Low Budget Photography Lights




Introduction: Low Budget Photography Lights

 When starting out as a studio photographer, lights are a necessity. Unfortunately the standard cheap dish lights don't look terribly professional when dragged out to a location shoot. This instructable aims to help you create a set of simple lights that won't look out of place at a location shoot.

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Step 1: Safety Equipment and Layout

 This instructable uses power tools, so safety is critical. Remember that gloves are a very stupid idea when using anything that spins. If your workpiece gets too hot while grinding put it down. 

Angle grinders should always be set on the bench with the wheel up. This prevents them from flying across the shop when you don't let it stop before setting it down.

LIGHT is IMPORTANT! If the lights aren't good enough to photograph, then they aren't good enough for power tools!

Step 2: Materials:

 For each of the lights in this project you will need:

1 count 1/4" - 20 nut
1 count 1/4" washer
2 count wire nuts (small)

I didn't have the proper size wire nuts, so I cheated and substituted solder and heat shrink tubing. Wire nuts are much simpler and require less practice.

1 count full spectrum lightbulb
1 count standard 2 prong plug
10 ft or so of 2 conductor lamp cord minimum 12 gauge

Some kind of industrial strength glue or epoxy is required, but I leave the choice to you. I used loctite 495 instant adhesive because I had some lying around. Something with a bit more body (higher viscousity) is better.

Step 3: Tools:

These are the tools I used over the course of this project. Only a couple of them are required, the rest can be substituted.

Clean Up:
rubbing alcohol
shop rags
angle grinder
wire wheel for grinder
dremel with wire wheel for touch up

(The grinder and dremel can be substituted with a wire brush, but it becomes much more labor intensive)

diagonal wire cutters
wire stripping tool
soldering iron
heat gun

(soldering iron and heat gun are used because I had the wrong size wire nuts lying around)

Tripod Mount:
dremel with grinding tool
Power Drill
Drill Index

(welder can be substituted by industrial glue or epoxy mentioned in materials step. I had a welder so I used it.)

Step 4: Cleaning the Light Cans

 These light cans are covered in plastic sheathing that has turned yellow with age and gotten a bit sticky. The first step is removing this plastic so that the lights look good. By using a wire wheel in an angle grinder we can also give the metal cans a pleasing brushed look. Remember to clamp the cans to your work surface when grinding. A dremel with a wire brush can be used for fine detail, but is not required.

Step 5: Disassembly

 In order to complete the rewiring and attach the mounting system to the light we need to take the electrical box off of the u-frame.

This can be accomplished by removing the two screws from the sides of the black plastic box on the bottom of the u-frame. Because this was a track light, you must clip the wires running to the cap you just removed before moving forward.

Step 6: Wiring the Box

 The first part of wiring is the removal of the ground wire. This is a safety feature that I am removing, but I had two conductor wire instead of three and I am confident in my wiring ability. If you decide to also remove the ground, I am not liable for any electrocution. Please don't get zapped.

Once you've decided about the ground, strip the common and hot wires about a quarter inch down. Next you need to put a hole through the side of the black box. The best way to do that is to measure the OD of your wire and pick the best fit out of your drill index. Mine happened to be 7/32". Then drill a hole through the side of the box. 

Thread your wire through the hole you just drilled and use your preferred method of wire joining to link the wire to the light. Because this is an AC light the order doesn't matter if you ignore the ground. Again, I suggest wire nuts for this operation, but mine didn't fit in the box. This is where the soldering iron comes in if you would prefer.

Step 7: Wiring the Plug

 This project uses replacement plugs that can be found at stores like Home Depot. These plugs are designed to be opened and have a lamp cord threaded through. The wire is looped around a screw inside the plug and tightened in place. Remember to loop the wire clockwise around the screw so that it is tightened into place when you screw it down.

Step 8: Altering the Track Mounts

Now we need to carve out a space for the tripod mount bolt in the old track mount for the light. I used a dremel with a cutting wheel to cut the mount flush to the cap. Again, remember to clamp your workpiece down while using power tools. Next measure the OD of the 1/4" - 20 nut you purchased earlier. Mine was approximately 13/32". Drill a 13/32" hole through the cap you cut flush earlier. This will be used later.

Step 9: Making the Tripod Mount

 Now we need to connect the 1/4" - 20 nut to the 1/4" washer. I used a welder because that's what I had, but you could  use some kind of adhesive as well.

Step 10: Closing the Box

 Now dry fit your washer/nut piece into the plastic cap you drilled out earlier. If they fit snugly you can proceed to glue them together. Follow the directions for your adhesive and remember to keep the joint clean.

Step 11: The Finish

 Now replace the plastic cap into the electrical box and replace the screws. Stick a full spectrum type bulb into your light can and plug it in.

This light is designed to be attached to a standard photography tripod, but if you want to create a stand out of alternative material, it can be attached to anything that uses 1/4" - 20 bolts for attachment points.

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    8 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    'Light cans' ...wHAT 'light cans'????

    (btw, re: shop safety: there is an incredible tablesaw safedevice that jams metal into the teeth of a circular tablesaw if the blade touches flesh ...i think its called a 'SafeSaw' .. if you can find it on the net, watch the INCREDIBLE video which uses a hotdog, not a finger )


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    What light can did you use? You didn't mention that  in your instructions. And did the housing come as one unit? A before and after photo of cleaning the cans would be helpful. Also where did you get the housing?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    These cans came in one piece, they appear to have come from some sort of track lighting system. I snagged them from a bin at Urban Ore in Berkeley. I was unable to find any brand name or model numbers on them.

    As to the before and after, in the first picture there are two lights visible, the light in the foreground is the after, while the light in the background has yet to be cleaned up. You can see where its plastic covering is discolored and flaking away.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The body of the light is in this case referred to as a can. It's perhaps a bit esoteric.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    CORRECTION: The saw that instantly stops on touching flesh is the StopSaw , see the video at Stopsaw.com  ... click the upper-right box on its home page, and tell me YOU're not impressed!!!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I you would pause and think about it carefully, it makes perfect sense.
    The difference between losing a bit of skin to getting fingers ripped right off can be gloves.
    Gloves add bulk and lessens sensation (you can't feel if you're touching something as well you can than with bare hands), so it is easier to get the glove rapped around a spinning tool and injure yourself quite badly.
    It's the same reason why clothing worn while using power tools should be close fitting and tucked it.

    Safety first. Always.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

     Thank you dj_nme.

    I've seen some pretty ugly stuff happen when people forget how dangerous power tools are. When you walk into a grinding room and see a glove wrapped around the pedestal grinder, it's terrible. Gloves tend to take your hands with them. Your feeling of touch is reduced, but also skin tends to not catch. You'll get abraded but you won't loose fingers.