$30 Photo Studio Setup (lights)




A while back I converted a spare bedroom into a photography studio. I have moved and given away the lights, but wanted to share the cheap and easy to make setup.

The 2 light stands cost me $31 (total for both) including the clamp lights. They are made out of PVC and 3/4" dowels.

You can point the lights in any direction, and move them any distance from the floor, up to about 74" high.

Step 1: Tools-n-parts

Tools needed:
- Saw (to cut wooden dowels and PVC pipe)
- Pocket knife or boxcutter
- Hammer, sidewalk or cement floor

All parts are available at Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. (I also hit a dollar store)

Parts needed to build 2 light rigs:
- Three 3/4" dowel rods
- One piece of 3/4" x 10' PVC pipe
- Two PVC couplings (3/4")
- Six PVC tee intersections (3/4")
- 2 small C clamps (just big enough to clamp onto dowel) (I got mine at dollar store)
- String or small chain
- 2 cheap brown electrical extension cords

Step 2: Creating the Shafts

Dowels are usually 4' long.

We've got 3 dowels. Take the saw and cut ONE of them in half.

You should now have two 4' dowels and two 2' dowels.

Jam a 4' and a 2' into each of the two PVC couplings.

The dowels won't quite fit into the couplings. Take the pocketknife or boxcutter and whittle the dowel down until it can be jammed into the coupling. YOU DO NOT WANT IT TO BE LOOSE. You should have to work a little to get it in there, tapping it in with the hammer or on a sidewalk or cement floor.

At the end of this step, you should have two wooden shafts just over 6' long.

Step 3: Creating the Bases

PVC comes in 10' lengths. You should have one total.

Cut the 10' pipe into eight 1' sections and four 6' sections.

Using the the six PVC tee intersections, make two "H" shapes like in the image.

Step 4: Putting It All Together

Take the 6' wooden shafts and stick them into the middle tee sections of the PVC "H" shaped base.

Attach a C clamp to each shaft, about chest level.

Clamp the clamp lights around both the C clamp and the wooden shaft. (The C clamp keeps the light from drooping under it's own weight, and keeps it from sliding down the shaft.)

Using about 6" of string or chain, make a loop around the C clamp and pass the cord of the light through it. This will make the cord run down the shaft, reducing chances of someone tripping on the cord.  In the attached image, I used a small chain and a carabiner to hold the cord, instead of string. The carabiner makes assembly/disassembly a snap. (pardon the pun)

Step 5: Final Notes

These light rigs are great for hobbyist photographers who can't have a "real" studio. The height and angle of the lights are adjustable, and the entire rigs can be pulled apart to fit in any size car for transport to other locations.

Not bad at all for about 30 bucks and 30 minutes of work.

Safety tips:
- NEVER leave these lights unattended when turned on.
- Keep kids/pets away from them. You probably don't want to brand your dog with a hot light bulb.
- These rigs aren't built for strength. I wouldn't add more (or heavier) lights. These aren't designed for holding more than about a pound of weight each, if that.
- I always used these on carpet. They may not work so well on hard surfaces, unless you added another coupling or PVC end-cap on the end of each tip of the "H" to keep it from rocking. (4 ends per rig)
- These light rigs are held together with friction. If any of the connections are loose, it will fall over! For loose connections, pull apart and apply some tape or rubber cement to the end of the pipe/dowel and insert back into the coupling or tee intersection.

Other tips:
- For mobile studio purposes, get some extra extension cords.
- Try adding an outlet dimmer for adjustable light brightness.



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    9 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    As the author has stated, photos taken in this setup would be irrelevant. Quality of light in a photo is determined by:

    bulb type
    diffuser presence
    filter presence

    None of these are the subject of this Instructable. This is about building a basic lighting setup which is easily customized to fit the individual's needs.

    Stop asking for example shots. You're missing the point.


    8 years ago on Step 5

    Yeah but how well they work for lighting purposes is the most important reason for building them. Can't even post your best photo? Or just take a test shot of a hat on a broomstick or something, just to showcase the light and colour temperatures.

    4 replies

    White balance is all a trick anyway, so colour temperature these days doesn't matter much. Light quality is down to the bulb, filter, and diffuser.

    It's a BASIC setup for 30 bucks. If you want pro, don't use these - it's that simple. Being a Photoshop guy rather than a photographer, this allowed me to do simple setups cheaply, that were better than taking a picture in my kitchen or bathroom.

    Showing any photos I've taken with these lights is impossible, for 2 reasons:

    1. As mentioned in the beginning, this was a setup from several years ago. I had it about a month and then gave them away as I had to move and purge anything not absolutely needed.

    2. All photos I took were then massively altered in Photoshop, to be used in surreal art. I'm not a photographer - I'm an artist.

    Feel free to upgrade any or all of this setup to your obviously superior standards, or don't.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Not a bad setup. I use something similar, and I am a photographer and artist. I also use a set of dual mounted halogen work lights. I understand the need for something quick, portable, and easily stored, especially if you don't have a professional studio where you can set up. Good job.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 5

    I don't think it'd be fair to judge the rigs by my photography skills, or lack thereof. :)