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Home-made 5/8″-ish Spigots

Here’s a quick posting of how I avoided waiting for “real” 5/8″ spigots that I’d ordered from eBay or Amazon. I used these on the first incarnation of the Interfix softbox mounts I’d made.

To make these, I bought 5/6″-18 bolts, nuts and washers. In the photos, there are a mix of nylon lock nut and thinner-than-normal nuts I’d bought from Lowes. There was a name for those thinner nuts, but I no longer recall what that is. There is a mix because did not want to use lock washers, hence the nylon lock nut.

I chose the 5/16″ bolt because the heads and nuts did not require any grinding to fit inside normal 5/8″ lighting hardware. One could just as easily use 3/8″-16 hardware and make ends onto which 3/8″-16 threaded tripod accessories could be attached but that bolt head and nut size requires grinding the points off. The larger size hardware would fit the lightning accessories better and would certainly carry a larger load, but for my purposes (relatively light duty) the 5/16″ hardware will suffice.

The total cost of making spigots this way is well under $1 each, considerably less than the real thing.

Well, enough typing, on to the photos…

Here are three showing one such spigot I made. The nut spacing was adjusted by placing it near a “real” spigot. In actuality, though, just spacing is not all that critial and a solid column of nuts would work as well.

Posted by by david


Make A Monster Softbox…

… or “Better Living Through PVC and Fitted Sheets”.

The Lastolite Hilite is a really neat, light weight, and portable high key background that can double as a softbox. Oh, did I forget to mention what a bargain it is? It’s not really – it is more than well outside of our reach. Still, I was intrigued by the simplicity of it and the many ways it could be used for still photography and video work. (Look here to see some nifty example videos of the Hilite and high key backgrounds.) I set out to make a DIY version and not break the bank in the process.

The first attempt was to suspend two flat white sheets that were safety pinned together around the periphery over a rectangular frame at the top. Two 45 Watt second slave strobes ($20/ea) were inside on light stands ($21/ea). I have no photos but it was leaning slightly on the positive side of the spectrum between abysmal failure to resounding success. It was at least successful enough to prove out the feasibility of the DIY concept…

Let’s start with an explosion of the pieces to assemble the frame:

I used 1″ thin walled PVC pipe because it was handy – it was left over from another project. Larger diameter pipe may be used but I would not recommend anything smaller. The frame requires two sets of the upper pieces for the frame top and bottom, and two sets of the lower pieces for the two sides. Here is the complete parts breakdown:

  • 8 pieces of 1-3/4″ long pipe
  • 8 pieces of 35″ long pipe
  • 8 pieces of 8-3/8″ long pipe
  • 4 pieces of 34″ long pipe
  • 4 pieces of 36″ long pipe
  • 8 PVC 90-degree elbows
  • 16 PVC Tees

The measurements above were arrived at after having cut them too long initially. Your mileage may vary, so if you decide to build, cut your pieces longer since you can always trim them. The PVC fitting openings were all 1″ deep and the Tees were 3-3/8″ long in the longest dimension. I point this out because not all fittings are created equal.

The pipe and fittings that are connected in the photo above were glued together after the final trimming to make the whole frame more rigid. The elbows butt up against the Tees using the 1-3/4″ long pieces of pipe. Take care aligning the elbows and Tees so that they are are square to each other. All the free ends of the pipe were sanded to make them fit more easily into the mating fitting. Then the pipe ends were rubbed with a candle for lubrication to more easily permit breaking it down for transport. As shown in the photo, all the pieces, when stacked together, will be no longer than about 40-42 inches.

When assembled as shown in the photo below, the whole thing measures about 81″ by 75″ by 12″, all to the outside edges. [Note that the photo is distorted because I used my 18-55mm kit lens at 18mm and did not correct for the distortion. The frame does not really bow like that in real life.]

Here is a close up of the upper right corner of the frame, showing the configuration of the fittings and joints in more detail:

And here’s a wider shot showing the center Tees:

Two 45 Watt second slave strobes are clamped ($8/ea) to the inside sides of the frame. Both point toward the back to diffuse the light by bouncing it off the back white sheet, spreading the light more evenly on the front sheet. Here is a close up of a strobe and clamp:

Three king size fitted sheets are then stretched over the frame in the following order: A white sheet (show draping down in the following photo) goes over the frame first and becomes the front face of the monster softbox. A white sheet is stretched over the first sheet and frame from the back side, followed by a black sheet over the back sheet. Covering the frame in this order allows the friction of the two outer sheets to keep the front sheet pulled taught. To do that, you have to reach inside the frame and pull the front sheet from behind the rear pipe while pulling on the two outer sheets from the outside. The outer black sheet is intended to prevent too much light from blowing out the back side of the monster softbox; it could be left off, depending on how it is used and what surrounds it.

