PVC Overhead Lighting Rig for Photography




Introduction: PVC Overhead Lighting Rig for Photography

About: Designer, Photographer, Tinkerer, Builder, Musician, Father.

I have been wanting to build something like this for some time. There are many tutorials on how to make them in about a thousand different styles, designs, materials and even colours.

Firstly, I looked at what I wanted to gain from this.

I wanted something simple, easy to fit into a car for location shoots, versatile and of course, light, so I don't have to lug around a ton of stuff! Minimalistic was also a factor, as many other designs have some elaborate camera boom with slides, knobs and everything else.

As this was my first attempt (I literally drew it up and went straight to the hardware store this morning!) there were a few 'adjustments' along the way, which I will try to list in the photos.

Step 1: Materials Needed

Well, as this is a PV Camera Rig, you will obviously need PVC pipe and various attachments to create the rig (and a camera, because why would you need to build this if you didn't have a camera, right?!)

6 x 750mm lengths
8 x 600mm lengths
4 x Large Angle Elbows (for the top)
4 x Small Angle Elbows (for the other joints)
6-8 x T-Joints (more on this later)
Spare PVC Pipe (for adding or replacing bits that you didn't measure correctly - like I did!)

Clamps (to assist in cutting)
Measuring Tape (to tell you where to cut)
Marker (to remind you where to cut!)
Feet (my feet are in this photo, but you could substitute them for your own... they will come in handy when moving around the rig, although not entirely necessary...)

My hardware place didn't have the standard T-Joints, or even the Cross Joints, so I have used the T-Joints with inspection panels instead. These could be used to assist with lighting wires to run inside the pipes, which I may do later.

Step 2: First Connections

As I have never worked with PVC before, I went a bit nuts on the photos.

Here, I have attached a 600mm piece to a 750mm piece using a small elbow joint. I have duplicated it, as these will make the sides, and I wanted to ensure I was getting everything even on both sides as I went along.

The 750mm piece will form the frontmost bar on each side, with the 600mm forming the bottom edge of the sides. (in case you were already lost!)

Step 3: Second Connections

Next, add the larger elbow joints to the top of the 750mm pieces. I have chosen to use these larger elbows o the top, as they may add more surface area to mount additional lights or equipment to them, where the smaller elbows are too small for a clamp to attach to.

As a side note, This is the point that I realised that the PVC Pipe had writing on it, and so rejigged the pieces to ensure the writing was on the underside where possible. Of course, you could also just paint the rig when you are done, but I am keeping it grey, as its rather neutral, and shouldn't reflect into any images I am taking (unlike the orange pipes that I was considering!)

Step 4: Third Connection

The next step is to put a T-Joint on the backlist point of the bottom 600mm piece, as shown in the photo.

This will serve as both a stable footer piece as well as a point to separate the side from the back to allow for flat-packing when not in use. I have ensured that all of the "Inspection Points" on these parts are facing inward to lower the risk of them snagging on objects or persons who are simply too close to the rig to begin with! It also allows for any potential wires to pass through and feed into the photography area, rather than be left dangling out the sides or back.

Step 5: First of a Few Extra Cuts

Okay, so I mentioned before that I only drew this up on the day of the build, right?

Well, as there were a few parts that where different to what I was originally going to use, there are also a few extra lengths that needed to be adjusted. Here are a few sections that were approx. 80-100mm in length.

These allow for the T-Joint at the back corner of each side to then attach to a small elbow, turning to extend into what will become the back. Make sense?

Look at the next step to figure out where these bits fit... :)

Step 6: Turning a Corner

Okay so the small sections from the previous step are fitted here, into the T-Joints. Exciting stuff, isn't it?

These can really be any length... they are simply to allow an elbow to attach to the T-Joint. You could cut them shorter than this and make them 'invisible' joints.

Step 7: Corners in Place

Small Elbow Joints now in place, these form the back-most corners of the sides, turning into the back lengths.

Step 8: Back Corner

This shows a close-up of the short section shown in Step 5. The left section can be any length you like, as this forms the width of the rig. The empty hole of the T-Joint will be the upright 750mm section for the back of the rig.

I say 750mm, however I did need to trim off about 75mm, due to the Large Elbow and T-Joint on the top, and the T-Joint on the bottom. I actually just held the 750mm section up between the bottom T-Joint and the top T-Joint, marked it and cut. (Sorry folks! I will measure this properly later...)

Step 9: Back Section

I had to look at this photo a few times to remember where things went.

Originally, I was planning to have two vertical centre supports on the back section, but have decided to keep a single vertical instead. As such, only one of the sections shown here is required (although I kept the second one, in case it was required later - perhaps if a camera mount was needed lower than the rear cross member, in which case having two supports at the back could accommodate the boom to pass between them)

The pipe sections shown in these are both 750mm, matching the height of the front supports.

I am going to label all of these misc parts i the final image, to assist in working out where everything goes. :)

The second pic on this step shows the "Spare Part" that can be inserted to give a second vertical in the back section, allowing a tripod to pass through between the two verticals and get super-close to the subject (if required) or to add some extra support and/or length to the rig, should this be needed.

Step 10: Final Assembly

Okay so once all of the pieces are put together and you have possibly gone a bit mental from working out where everything goes, you can assemble the parts together!

