Portable Photography Booth
By Anthony Karl Erdelji
During one of my endless tours of miniature and
kits forums I came across someone's build blog of an armor kit. One on the questions
in the thread was about his photography set up, which is quite a common in such circles. He showed a wonderful pre-fabricated
portable photography and lighting booth. It was a metal briefcase with two thin,
professional photography lights that folded down into the briefcase for easy
storage. This little wonder greatly interested me. There was only one problem;
it cost $600. Of course a majority of that cost are the pricy photography
lights, but other than that it was a basic case
you can buy in any store. Heck! I can build that!
My interest in a portable and collapsible
photography booth is
due to me never been happy with my photography. Setting aside that fact that I suck at taking photos, I never liked
the mess. There is the table space dedicated for the task, the two or three
burning lights with cords crisscrossing along the floor, the stack of books
I use as a stand, and finally the backdrop, a large piece of paper which
needs to be kept clean. All of this for the rare few minutes I need to
photograph any new models. I could tear it down after each use, but the
lamps do not store well and that paper must be well protected to avoid dirt
or creases. I am far from lazy, but I do find it all a nuisance. Having something that could
combine all this mess into a compact case would be great.
||The main body of my portable photography studio
will be a double layer Doskocil case. I have quite a few of these
lying about, as they
are my preferred miniature-porting device. You can pick one up at a sporting
goods or Wal-Mart-type store for about $15-$20. "I'm Huge!" sticker not
|I would need a
flat surface to mount
a stand for the miniatures to be photographed, but the Doskocil case has
ribbing on the bottom. I cut some scrap balsa wood and glued it to
the bottom in order to give me a base to glue on a flat platform.
First I tried superglue, but the case is
slightly flexible and superglue is not, so the balsa popped right
off. For the second try I used a hot glue gun. It is thicker and has
some flexibility and held the strips firm. I also first roughed up the
surface of the case with sandpaper to give the glue more grip.
|| Onto the strips I hot glued a
7"x9" section of balsa plywood. I now have a large surface
to mount a stand for nearly any size stand for the miniature(s) being
|Next I cut two, 3-inch sections of 3/4
inch PVC plumbing pipe. These would hold my lamps. The pipes were
hot glued into the corners on the bottom of the case, again first
roughing up the area with coarse sandpaper to get a good bond. I
left enough space on the bottom of the pipe to run the lamp power
||To hold my background paper in place I
glued 6-inches of 1/2 inch square balsa wood to the top and bottom
of the case near the handle. The paper would be held in place using
magnets, so onto the balsa I glue Paper Steel, paper impregnated with
a thin layer of steel.
|With the case itself just about done I
cleaned it up and gave the innards a good coat of black primer. This
step is purely cosmetic.
||Onto the lamps. My victims are two flexible-neck, clip-on lamps
which cost me $10 each several years ago. I've checked and you can
get similar lamps from nearly any office supply store for the same
price. Each lamp is broken down into its component parts. The shade
easily unscrews. The clip on the bottom was a bit more difficult.
There is a nut that holds the stem of the lamp to the clip that can
be unscrewed. The clip holding the
power cord in place was a bit more difficult, but after a lot of pulling and
prying it finally case loose. I then remove the two screws holding the neck
onto the main light housing and cut the plug off the end of the cord so I
could pull it thru the neck.
|The flexible necks of the lamps would give me a
lot of maneuverability when it came to positioning the lamps, but as-is they
sat too high. I wanted them to be somewhat level with the miniature
being photographed, so I cut down the necks. This
proved to be the most difficult challenge of this project. These
supposedly "cheap" lamps are made out of very strong steel. One
hacksaw blade gave its life to cut thru a single lamp. For the other I turned to
my Dremel armed with a Cut-off wheel. Still it still took a
great deal of effort to cut. At least the shower of sparks was pretty.
||The inside of the shades of the lamp
were painted with silver paint, specifically Testors Metalizer Aluminum
Plate. The paint will reflect the light from the bulb and intensify the light... at
least that is my theory. Reflectors in professional photography
set-ups work under the same principle, but considering the small
size of the shades it may not work that well. However I already had the spray paint
from a previous project I wanted to give it a shot.
|The lamps are now done and reassembled. The
cords are threaded thru the necks and the necks screwed back onto the main
light housing. The lamps are then sat into the PVC pipe in the case, feeding
the cord out thru the bottom.
||The power cords are cut down to
length. I wanted just enough cord to run to a 6-foot power strip
inside the case yet have enough slack to fold the lamps down for
storage. Once cut I added aftermarket replacement plugs to the
My backdrop is a large sheet of paper from an
arts and craft store. The paper is cut down to 11 by 19 inches. I bought two
different colors, white and beige, so I can switch them out depending on
what colors works best for the miniature being photographed.
I will be using magnets to hold the paper in
place, but the Paper Steel I glued to the mounting bar earlier did not
contain enough metal to get good contact with the magnets. I went back and
glued small squares of sheet metal, ( sold as miniature bases) to the
|The final item I needed was a stand for the
miniature. Originally I was thinking of using a block of Styrofoam or
building a tiny table out of the spare PVC tube and some sheet
styrene. However in the end I went with a small clear plastic box I
found at the arts and craft store while shopping for parts for the project. The box is 3-inches square and 4-inches high, so it will give me a slight adjustment in
high if needed. If I was planning to photograph several miniatures at a time
I may need a larger stand, but I will be sticking with this for now.
||With all of this work I was putting
into this project I decided to get some new lighting as well. I ditched my standard
incandescent light blubs for 23w compact
florescent daylight blubs. These give a fantastically pure white light that
is perfect for photography. They also burn cooler which makes for a more
comfortable photography session.
|The last step was to hot glue a Velcro
strap on the top lid of the case. This holds a small desktop camera
||Originally I planned to use Velcro straps to hold the lamps in
place, but due to the tension from the cords the fit is solid as-is. They shouldn't be going anywhere
provided I don't throw the case down the stairs. The clear-cube miniature table may be
stored secure with magnets and sheet metal, but until I make up my mind if
it's the proper size, it fits snugly next to the lamps.
|By removing the lower magnets I can
store the paper in the upper portion of the case. There is enough
open room for the paper to bend without getting creased or mangled.
||We're all done! Set up takes just a few
seconds and I have to deal with just a single power cord. The flexible necks
on the lamps allow me a wide variety of lighting angles. During the build I realized
with this case I can add a third clip-on lamp to the handle if
needed, so I have even more lighting options. The entire thing
can be stored away in the closet with the rest of my Doskocil cases. Best of
all I got back a good chunk of real estate on my desk.