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DIY Kubota Panels: Versatile and Portable Walls or Windows…

During the presentation Kevin Kubota gave on CreativeLive.com several months back, he mentioned DIY scrims he had built that were sized to fitPhotoflex Litepanel covers. He even made a video detailing the construction.

So, how could I help myself? I had to make some, but with some enhancements of my own…

Not having any Photoflex panels, I was not constrained to a certain size so kept things simple. I maximized the material usage by cutting all the 3/4″ PVC pipe to 39″ in length. I also used electrical PVC conduit because it was slightly cheaper than the same size plumbing PVC pipe. Instead of using a hack saw like Kevin Kubota, I used a PVC pipe cutter. They are much simpler to use and so much less messy than sawing – I highly recommend getting one. It’s definitely worth the money.

Seven lengths of pipe are required for each panel. Instead of running bungie cord through them, I opted to leave them separate. I just glued the elbows and Tees to all the horizontal pipes. This lets me know which joints come apart without having to mark anything. It also prevents the loss of any of the fittings while in transit or during storage. Additionally, no bungie means the panel pieces can be configured into a light tent using four end pieces (elbows) and four plain lengths of pipe, similar to the one detailed in this blog post.

One panel breaks down into these pieces:


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Vintage Portable Light: A modern take…

A couple of months back, I saw a Craig’s List listing for a Norman 200B pack, head and charger. The battery was dead and would not charge but the owner reported that it worked the last time he’d used it, it worked. I figured that for 200 Watt-seconds, $65 was not too unreasonable to gamble, so I bought it.

After purchasing, it was very interesting to note the date codes of the parts on the circuit board. They were all circa 1979. What’s more, it has the battery positive connected to the case: it was one of those positive ground devices I’d heard about but had never seen. Very interesting, indeed.

When attempting to power it up with a power supply, I had difficulty finding a power supply that would source enough current to get it to anything other than trip the over current and shut off the power supply. I ended up having to charge a large battery in the lab and using it. The pack draws pretty near 20 Amps while it’s charging up the capacitors, no small amount of current…

Intrigued by the 200B, three more packs, heads, flash tubes and chargers were cheaply acquired from the net and eBay. All the units, including the original had something wrong with them, though… I also picked up a 20 foot extension cord, and an 18 foot cable with no connectors that was turned into an extension cord by re-purposing the connectors from a charger and dual Y charging cable. The total investment in hardware for 4 complete units (pack, head, tube, reflector) and two extension cords, and an extra tube was about $300. That’s about $75 per 200 Watt-second unit…

While there are service centers that will repair old Norman hardware, the $65 starting fee for each unit plus the shipping forced digging into the hardware and reverse engineering the design. All four packs were restored to working order pretty quickly, easily and inexpensively. Two of the units failed because the foam packing inside allowed the torriodal transformer to shaker around too much and break a wire – supremely easy fix. All that remains currently on three of the units is repacking to completely restore them. Along with the repairs was the modification for low voltage triggering by modern DSLRs – the original sync voltage is about 120V…

Replacement batteries run near $100, a very unappealing price point. Gel cells that fit into the battery compartment run about $25 but only have a 2.9 Amp-hour capacity. I found 12V 7 Amp-hour UPS batteries on Amazon, two for $30, so I ordered them. The big disadvantage with the UPS batteries is that they are way too big to fit into the Norman pack.

Thus we arrive at the purpose of this post: Packaging up the Norman 200B pack with the UPS battery so that it can be taken on location.

A carried was built using 1×4 and 1/4″ thick particle board as can be seen below with one of the extension cables connected. The battery is held in place with a tight friction fit. The battery cable passes through a hole filed into the case halves.

The battery connections are brought out to banana connectors as seen below. They are spaced at 3/4 of an inch, the standard spacing for a dual banana plug/socket. The jacks allow for charging or powering something else. I’ve considered adding a cigarette lighter socket above the battery in the left 1×4 but not having one, I’ve shelved that for the time being. What’s missing for safety is a fuse. The pack itself has one internally, but there really should be one up and close to the battery, particularly if a cigarette lighter socket is added.

