A tripod is usually the best way to take a steady picture. But there are a lot of times when a tripod isn't convenient to use. One alternative is to mount your camera on an articulated arm that is mounted off to one side. This will still hold your camera steady but it will be able to get angles that would be impossible for a tripod.
Step 1: Select an Articulated Lamp
The easiest way to make an articulated camera stand is to modify an articulated desk lamp. The best style of lamp for this application is one that has two sets of parallel arms. A flexible gooseneck lamp can work but they aren't able to support heavy cameras as well.
Step 2: Remove the Head of the Lamp
First you need to remove the head of the lamp. Most lamps have a thumb screw at each joint that lets you tighten and loosen each section. The top one adjusts the tension on the lamp. Completely unscrew and remove this thumb screw. The lamp assembly should then slide out.
Step 3: Remove the Lamp's Power Cord
Most articulated lamps have the power cord routed through the arms of the stand. If this is the case, you need to remove the power cord in order to disconnect the lamp assembly. To do this, you can either cut the wires or you can find another way to disconnect them from the lamp. You should then be able to pull the power cord through the arms of the stand.
If your lamp has a fluorescent bulb, it may have a transformer built into the base. This may require you to either cut the power cord at the base or remove the transformer in order to completely remove the power cord.
Step 4: Measure the Spacing on the Top Mounting Plates
In order to mount the camera, we will need to create a new bracket that will attach to the stand where the lamp assembly was located. The first thing that you need to do is measure the spacing between the mounting plates. On my lamp they were spaced about 3/8 of an inch apart.
Step 5: Cut Out a New Mounting Bracket
Now you need to cut out a new mounting bracket for your camera. It needs to have section that can fit between the mounting plates and another section where you can attach your camera. I found that a piece of 1x2 lumber (the actual dimensions are 3/4" x 1-1/2") was a convenient material to work with.
The total length of the mounting bracket will depend on your lamp stand and your camera. The area that connects to the stand needs to be long enough to attach to the screw hole and long enough to not interfere with the tightening thumb screw. The main body of the bracket needs to be long enough to attach your camera with a 1/4 inch screw and still have a good range of motion. I made the cutout section one inch long and the main body 1 1/2 inches long for a total length of 2 1/2 inches.
First I marked the areas that I needed to cut so that one end could fit between the mounting plates. I drew two lines down the center that were about 3/8 of an inch apart. I drew a second line about one inch from the end that was perpendicular to first two lines. This outlined the two cutouts that I would need to make. Then I cut them out using a scroll saw.
Step 6: Mark and Drill Holes for the Mounting Screws
Slide the piece of wood into the top mounting plate and position it the way that it will be mounted. Then mark the location of the screw hole. Then drill out this hole with a bit that is slightly larger than the thumb screw on the stand.
Next, you need to mark the location of the camera mounting screw. Hold your camera on top of the board in a good working position. Then mark where the camera's mounting hole lines up. Drill this out with a 1/4 inch drill bit.
Step 7: Attach the Mounting Bracket and Camera
Insert the narrow section of the bracket in between the mounting plates and line up the holes. Then insert the thumb screw and tighten it in place.
To attach the camera, place it on top of the bracket and line up the mounting hole on the camera with the 1/4 inch hole on the bracket. Then insert a 1/4-20 bolt through the bottom of the hole and screw it into the camera. This is easiest if you use another thumb screw but a regular bolt can also work.
Tighten the each fastener only as much as you need to in order to keep the camera stationary. This allows you to make small adjustments without having to loosen the screws.
The result is a fairly functional articulated camera stand.
Step 8: Optional: Add Additional Sections for More Degrees of Freedom
A single mounting bracket gives you somewhat limited freedom in how you position the camera. This is fine as long as you are able to move the base of the stand to compensate. But if you want to give your camera more degrees of freedom, then you need to add additional brackets.
To do this, start by cutting off another 1.5 inch by 1.5 inch section of wood. Then you need to drill some mounting holes. On the top face, drill a 1/4 inch hole that is spaced 1/2 inch from the back side and 1/2 inch from the right side. Then on the right side, drill a 1/4 inch hole that is spaced 1/2 inch from the front side. This will be your second mounting bracket.
To mount the second bracket, you need to make one modification to the first bracket. Drill a 3/16 inch hole in the right side that is about 1/2 inch deep. This is just big enough that a 1/4 inch bolt will tightly squeeze into it and make its own threads in the wood. There is a slight chance that this may split the wood. If this happens, try using a 7/32 inch bit.
To connect the two brackets, insert a 1/4 bolt that is 2 inches long through the hole in the right side of the second bracket. Then screw it into the hole that you just drilled in the first bracket.
Lastly line up the camera's mounting hole with the hole in the top of the second bracket and secure it in place with a 1/4 inch bolt.
If you want you can continue adding more brackets for greater flexibility, but two should be sufficient for getting most angles.
Step 9: Use Your Articulated Camera Mount
You can now try out your new articulated camera stand. The base can be placed off to the side where it is out of the way. You can then swing the camera around to get pictures of your subject from just about any angle. You can take pictures straight down. You can get the camera really close to the surface of the table. You can do a lot of things that are impossible for a standard tripod.