Homemade Photo Gear

About a month ago Dirk Fletcher asked me to speak to his Modern Alternative Processes photo class at Harrington College of Design in Chicago.  I taught there as an adjunct for five years, and the comfort of familiar surroundings was balanced by the excitement of seeing a bunch of new faces eager to learn.  Below is what I shared and tried to impart, along with an explanation of the Scheimpflug Principle.

For the most part, everyone willing to invest a little bit of capital has access to the same gear, which tends to create a proliferation of similar images.  Thus, the distinguishing factor from one photographer to the next is of course the way they see and use their brain, but also perhaps the equipment they use.  So why would anyone want to use the same gear that everyone else uses?  Ever since I saw Keith Carter’s funky lens on his Hasselblad, I’ve been inspired to hack together my own gear including lenses, lights, and cameras, all with the goal of trying to make unique images.  Others have inspired me as well, including Mark Tucker and his Plunger Cam, Frank Ockenfels, John Huet, and Jack Spencer. And a brief visit with a few other students to Matt Mahurin’s New York City penthouse studio was particularly inspiring.  I’ll never forget the things he was drawing, scanning, photographing, and manipulating in Photoshop.

Which brings me to another point.  The goal is of course to make compelling images, and not to use visual gimmicks to lure in the casual viewer, although what constitutes a gimmick is certainly debatable.  For example, one might say the use of color itself is a gimmick, or the Scheimpflug Principle (I could go on and on).  Basically, just trust your instincts, and this is what will set you apart and make you and your images unique.

Some images I’ve made incorporating at least one hacked together piece of gear:

Some of the gear:

Lights from Ikea with 5000K fluorescent tubes

Dog Bowl Ring Flash inspired by Greg Shapps

Old lens glued to thin plexi and mounted on body cap

Lens made from a loupe and some stuff from Home Depot

Kodak lens cut from an old Brownie and painted with liquid rubber

Polaroid 150 Rangefinder Land Camera 4×5 conversion with an office clip and rubber band

Ikea light fixture attached to Profoto speed ring


  1. Matt says:

    Hi James. I vaguely remember a few other lenses you showed in class. Any chance you could show those here?

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Baked My New Skates – Here’s How


As someone that likes to do things myself, yesterday I baked my skates to avoid some of the pain that breaking in new skates has historically caused me.  I completed the molding process at home before I had them sharpened.  By the way, I got them sharpened with a 1/2″ radius.  This is probably the most common radius, but also seems ideal for my weight.

Do not do this if your skate is not intended to be thermoformable (most higher-end hockey skates manufactured today are).  Its probably best to get this done by the shop you buy them from, so please note, I’m not responsible if this doesn’t work for you or voids your warranty.  I was driven to the internet after months of trying to buy this model from my local NYC shop (Graf G735 Overload fits the shape of my foot and has the best level of stiffness for my weight).

Anyway, here are the instructions for what I did (get the instructions for your brand): Details »

Joshua Cody [sic] Paperback

[sic] in paperback form just came out with my picture of Josh on the cover/inside cover.  Go and get it!

Victor Matthews

I directed and shot this short film about fellow artist Victor Matthews.  Hope you enjoy it and his wonderful work.

Details »

There Are No Survivors

This is a new painting I completed the end of May 2012 entitled There Are No Survivors.  Mixed media on panel, 48″ x 48″  In an unrelated matter, I accepted my invitation to art.sy today and I don’t know why.

Joshua Cody Pictures

Its always fun to photograph Josh!  If you haven’t read his book yet, you should!  Check it out here.  We did the top picture in Joshua’s apartment, at his desk where he writes.  The bottom image was made in my place in Brooklyn.

New York Group Show

111123 43" x 53" Mixed Media on Panel by James Godman

The New York Group Show, Rebellion and Empowerment in Contemporary Art, was a roaring success, and I was happy to participate by hanging this new painting.  Many thanks to Kianga Ellis for organizing the show.  The piece on the left is by Brian Dupont.

Andrew Rogers

Two old spreads from my friend’s doodlesbook!  Check him out at Joslin Lake Design.  © Andrew Rogers