The tautness of the front sheet might be improved by using elastic and safety pins or clips of some sort to pull opposite edges toward the center. I’ve not done this but may try it at some point.

Here is a photo of the fully assembled monster softbox. This exposure is 1/200 sec @ F9, ISO 400. The white area is completely blown out, which makes for a very nice high key background. [Ignore the light stands in the foreground – they were just there when I snapped this photo.]

High key backgrounds typically need to be 1 to 2 stops brighter than the subject in order to completely blow it out to white. With the fixed power strobes inside the monster softbox and similar ones inside the 2’x2′ softboxes I typically use to light subjects, I need to use source to subject distance to adjust the light ratio between subject and background. The two strobes inside may not necessarily be the optimum configuration, either, but they’ve been sufficient for the things we’ve used it for thus far.

The total project cost is hard to figure exactly but $45 of it came from the three fitted king size sheets from Walmart. I used sheets because they are relatively inexpensive large pieces of cloth with no seams in them. (Seams require extra photoshop work to make them go away.) The PVC fittings probably account for another $20. I don’t usually count the strobes or clamps because I already had those on hand; they get moved around as needed.

Photos of the pieces and completed assembly are all well and good but what can it do and how well?

Below are some photos we’ve taken using the DIY monster softbox. Most of them use it as a high key background. The top two photos use it as a softbox with sheer curtains hung in front to make it look like a window. For the last two photos of two of my kids jumping, the monster soft box was raised off the floor by propping it up on two wood wine boxes.

When the monster softbox raised, white paper or king size flat sheet can be hung in front and draped to the floor out in front and lit from the sides to make a infinite white background. As it is built to break down, the frame is not really rigid enough to mount on stands and tilt like one would do with a 4’x6′ softbox.

All in all, I consider the monster softbox a great success, especially since it cost about 1/10th the cost of the real Hilite and about 1/5th the cost of a 4’x6′ softbox

[Note: I’ve written this up with regard to using it for still photography. Converting this for the constant lighting video requires will require some thought to be given as to how to provide that without burning down your house or studio. With the back sheets on it, tungsten lamps are certainly not usable. You have been informed and warned.]


Posted by by david

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Quick Class Portraits

Religious education stated at our church earlier this evening. As part of Jacci’s plan for the year, she is going to take photos of the students at the beginning, middle and end of the year to document their growth through the year. She asked me to set it up in a corner of the room and to take the photos during the class. Which leads to the obligatory setup shot:

In the photo, each flash sits atop a Ravelli ALS photo stand ($21/each). I recall that I bought the background stand off eBay for about $20. It came in a zipper bag and it’s not very heavy duty, but it works. I’d grabbed 3 sections for the top but ended up grabbing three ends rather than two ends and a middle. It was fortunate that two ends were just wide enough to fit the background. The background is a 5×9′ black glam cloth from Backdrop Outlet, which was $50 on sale (with a rather steep $15 shipping charge, though).

The flash pointed at the backdrop is a Nikon SB-600 (these are ridiculously overpriced at the moment, but I paid ~$200 two years ago). It was covered with a red gel cap ($10), held in place and gobo’ed with black paper tape. A Nikon SB-900 (picked up locally off CL for $340) sits behind the 43″ umbrella (eBay?, ~ $10). Both flashes are mounted with umbrella adapters (~$8 each). The flashes were fired wirelessly using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS).

Everything in the setup above except the flashes were easily packed into a speaker bag ($15), which made transport very convenient.

What are the take aways from the above? Shopping around can save money. The portable portrait setup was assembled for around $160, excluding the flashes. Money could have been save by using older manual flashes and wired or optical slave triggers. While not nearly as convenient as Nikon’s CLS, once the exposure is set, there’s no real difference when taking a series of portraits.  [In fact, I’ve picked up 3 older manual battery flashes: SB-24 for $65, SB-26 for $100, and a Sunpak 611 for $40.]

Enough of the equipment end…

To shoot the actual portraits, each student stood a little forward of the rear light stand with their toes on black tape I put on the floor. [Note that in the photo above, the red gel can be seen – that’s because I started taking things down when I remembered that I should take a documenting setup shot.]

