In this ‘How To’ guide I’ll show you how easy it is to make a ‘Macro Lighting Rig’ for your compact camera. Costing less than £15 to make, this ‘Macro Lighting Rig’ is an extremely useful bit of kit to add to your wildlife photography kit bag!
Time Needed: 2 Hours (+24 hours for sugru to set).
Why Do It?: This rig is ideal for photographing all sorts of wildlife at very close range. I designed it with photographing moths in mind as I’ve missed many good shots due to low light levels but it could be used for all sorts of other macro photography too. This rig also eliminates the shadow problem caused by the lens on many compact cameras when trying to photograph at very close range.
What You Need: (x2) USB LED laptop lights, a short length of aluminum strip (the length and width will depend on the dimensions of your compact camera), a pack of Sugru self setting rubber, (x2) cable ties, a spare USB lead and a 5v power source.
Tools Required: Hacksaw, wire cutters, Stanley knife, soldering iron.
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Step 1: Find Some Suitable LED Lighting
There are numerous places to find suitable lighting for this project. Plug in USB laptop lights come in all shapes and sizes. I plan to experiment with a few different designs but for this project I chose a pair of USB plug in lights from Poundland, and you guessed it, they cost £1 each!
Step 2: Remove the USB Outer Casing
Using a sharp Stanley knife carefully remove the outer plastic casing of the USB connector. Do not press too hard as you don’t want to damage the wires inside.
Step 3: Unsolder Wires and Remove Connector.
Note that the Red and Black wires are connected to the two outer pins of the USB connector.
Step 4: Trim Back the Metal Gooseneck.
Using a hacksaw or mini grinder carefully remove approx. 25mm of the metal gooseneck spring. Be careful not to melt the wires inside!
Step 5: Finished LED Light Ready for Next Step.
You should now have approx. 25-30mm of the red and black wires exposed.
Step 6: Make the Bracket.
I had a piece of black anodised aluminum strip left over from a previous project that was ideal to create the main lighting rig bracket. The final size of the bracket will depend on the dimensions of your compact camera.
Step 7: Attaching the LED Lights to the Bracket.
Push the wire end of each LED light through the hole in the end of the bracket and secure in position using a cable tie.
Step 8: Wire Everything Together.
Take the spare USB lead and cut off the small connector end and expose the wires. Cut back the green and white wires leaving approx. 25mm of the red and black wires exposed. Solder all the red wires together and then solder all the black wires together. I used some heatshrink sleeving to cover the solder joints insulating them from each other.
Step 9: Use Sugru Self Setting Rubber to Cover the Wires and Make a Comfy Grip.
sugru is a self-setting rubber that can be formed by hand. It moulds like play-dough, bonds to almost anything and turns into a strong, flexible silicone rubber overnight.
Step 10: Add a Thin Layer of Sugru to the Top of the Bracket.
Cut open the sugru sachet and knead the rubber for a minute or so. Press the sugru into the corners of the bracket covering the wires and cable ties etc. Gradually build up the thickness until you form a comfy grip.
Step 11: Leave the Finished Rig in a Warm Room for 24 Hours.
Leave the finished macro lighting rig in a warm room for 24 hours to allow the sugru to cure.
Resist the temptation to handle the lighting rig too soon! Leave it for 24 hours and it will be perfect to use.
Step 12: The Power Pack
The USB LED lights require approx. 5v to power up. You could use (x3) AA batteries giving you 4.5v and use a battery holder to keep them compact and tidy. You can purchase a 3AA battery holder for £1.49 from Maplin or other electronic component supplier.
I wanted to find a slightly tidier, more flexible solution so, after a little research I decided to purchase a Anker Astro Mini 3000mAh rechargeable battery pack for £10 off of ebay. The LED lights draw approx. 70mA so, connected to the battery pack, I should be able to power the lighting rig continuously for 30+ hours! The Anker Astro Mini is very compact (90mm long x 23mm diameter) and comes with a small carry bag and charging cable. My Panasonic LUMIX TZ40 comes with a USB charger so in theory I should be able to recharge my camera battery too using the Anker Astro Mini should I need to.
Step 13: The Finished Macro Rig!
Connect the end of the USB connector on the Macro Lighting Rig to the Anker Astro Mini battery pack. Press the ‘On’ button and the LEDs should light!
Step 14: The Macro Lighting Rig in Action.
The lighting rig might look neat but does it work?! There’s only one way to find out. I took the rig rig for one of my woodland walks and used it to rattle off a few photos. Where possible I took a set of three photos – one using only ambient light, one using the camera flash and a final one using only the lighting from the Macro Lighting Rig.
Here are the results….