10 Suggestions For Building (And Hacking!) Your Own Camera Equipment

By Haje Jan Kamps on at

There's no two ways around it: Photographers are a rebellious breed of inventors, tinkerers, and ad-hoc engineers. Or rather, they used to be. Being able to buy just about anything you could possibly need off-the-shelf is a relatively new development in photography. But just because you can spend your hard-earned money buying nearly everything your heart desires, it doesn't mean that you should...

In fact, I opine that photographers who have had the pleasure of making some of their kit by hand are, on the whole, much better photographers than people who have not. Why? Well, if you are trying to build something yourself -- and especially if you do so through the time-tested method of 'trial and error' -- you're likely to stumble across the building blocks of photography.

Allow me to bore you with an example: If you recall last week's installment here on Giz UK, you'll recall that I waffled on about focal lengths for a bit. Truth be told, I never really understood what focal lengths were until I tried panoramic photography. When my photos didn't quite come out the way I wanted, I realised that the positioning of the tripod screw on the camera isn't actually the perfect pivoting point; instead, it turns out that, if you're serious about getting perfect panoramas, you'll want to pivot your camera around the focal node of the camera -- and the focal node is very closely-related to focal length.

It's little realisations like that, where the hunt for knowledge leads you to (re)discover the building blocks of photography that make me value DIY photography as one of the great frontiers of making stuff.

If the phrase "DIY" combined with "photography" conjures up images of your beautiful new DSLR camera and a hack-saw; fear not. Sure, there are DIY projects that require you to bring your camera to the surgery (step this way nurse...), but for every elbows-deep-in-electronics project, there are dozens of fun things you can have a go at.

The internet is full of hundreds of DIY projects, big and small. Whatever you do, don't let some fool try and trick you out of money for DIY projects. One particularly appalling example of that popped into my email inbox the other day, where somebody was charging £15 for the plans and an instructional video for a version of a DIY Lensbaby; a project that is already freely available on the net...

Anyway, here are 10 DIY photography projects to get those creative liquids sloshing through your veins; perfect activities for a rainy day you could say:

1 - Make your own, professional-looking Muslin photography backdrop and light stands.

2 - Adapt a 50mm lens to be a great macro lens at the cost of a can of Pringles (The 'portrait of the queen' at the top of this article was taken this home-made macro lens. Nifty, eh?)

3 - Create your own pinhole lens for your SLR camera.

4 - Create your own lenses from surplus parts.

5 - (If none of those lens-based project have scared you off yet...) Download an Optical RayTracer, to design and build your own lens completely from scratch.

6 - Use any of these 10 awesome DIY lighting hacks from Digital Photography School, ranging from ring-flashes via bounce cards to beauty dishes.

7 - Create your own set of photography gels to alter the colour of your flashes or other light sources.

8 - Create your own panorama panning tripod head.

9 - Try building your own camera from the bottom-up.

10 - Build your own tilt-shift lens (including the before-mentioned Plunger Cam), for that glorious miniature photography feel. Or, y'know, fire up Photoshop and add the effect in post.

Finally, for more ideas, it's always worth taking a look at Photojojo's awesome book, Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas.

And finally, as you're hacking along, let's keep a moment of silence and nod in knowing agreement to the DIY manifesto. Because, dammit, if there's one thing worth teaching your grandkids, it's that we used to build things with our own hands.

Haje Jan Kamps is a prolific photography blogger who has written a small stack of books about photography. He also developed the Triggertrap camera trigger and has been known to travel the world a bit. If you’re of the tweeting kind, try him on @Photocritic!

Photo credit: Photocritic / Haje Jan Kamps