Here is a composite shot of the results, all assembled into one photo:

Posted by by david

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Matt Maher / One Sonic Society / Sons and Daughters

Every once in a while, the opportunity presents itself to shoot a concert. Last night was just such an occasion. Matt Maher played at Texas State University in San Marcos, TX with One Sonic Society and Sons & Daughters. Between the two of us, we took about 500 shots. So for the next few days, I’ll be selecting the best of the images and processing them. Once the processing is done, we’ll have a gallery up in our events gallery. Until then, I thought I’d share a handful of the shots. And just because B&W moves me, I’m presenting these initial shots in my favorite processing, B&W.

Matt is a pretty unique performer. His character shines on stage… and the funny thing is… that shining character is humility. Did you know that humility could shine? Well, not only does it shine, but in today’s culture of self, it shines so much brighter than pride. He knows that people (especially teenagers) pay their money for his concert tickets. And when he gets on stage, he says so little about Matt Maher and so much about God. He deflects the attention off himself and back on each person in his audience and their relationship with the God that made their soul. It’s all over his stage presence in the way he projects all of his lyrics on a screen (Matt doesn’t sing alone) and the way he doesn’t really have an “opening band”. All three bands appeared on stage together.

Okay, I have to admit… you caught me. I’m pretty partial to Matt Maher above just about any other musician. I don’t really know him personally. But I had the privilege of sharing a parish family with him from 1997-2004 in Mesa, Arizona. I saw his humility shine even then when he lead the teens of the parish in praise and worship music and at the end of the night, emptied the garbage, put chairs away and simply served. Matt, you are 10 years my junior and still, when I grow up, “I want to be holy just like you”.

Posted by by jacci

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On Making Model Portfolios

This is the beginning of one of our adventures in photography. We are preparing to start offering model portfolios as a service. But before we can offer such a detailed service, we need to have a complete example of the final product associated with the service. So our daughter, Celine, agreed to let us create a model portfolio for her. What a sport, huh? This afternoon, we did a “western-wear” shoot for a portion of the portfolio. We strung some of the shots from today through this blog entry.
So, what made us settle on a “western-wear” shoot? Well, professional models are not usually just pretty faces looking for portraits that make them look even prettier. They sell stuff, or at least their employers use their faces and bodies to sell stuff. So an effective model portfolio has to contain material that shows prospective employers that the model can sell their particular products or services. Since Celine is a child (usually children do not travel for modeling jobs), who lives in Texas, we are going to show that she can sell western-wear, a huge market in Texas. There are several avenues we could have chosen for western-wear. Leather, denim, horses and cattle are all great choices. We chose to go with headgear and footwear contrasting with formal wear. It was fun.

But a model portfolio is more than a theme book. This theme will only appear in a portion of the portfolio. There will also be examples of her “selling” products or services with a completely different attitude or tone. The reason for this is the need to show flexibility. We don’t want our model getting locked into one market because of the portfolio we created for her. For Celine, we are going to include some pin-up photography. This will show perspective employers that our model can do western and vintage, two completely different types of markets. It will increase her job opportunities. Our goal is not to just make her look pretty, but to get her modeling jobs.

Of course, there will be quite a bit more to the portfolio than our model’s image plastered all over the place. There are some very specific things a perspective employer wants to know. We are going to include a bio that introduces our model and tells her perspective employer who she is, where she lives, what her cultural background is and most especially, what her goals are. We are also going to include a “measurements” page early in the portfolio. This page will include a series of pictures and actual measurements. This is where we put our model to the test. Most young ladies who dream of modeling, can not imagine posing for the pictures that go on this page. These are “mechanical” shots of our model in a bikini. There is one full body front shot with arms down to the side and one full body back shot with arms folded over her chest. The head shots are straight on, one with hair down, not smiling, one hair down, smiling and one hair up (smiling or not). There is no make up on the model for these shots. Her measurements are posted alongside or under the pictures, and everything is measured, even wrist and ankle circumstance. Prospective employers need to know up front if their product will even fit on our model.

Our final product is both digital and hard copy. Our models will be able to purchase just the digital portfolio if they wish. It will be literally a digital version of the hard copy (book). Of course, a model portfolio needs to be pretty current. We are looking for repeat business, annually. If she our work gets her jobs this year, we know she will be back next year for new measurements and images.

* In this entry, we refer to our model as she since we are using our daughter for our sample portfolio. But the service is certainly available for men as well as for women. A variation of this service is also going to be available for senior portraits. Senior portrait books be almost identical less the measurements page.

Posted by by jacci

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