On the other side, I added D rings for carrying and for strapping the carried to a light stand. The whole assembly doubles as a weight, given all the lead in the battery, so why not put that to use? No need for carrying sand bags as well…

These photos were taken about 3 feet in front of a 70″ octobox with the Norman LH2 head inside. The octodome had an Alien Bees insert in the speed ring, so an adapter needed to be made. Fortunately, 3″ threaded PVC just fit inside the Alien Bees hole in the insert. A bracket for the head was made with PVC cut from a short length of gutter (the mount details will be the subject of a subsequent post…). At the moment, the mount does not swivel up or down since a Manfrotto super clamp holds the PVC fitting atop a light stand. Tilting will hopefully come later…

From behind the octobox with the shroud removed, we see the flash tube:

From the front side, with the inner and outer diffusion moved to the side:

I’ve been giving some thought to adding IGBT triggers to these for variable power control. Given the cost of parts, the possibility of popping the IGBTs, and the time to get it to work reliably, it probably does not make sense to modify or update these further. Used modern Alien Bees strobes with variable power can be picked up for around $250 or less.

But boy do these Normans recycle fast, even at full power, compared to fully charged, AA-batteried modern flashes… Popping at full power in quick succession warms up the black and red cable from the battery to the pack.

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Mother of all softboxes…

David Hobby of the Strobist web page posted recently about assembling a large softbox on location using two backdrop stand kits and two extra cross members, hanging rip-stop nylon in black and white to block and diffuse the light where he wanted.

In the comments of that post, there were mentions of using EZ-UP canopies in white to the same effect but a little more inexpensively.  Further down in the comments, RocketRick states that buying canopy fittings is cheaper and more flexible than buying a canopy.  As he mentioned, Yuma’s Bargain Warehouse does indeed seem to have the best prices on the fittings when shipping is also included.

That all got me to thinking, since we are planning on having a photo booth at a youth conference next January, getting the canopy hardware could serve more purpose than just an outdoor humongous soft box.  With a good mixture of fittings and half length EMT (5 feet), a number of free standing walls of adjustable size as well as a complete cube can be easily constructed.

I made a posting mentioning the parts list I think I want to buy.  I was not able to include a diagram but now do so here:

While using sliding fittings will certainly be a little less convenient at times than the regular closed fittings, the sliding fittings are more flexible in that it does not fully constrain one to using integral lengths of the EMT.  Adjusting the dimensions of the panels and fixtures created is possible with the sliding fittings.

The sign holders allows the height of the top to be adjusted.  Since I wanted to be able to use these pieces indoors, possibly even in my own living room, a full 10 feet is not always going to be possible.  By putting the vertical EMT of the tops in one side of the four sign holders, and the bottoms into the other, the height can be changed without leaving EMT sticking out over the top and hitting the ceiling.

After drawing the picture and thinking on it, adding four more couplers and four more feet will allow two complete and independent structures to be built, provided there is enough EMT available.  Then again, that’s more to store and more expense for maybe not so much usage.  It is a starting point, though…


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Location, location, location…

A local photographer made a public request for interesting locations to use in and around Austin, TX. I compiled a short list with links to galleries showing photos we took at each location. I had not thought to share it here until now. So without further delay, here they are…

Aquarena Springs in San Marcos – This may not be so good anymore since they removed the big mushroom coverings

A park on the Blanco in San Marcos off Comal St – This has a very large wood playscape, also train tracks nearby

Historic Stagecoach Park, Buda – This park has several rustic locations to use as a background

Auditorium Shores, Austin – There is a hill that allows using downtown Austin as a background and a fountain area where water shoots out of the ground

S. 1st St, 2nd St, and the Big Guitar, Austin – These three spots were used during a night time photo walkabout with a model.

Brackenridge Hospital parking garage – This is a good site for night time portraits with city lights and the Texas State Capital)

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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:

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