DIY VonStudio

By on April 16, 2012

(For those of you too lazy to read the entire blog post, feel free to scroll down for a list of all the pieces I had to buy)

von_wong_jump

I recently decided to inspire myself from a video I saw posted over at DIY Photography where I saw a fellow photographer by the name of Joe Edelman actually set up a bunch of fluorescent lights on rails and tripods to have a pretty effective and slick home studio.

Rather than Do Things Myself like I was supposed to, my three step plan kinda went something like this:

– Buy the parts
– Get my dad to design the setup
– Get a friend to help drill, dremel and screw things in.

Not a bad plan eh?

The first things I grabbed were a bunch of four light ceiling fixtures. Although there were all sorts of choices (2, 4, 6, 8…) I felt that the fours would really give me a great balance of power and versatility. The Lithonia brand also happened to be the cheapest which suited me just fine! Rather than have a couple of them floating on light stands, I wanted the entire setup to be on rails since my room is relatively small (10 ft x 10 ft) and I really didn’t want to loose space because of tripod feet sticking around.

From there, I grabbed a pocket door kit (also known as Bob in the video) which was substantially more heavy duty than the closet door kit that Joe recommended (better safe than sorry!) with the accompanying 8 foot rails.

Although in theory, simply screwing the closet door kits straight into the ceiling fixtures should have solved all of our issues, my ceiling happens to be pretty high which significantly complicated our lives. Since I didn’t want to be permanently standing on a pedestal everytime I shot a video, I had to figure out a way to lower the entire setup economically.

Thankfully, my dad was readily available for consultation and came up with the brilliant idea of connecting a couple Galvanized 3/4″ Floor Flange to some plastic threaded plumbing rods. Of course as luck would have it, the pocket door kit was only compatible with a 1/2″ flange so we had to buy a bunch of 3/4″ to 1/2″ adapter. What a pain.

Regardless, once all the parts were purchased, all that remained was to take a dremel and a friend to poke some holes into the ceiling fixtures!

I’m not quite certain what I did wrong but I suspect that our canadian prices here are slightly hire than the US ones because my home studio cost me far over the estimated 200$ in Joe Edelman’s version.

Here’s my breakdown:

4x four light ceiling fixtures = 300$
20x 40W T12 48″ 6500K Light Tubes = 100$
2x pocket door kit = 20$
2x 8 feet alubminum rails = 30$ (sorry no link)
Screws, Nuts, Bolts, Flanges, Rods = 100$

For a grand total of 550$ + 15% taxes (go Quebec!) = 630$

Add on the cost of the fancy white backdrop + three roller wall mount and I hit 750$… slightly over the budgeted 200$…!

But honestly, the ease to actually pull things down at the flick of a light switch and just be ready to shoot within 5 minutes made it all worthwhile. Total time to put the whole thing together from concept, shopping to ready to go? 3 days.

DIY Home Studio by VonWong

So the pros and cons of my setup are:

Pros:

– Zero setup time
– Takes up literally no space at all
– Flexible lighting (two degrees of freedom (back/front and rotation))
– Silent, does not heat up
– 6500K Daylight
– No flicker (even when shooting at higher than 250th shutter speeds. Don’t ask me why, I’m not quite sure but I’m going to guess it has something to do with the “flicker free” that’s marked on my box of fluorescents)

Cons:

– Only two degrees of freedom (cannot be angled up or down and fixed height)
– Even lighting from all directions. No efficent way to dim a set of fluorescents.
– Slightly expensive.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I have but I definitely plan on upgrading it in the near future with additional light banks and perhaps a dedicated variable height ceiling rail system… maybe after my Von Wong Does Europe tour!

  • http://www.vjdipernaphoto.com Jim

    Since you have a four bulb lamp, just put simple toggle switches on the back of the housing to control each bulb. You’ll have complete control over the amount of light each unit emits.

    • http://www.vonwong.com Ben

      omg thats an amazing idea

    • John

      These light needs a blast to work. Each switch will need its own blast. So effectively triple the cost of the set up. I don’t think you can put the normal toggle switch after the blast since the voltage can get up to a couple thousand volt for the starting up.

  • http://wix.com/isaxphotography/isaxphotography Isaac Medina

    Brilliant!

  • bonanza

    Toggle switches are a great idea. You can also add duckbill clamps and use sheets of ND gel.

  • lauzon

    Just use neutral density filter, or spun filter or diffusing filter. All in different density. From 1/4stop-1/3stop to 2 – 3 stops

  • Gary

    Brilliant! The rollers are genius and it’s electrically safe too boot. To settle the toggle discussion, one ballast operates two lamps, hence half power. I can see a horizontal unit across the last two as a key. This could be rigged temporarily. It would be great to provide an update as to how this has worked out for you. Thanks for vids and blog.

  • http://gravatar.com/trastomatico trastomaticot

    congratulations. The reason for no flickering is because the four light ceiling fixtures use electronic ballast instead the old choke ballast with lamp starter. Cheers

    • http://www.vonwong.com Ben

      wha cool didnt know that~ !

  • Fouda

    For controlling intensity just get some sheets of tracing paper & regular 80 gram (metric system, sorry!) printing paper. Some blue-tac to attach around the fixtures and you’re good to go

    As for the adjustable height: EASY! (Not as easy describing it in words)

    The basic idea is you have the rod from the slider, you make another rod in the back of the fixture
    You put a grip arm/joint (like the ones on reflector arm holders) between the two and VOILA!
    Whenever you need to adjust the height you relax the grip on the slider’s rod, move, tighten

    You can also make custom grips with pipe joints, nuts & screws & some steel epoxy but that’s just an idea for me atm :)

    LOVE YOUR STUFF!
    Wish you the best :)

    • http://www.vonwong.com Ben

      Thanks for the tips :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ted.gore Ted Gore

    T8 bulbs would work better. They flicker at a higher frequency and allow you to shoot faster shutter speeds. They are also more energy efficient.

  • http://www.howdoesacarwork.com Jason

    Hey Ben,

    It’s Jason from youtube.com/engineeringexplained. This is definitely a useful article, as my lighting is quite poor. You’ll notice my current videos are vastly better than my older ones (they’re quire horrendous in lighting, but decent in content), but yes, they have much room for improvement. I’m really looking for a cheaper solution. The other problem is the space I have is very limited; relatively small apartment. I’d like to be able to do all the lighting with lamps, so I can move them around. Haven’t been too successful at eliminating shadows though.

    Great write up; I’m always looking for ways to improve.

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