Introduction: Taking Instructables Photos Without a Third Hand

Picture of Taking Instructables Photos Without a Third Hand

We all need a third hand when taking photos for Instructables.  I have an old helmet for cycling.  My idea is to mount a camera on the helmet and use the camera's self-timer to release the shutter.

This photo shows the natural position of my hands and my head when working at my workbench as I might while photographing views for an Instructable.  The photo was taken with my camera mounted on a tripod.  I drew the yellow lines in MS Paint and held a protractor on the computer screen to determine the proper angle for the camera's field of view relative to a reference line on the helmet.

Step 1: Cut PVC

Picture of Cut PVC

I wanted to use some PVC I will flatten and bend with a heat gun.  I used five inches of PVC 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Step 2: Make Kerfs

Picture of Make Kerfs

The center kerf runs the length of the five inch piece of PVC.  The two kerfs on either side of the center kerf are 2 3/4 inches in length.  I used a cutting wheel in an angle head grinder to make the kerfs.

Step 3: Flatten and Bend the Center Section

Picture of Flatten and Bend the Center Section

It required more than one step, but I used the heat gun to flatten the center piece.  Clamping it between two pieces of wood while the PVC is soft is a handy way to work.  Here I am heating the center section again so I can bend it back toward the camera a little.  The piece being heated will attach to the helmet with screws.

Step 4: Check Screw Fit

Picture of Check Screw Fit

If I were riding a bicycle with this helmet, I would not use screws that could injure my head in a crash.  For standing at my workbench these screws I found on the road one day will be fine.   

Step 5: Check the Angle of the PVC Bend

Picture of Check the Angle of the PVC Bend

The "T" bevel square is set to 130 degrees.  A piece of wood across the helmet duplicates the reference line in the Introduction photo.  Mark the PVC's location on the helmet and/or heat again and tweak the bend.  

Step 6: Screw PVC to Helmet

Picture of Screw PVC to Helmet

I used four screws on the center section for good support.  Use the heat gun as necessary for a good fit.  Here you see the heat gun in use to heat the side bracing before drilling and attach it with a screw.  Do the same with the side brace on the other side.  It is a good idea to check the 130 degree  angle in step 5 several times as you proceed.  Try to heat the PVC without melting or burning the helmet.

Step 7: Drill a 1/4 Inch Hole to Mount the Camera

Picture of Drill a 1/4 Inch Hole to Mount the Camera

Here you can see all of the screws holding the PVC to the helmet.  The PVC is really quite rigidly mounted, which is a good thing.

I also drilled a 1/4 inch hole for the bolt that mounts the camera. 

Step 8: Mount the Camera

Picture of Mount the Camera

Here you see the camera mounted to the helmet.  I used a 1/4 x 20 cap screw with a wing nut.  Turn the screw into the camera.  Snug it up with the inverted wing nut. 

Step 9: Actual Photo

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This is an actual photo taken with a camera mounted on my old bicycle helmet.  I have not cropped the photo in any way.  The chin strap on the helmet should be as tight as possible to keep the helmet from slipping forward on your head due to the weight of the camera. 

To use, engage the camera's self-timer and press the shutter.  It is easier if you can find the self-timer button by touch.  The duration of the self-timer is probably long enough that you could also set it and then put the helmet onto your head before the shutter fires.  If you want to check your results, you will need to take the helmet off of your head, but that is not a problem.


oakironworker (author)2013-10-01

what cutting wheel do you use for the pvc? Like a blade or the fiber type cut off type

Phil B (author)oakironworker2013-10-01

I used a common 1/16" thick fiber wheel for cutting metal. Thanks for looking.

finton (author)2013-05-12

;What I want to know is how did Phil take photos for this 'ible when the 'ible is about how to take hands-free photos! :P

Phil B (author)finton2013-05-12

I know your question is tongue-in-cheek. I did use a tripod for the photo in the Introduction. The photo in step 9 was taken with the camera attached to the adapted bicycle helmet. The others were taken as I held and worked the camera in one hand.

finton (author)Phil B2013-05-12

Tee hee! :]

cody305 (author)2010-04-27

This looks pretty ingenious.  I have a "miner's light" that mounts on your forehead with a strap around the back of your head, I wonder if that could be modified, if the camera wasn't very heavy...  By the way, how do you know if the camera is pointed exactly where you want it everytime, does it vary somewhat each time you put the helmet on?  I saw some ads for "spy eyeglasses" with a camera built into a pair of eyeglasses, and a bluetooth transmitter, but they weren't cheap, and the resolution was rather low.  I think your invention is by far the best solution.   Sorry if you already answered this, but how heavy is your camera, and what is the resolution?  Thanks for another great idea! 

Phil B (author)cody3052010-04-28

Thanks, Cody.  A lighter-weight camera would be an advantage.  The camera I use these days is a Kodak z710 (7.1 mega-pixels).  It weighs more than those that look like a deck of cards with a lens. 

