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 4x5 conversion with an office clip and rubber band

Ikea light fixture attached to Profoto speed ring

Flash Duration

Back when I taught college photography classes, I would force my students to do some practical flash duration comparisons.  Why?  Because flash duration is a very important thing to consider when choosing the right lights to make images.  If the assignment requires moving fashion models, jumping athletes, or any other action, then the best choice for capturing sharp images are units that have short flash duration.  Simply put, flash duration is the amount of time that the flash is on, typically between 1/200th and 1/3,000th of a second, but these vary widely with the amount of power output and type of flash unit.  So please compare the flash durations at full power when shopping for or renting strobes.  Shorter flash duration is the best choice for freezing motion.

The image below was lit with some old Elinchroms, one 250R (flash duration at 250 watt seconds = 1/6200th) and one 500r (flash duration at 500 ws = 1/4000th).  Its nice and sharp!  Here is another action shot I shared in a prior post: Pizza Guy.

Imacon PIII, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, and Ratoc FR1SX

For all the other photographers out there trying to hook up an old SCSI Imacon scanner to a new Mac, I hope this information is helpful.  *I am not responsible if this information doesn’t work for you, or if it screws up your computer.  But this worked for me. Details »