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Project 2: Hacked Light Stand

While in a foreign country on a forced vacation I found myself involved with some off-camera flash thanks to the great articles posted by Mr. David Hobby at www.strobist.blogspot.com.

With off-camera flash, the aim is to try to light subjects with remotely controlled flashes from different angles to provide better lighting than just ambient. A good rule to remember when using this method of lighting is that a large light source will provide a smoother source of light, and push light into those places where a harsh, small light will put shadows. So, after learning this I wandered around looking for something to use as a reflector. I tried some cookie sheets, which worked ok. I tried some white cardboard; it performed well too. But none of them could provide me with the light that I was looking for. That is, until I found the exact item I needed. While searching through a scrap metal bin (dumpster diving for the win), I came across a discarded housing for a bulb of a "light plant". Light plants are those wheel-around generators with 4 huge lights mounted on a retractable boom. See:

Light Plant

I found the metal housing, which was perfect. After scrounging around some more, I was able to find the ring that held the glass in place (when it had glass), and a screw that fit just right to hold the ring in place. After cleaning this all up I cut open a white pillow case and placed it over the aperture. I put the ring on and cut off the excess case. Now I had my reflector.

But a reflector is worthless if you have to hold it the whole time. How are you supposed to take pictures if you are holding a huge reflector with both hands, and how do you get different angles? You build a light stand, that's how. But where in the world am I supposed to get the resources to build a light stand in this place? Improvisation is key!

It just so happened that the next day someone threw away a pair of crutches in a dumpster. SCORE! Crutches are made from aluminum tubing and are extremely strong. They also have holes pre-drilled for adjustments and attachments, etc. This is exactly what I was looking for. Now how to build a light stand from it?

I thought on it for a couple of days before beginning the build, because I wanted something that I could adjust and move easily, but would be sturdy too. And since I didn't have any tools besides a Gerber Multitool, I would have to be clever about it. I wanted at first to use 3 crutches to make a tripod which I could adjust. I thought it would be easy, but after much consideration and eye-balling, I just couldn't find a good way to do it without over-complicating the build process, and requiring tools that I had no access to. It would have to be one crutch and it would have to be modified to work.

This is what I came up with:

DIY Softbox

The photos above show how the top, portable portion of the stand works. It still has the original leg at the bottom which allows it to be adjusted about 6 inches in height. Since it is made from aluminum tubing it is very light and portable. I can have an assistant hold it like a monopod, or pick it up and hold it over the subject.

But what about when there is no assistant? Well, as it happens I came across the perfect solution to this too. Someone was throwing away a stand-up oscillating fan! I disassembled the base of the fan, removed the leg from the crutch, and it fit like a glove. So when I need the light to stand by itself, I just place it on the fan base.

Like so:


big brother

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