well and the barn door flaps can be turned to whatever angle you should desire.

Barn Doors for Studio Macro

It really couldn't be simpler or cheaper to use barn doors for extreme macro. You don't need to buy a fancy dedicated metal unit. All you need is some relatively stiff black paper, and some blue tack. Cut out rectangles to fit round your flash, then blue tack or sellotape them on. Then by folding over the black paper you have a perfectly good cheap set of barn doors for your flash. For an even more deluxe version, consider some foam sheets attached to the sides of your flash using velcro double sided tape.

You can achieve a similar effect by changing the focal length of your flash unit if it can do such a thing. But, I find it better to use barn doors as it doesn't vary the intensity of the light from the non-blocked area, whereas focusing your flash into a narrower beam will generally also add brightness.

Wraparound Light

Barn doors can also have a bit of a double life as it's not rocket science to make the inside of the leaf a reflective material. This gives you some extra reflectors if you open them up at the correct angle, which can be quite useful for a more wraparound light source. Be aware that open barn doors create two barn door shadows. One from the flash, and another from the barn door reflector. This double shadow can be used as a feathering or graduating effect, and can be smoothed out somewhat by changing the flash mm setting or adding a light diffusion gel across the barn doors.

Light Slashing

Barn doors are especially useful for creating long vertical or horizontal slashes of light, something you can't do by just changing the mm on your flash. Adding diffused glass in front gives a more subtle cutting effect. The fact that the diffusion is placed between the lamp & the barn doors is what allows some level of beam cutting to still occur.