As you can see in the photos in this step, the width of the rig is rather wide. This is due to the items I am planning to photograph being rather large. Obviously the width, and even the depth of the rig can be adjusted to suit your needs.

If I could do anything different, I would change the T-Joint in the top of the back section to a Cross-Joint, allowing for a potential camera boom or even an overhead lighting mount. I would also possibly use non-inspection joints, as these were more expensive than the standard ones (although sold out!)

I am rather pleased with this rig. It took about 20-30 minutes to build (and sort out a few changes and modifications along the way!) and was so much easier to cut PVC than my usual material of choice - timber.

The best part is, as I have not used any PVC glue, I can adjust, modify or completely disassemble this entire rig in a matter of minutes, making it super-easy to store and transport! (I have elected to break it down to three panels - Left, Right and Back - meaning its a lot quicker to assemble when I need it, but doesn't take up heaps of room when I don't need it)

My plan now is to purchase some desk lamps with clip mounts to attach to the side horizontals, and possibly a super-clamp to attach a horizontal tripod mount to the back section. Of course, you could attach any lights you wanted, or even attach backdrops to it using some simple clamps etc.
As this is only meant to be a lighting rig, I have not made provisions to mount a camera, but this could easily be modified to do this, if thats what you are after. My set-up will involve a tripod with horizontal bar attached to it, standing behind this rig and passing over the read bar (thats why the bar is lower than the top section!

Potentially, you could attach some bluetooth speakers to keep things groovin' along as you shoot! The options for this rig are endless. I know I will be adding things to this for some time.


So, my original plan was to have lights with a clip/clamp to grip onto the pipe on the top rails.
After much searching, the cheapest ones I could find were ~$50 each, and I was planning to get 4.


Originally I had planned to purchase the HEKTOR lamp, as it was small, stylish and looked the part. That was, until I was told it could only handle a 40W bulb unless I went LED (Which I eventually DID do, but at the time, I was thinking of flexibility...)

So I kept looking, and found the TERTIAL lamp. Think Pixar lamp without the base. Completely moveable, adjustable and can handle a 70W+ bulb with ease. Also, the same price as the HEKTOR.

So I purchased 4 of them. On the way out, I checked the "Rejects" room and found boxes of LED bulbs at half price. Only the boxes were damaged, so I was winning!

Step 12: The Mounting Clamps

The TERTIAL Lamp comes with a clamp for mounting. At first I was thinking it would be okay, but after some testing, I realised it would not have sufficient grip on the PVC pipe without some modifications.

I considered many options, including timber blocks, a second PVC crossbeam etc. In the end I settled for modifying the top bar of the rig to include "Inspection Points", which are square.


Step 13: Inventory of New Parts

Naturally, they do not have the item I was looking for, which was an in-line inspection point (a square box with a pipe on each end), so I had to settle for the T-Junction. I already had one left over from the earlier stages (always buy one extra of anything!! You will end up breaking or ruining one, and without a spare, you have to drive to the hardware store and buy another one!)

So, I purchased 5 T-Junctions with Inspection Points (total cost $10!) and of course, the one I already had leftover.

Step 14: Cutting the PVC Pipes

Okay, so this was a game of guess-work, as I wanted to subtract the inner dimensions of the T-Junction (from each end, minus the allowance for the PVC pipe to slide in at each end!) and for it to be uniform on each side, so the lights could mount evenly.

Yes, I have 6 mounts. Yes I only bought 4 lights.

This is so that if I decide I only want to shoot with 2 lights, I can mount them centred. rather than skewed. (Or, I could add 2 more lights!)

This image shows the original top PVC pipe alongside the new pieces that will make the new top section.

Step 15: Pieced Together

The new top piece is assembled. If you have measured correctly, (or guessed correctly!) your new piece will match the length of the old piece. In this case, it did!

I had already marked with a Sharpie where to cut on both pieces, so as this piece was accurate, I used the markings I had already made, and cut those as well.

Step 16: Clips Mounted!

Okay, so here are the new top pieces installed, with a sample clip to show how they will function.

I have yet to fully install all of the lights (or even to unwrap them all!)

I had originally thought to dismantle the TERTIAL and remove one half of its height (and I even did one to test it!) but realised that buy doing this, it would not allow me to extend in and out, only up and down, meaning if I decided to narrow the rig, my lights would essentially overlap the centreline. Not ideal

With the TERTIAL lamp as is, I can keep the middle elbow of the lap pointed up, allowing me to zoom the lamp in, out, left, right, up, down. Multiply that by 4 and you have a seriously versatile photographic workbench and rig!

IKEA saves the day, yet again!

When I do finally set this rig up in its entirety, I will add a step and include the photo of it all, so you can visualise what I am talking about.

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    5 years ago

    nice, and if you ever find you need to reinforce it (I worry about flex when using this kind of pvc tubes for anything that needs to be stable), rebar will fit inside the tubes.. I like the fact a few tubes changed and it can be ultimately adjusted! :-)


    Reply 5 years ago

    yes indeed! Another idea was to fill the weight-bearing pipes with plaster or even modelling cement etc. This would be a permanent option, obviously. The lights would ultimately mount on the upper sides, so the flex is rather low there, due to the narrow depth of it all.
    Rebar would be good though, especially if one was to plug the ends to prevent it falling out during transport... :)