The StrobePack Is A Wearable Glittering DIY Lighting Studio

The basic goal of the StrobePack, is to provide high-quality lighting at night and in low-light conditions, although it can be used in daylight, it really works best with low ambient light. It allows low-ISO, long-exposure, higher aperture shooting, which results in sharp, clean subjects while still soaking in ambient light sources.

StrobePack self-shot

The rig was originally built at Dragon*Con in Atlanta in 2011, with a military ALICE pack frame, two light stands, and some duct tape. In September of 2012, my friend Jason LaJudice fabricated a cross beam that provides a secure mount for the strobes and modifiers, it currently holds two SB-600s firing through 24″ white umbrellas, triggered by a Phottix Odin system. The Odins solved the last big issue in the project, which was remote power control, since once the pack is on my back, I can no longer reach the strobes.

2013 Dallas Suscon.

Rear view

The original light mounts were two Gorillapod magnetics, but they weren’t a stable mount on the ALICE pack, so I mounted the light stands along the side-rails of the pack. While this did increase stability dramatically, it also raised my center of gravity about four feet above my head, and made getting through doors a little difficult. In 2012 I switched from umbrellas to soft boxes, this was much easier to do once the crossbeam was attached to the pack, lowering the center of gravity and moving the mount points for the strobes to the sides about 2.5 feet. I recently switched back to 24″ white shoot-throughs to reduce weight.

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While photography is the primary purpose of the StrobePack, since its original creation, I have become involved with the local Burn community (“Burners” are people who attend Burning Man each year in the Nevada desert), and one thing Burners like is stuff that glows, blinks or flashes. The reason behind this, is that Burning man is in the desert, and deserts get pretty dark at night, so people illuminate themselves to avoid being run over by bicycles and other vehicles. I wanted the StrobePack to be obvious to avoid people running into it, and also to serve as a way to let people know I was taking pictures. I bought an LED strip lighting kit and wrapped the StrobePack with it, I later added a sound activated controller for the lights, as well as a speaker & PA system, essentially turning the StrobePack into a “DiscoPack”.

2013 Dallas Suscon.

The addition of the light & sound systems changed the way people interact with the StrobePack – while it has always drawn attention to itself, people now actively engage with it; this interaction is the basis for a media project that I’ve put together for this year’s Burning Man. The StrobePack will be used as a mobile portrait studio and dance party, randomly setting up at various points on the playa throughout the night. Again, because the StrobePack uses longer exposure times, the glow from Burner’s self-illumination will soak into the image, not be blown out by the flash.

The current setup uses two Nikon SB-600s, a Phottix Odin system, 24″ white shoot-throughs (which can be replaced with 24″x28″ soft boxes for shorter shoots where weight isn’t an issue). These are all mounted via a Cowboy Studio T-bracket, which is then attached to the pack mounts. My camera is a Nikon D90, although I’m hoping to replace it with a D7100 very soon. The LED lighting & sound system are currently powered by a Paul C Buff Vagabond Mini, although I’m trying to figure out a more efficient power source.

Astro Santas

About The Author

Mark Kaplan is a photographer based in Dallas, Texas. He runs Naked Lens Photography, documenting such subcultures as burlesque, body suspension and the Burn community. You can follow his utterly NSFW Flickr here. If you want to see him (and the SrobePack) in Burning Man, you can pitch in on his fundraiser here.

  • Juergen
  • http://www.vonwong.com/ Benjamin Von Wong

    If a commercial pack existed, I’d buy one!!

    • http://www.diyphotography.net/ udi tirosh

      I’ll make you a commercial one.

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    I’ve been thinking about building something very similar, also primarily for Burning Man. Kudos on getting there first so I don’t have to be the first weirdo. ;)

    • 3Horn

      I think as far as the Playa is concerned, Eric Schwabel gets to claim “first”. :)

  • matt s

    That’s a helluva lot of effort to put in to something only to end up with something that looks nearly identical to a standard on camera flash.

    • 3Horn

      It’s easy to make that statement having seen only four images, I’d ask you to look over a few more before proclaiming it “nearly identical to a standard on camera flash.”

      While it may look the same to you on this screen, there’s considerably more detail available because I’m able to shoot at low ISOs and high apertures, something that is difficult to do with a single on-camera flash.

      And that’s without getting into cosmetics such as catch lights, or the ability to use various modifiers.

      Is it a lot of effort? Absolutely. But in the then end, I find the results to entirely worth that effort.

      If you don’t like it, fine, don’t build one.

    • Nic Cage’s Hair

      Interesting design. I saw a photog on one of these forums 2 yrs ago that did something similar with a softbox mounted on a frame he wore that was positioned over his head. But really, i shoot event/club/concerts/raves and get the same look and exposure with my 5d3 and 430ex with stofen cover on it. AND…. i can walk through doors too! ;)

      However, that contraption would be nice for lighting a large area evently and with better quality light. But again, i’d hade to be you ever time i had to run to the bathroom. Or walk around without clocking somebody right in the face. ;)

      • 3Horn

        Yeah, porta-potties can be a bit of a hassle.

        When I’m shooting in nightclubs and smaller venues, I’ve generally used an SB-900 in the hot shoe with a foam bounce card. Now that I have the Odins, I’ve moved it off-camera, onto a monopod shooting through one of my 24″ umbrellas.

  • matt haines

    Yeah I’m going to use this for wedding receptions, for sure!

    • 3Horn

      I’m not a wedding photographer, the world has enough of ‘em already.

      • matt haines

        No need to be rude. Some of us LIKE being wedding photographers.

        • 3Horn

          And there’s no need to make a snarky comment about my project either.

          • matt haines

            It wasn’t snarky. I’ve dreamed about doing something like this for ages. It’s just not practical in crowded situations (not to mention, might draw too much attention at a wedding). You jump to conclusions.

  • Kevin Blackburn

    interesting idea but the dumbest thing I have ever seen sorry JMO

  • thaddeus3

    Can I get a blueprint to make this?

  • andrew

    woah! A walking studio!