How-To: Build an Amateur Photography Rig

Photography & Video

Last week I shared my tips for selecting the best images for craft tutorials. This week, I am going to share my tool box, as prompted by a reader comment from dsc:

Thank you so much for this tutorial on tutorials! My only question is how the pictures were taken in the shots where you are using both hands?

The answer? If I can’t talk my husband into shooting the steps where I use both hands, I rock a tripod and set the camera on timer mode. It’s a trial and error process- I set the camera on the tripod, then hold my hands in front to find the right focal length. Then I treat it just like blocking on a stage, I look around to find points of reference, and then use them as my “mark.”
Let’s go through the rest of my toolbox, shall we?

A bounce is the most low tech way to get light on a project. Essentially, a bounce is just a reflective surface that gathers ambient light and directs and focuses on your project. They generally are shiny woven fabric on a foldable frame. To use a bounce, unfurl it, and then work it at an angle. It can take a bit to get the hang of holding it, and holding it still, but it is amazing how much brightness the bounce “finds” even on a cloudy day.
Utility Lights
These are the standard garage clamp-on lights that you would find at any hardware store. I have 3 that I can set up when I’m shooting, but generally speaking, I only use two. I aim one on the project from the left, and aim the second on the project from the right. Having light coming from both directions helps reduce shadows. To get the most light from these simple lamps, I use a 300 watt bulb. It’s bright, but it’s also hot!
I’ve got about the oldest, most ghetto hand-me down flashes around. But they get the job done! These lights are powered by a ballast, and are set to POP when I take a shot. They make a crazy loud noise, but they flood the space with an insane amount of perfect light. They come with stands, and umbrellas attach to help focus the light on the subject of the photo. Just remember, when you are shooting outside, the umbrellas can catch the wind, but you can stabilize the flash stands with sandbags to keep them up.
Shutter Trigger
Using the self timer mode is a great way to get a shot when you can’t be physically standing behind the camera, but I also love this trigger for my shutter. It’s 12″ long, and attaches right onto the camera. I love pretending I’m an old timey portrait photographer when I use my trigger!

8 thoughts on “How-To: Build an Amateur Photography Rig

  1. Julie says:

    Thanks for this excelent tutorial! Looking forward to more…

  2. migpics says:

    One of the things you can do to diffuse the light coming off of the utility light is to place a white piece of paper or sheet in front of it. Make sure to keep the sheet of paper at a good enough distance from the bulb so it doesn’t burn. I typically will get a larger 11X17 sheet of paper, clip the top of it to the shield, the bottom of it to the shield and it bend it out so it’s at a good distance from the bulb.
    That will give you softer shadows to work with.

  3. David Traver Adolphus says:

    You have got to ditch that FinePix S3Pro. I had one for years and it makes taking a halfway decent photo so much harder than it should be. A complete piece of crap.

  4. Steven Yumgmd says:

    So… Where do you find a 300 watt light bulb these days?

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