The miner's light strap might work with a lighter-weight camera.

I figure the camera's field of view will usually cover what I need, even if it is not aimed completely properly.  I can crop a little later.  If the photo I want has more limited requirements, I could take the helmet off and check what I got after each exposure.  I think the biggest variance will be making certain the camera is not pointed to one side or other a little more than straight ahead.

Thank you. 

scoochmaroo (author)2010-04-26

I recently bought a little remote that supposedly pairs with any digital camera.  It also has delay timer on it so you can click it and quickly stash the remote out of the shot before the picture is taken.  It's been absolutely priceless when I've had to take pictures using a tripod.  But I've been looking for something just like this!  Now to find my old helmet. . .

Phil B (author)scoochmaroo2010-04-26

According to the safety people, a bicycle helmet should be replaced every three to five years.  They fear the Styrofoam cushioning material may not keep its integrity longer than that.  The helmet I used in this Instructable was purchased in the mid-1980's.  But, I cannot see any evidence the Styrofoam in it has deteriorated in any way.  I took a nasty spill a couple of years ago and hit my head enough to crack that helmet in two places.  I got away without even a headache.  The point of this comment is that you are probably due for a new helmet soon, anyway (if only you can find your old helmet).

scoochmaroo (author)Phil B2010-04-26

I don't have a bike anymore :)

Phil B (author)scoochmaroo2010-04-27

Everyone should have a bike.  :-(

scoochmaroo (author)Phil B2010-04-27

I just sold mine.  Today I need the money more than the bike.  Plus I can walk to work!  And it's a lot less scary on these San Francisco hills :)

sharlston (author)scoochmaroo2010-04-26

i think i also used to have one of those remotes,i got it from ebay didnt work,probably cos it was from "china"

great ible phil keep it up

Phil B (author)sharlston2010-04-26


lafnbear (author)2010-04-27

 If you have a PC anywhere near your workbench, or if you have a laptop, how about just mounting a webcam above your workbench? As long as you have enough diskspace, you can just record your work start-to-finish, then do frame grabs for stills later.

Phil B (author)lafnbear2010-04-27

Would the resolution be as good as with my still camera?  Just having my camera near my workbench makes me nervous about scratching the lens, etc., and I move it multiple times to keep it away from the action.  Having a laptop in my workshop would make me even more nervous about damage to it.

Hey Phil you said "the photos are practically a "human's-eye view." does this mean that with the 130 degrees will record wherever you look or was that just when standing on the bench. In other words if it will to record video and you walk around with it will this angle record according to your head/eye movement?
thanks for the nice ideas   

The 130 degree figure applies mainly when I am handling something at my workbench.  But, the photo in the final step was taken sitting in a chair with my hands on a table.  That is quite different from standing at a bench and the coverage corresponded pretty well to my eye's view.  Perhaps you could build a version with a hinge to change the height at which the lens points.  Make it so you can adjust it and lock it down.  Then experiment.  Or, you can take your own side profile photo and calculate the optimum angle for your video similar to what I showed in the Introduction photo.

Thank you for your words of appreciation.

Tim Temple (author)2010-04-26

Does it sound like you are speaking through gritted teeth?  Maybe you need longer screws and no strap!

Phil B (author)Tim Temple2010-04-26

I do not envision wearing this until I am ready to take a photo for which it is needed.  I doubt I will ever speak to anyone while wearing it.  I understand what longer screws and no strap would do, but am not quite ready to sign off on that, either.

rimar2000 (author)2010-04-26

What a good idea, Phil!

Phil B (author)rimar20002010-04-26

Thank you, Osvaldo.  I hope all is well with you.

Ward_Nox (author)2010-04-26

this is pretty brilliant the only problem would be trying to keep your head steady when the poto is taken to its not blurry

Phil B (author)Ward_Nox2010-04-26

Much would depend on the illumination.  I expect I will use the camera's built-in flash for most photos taken using this helmet cam.  Thank you for your comment.

lemonie (author)2010-04-26

I'd not thought about how you take the photos, this is a bit better than a tripod (to understate it). Another good one.


Phil B (author)lemonie2010-04-26

Thank you, Lemonie.  Another advantage is that the photos are practically a "human's-eye view."  A tripod must be off to one side or the other. 

lemonie (author)Phil B2010-04-26

I see it (very clearly), it's something I'll think about whether I can do myself.


Phil B (author)lemonie2010-04-26

You could use a variety of materials other than PVC softened and formed.  Some pieces of 1/8 x 3/4 inch aluminum bar stock could be bent rather easily, and would still have a lot of strength and rigidity.  They could support a piece of 1/8 inch Plexiglas for the camera mounting plate. 

lemonie (author)Phil B2010-04-26

I was thinking of straps, but I'm still thinking - I appreciate the advice.


About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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