Top 3 DIY Photography Projects for 2014

Tis’ the season for best-of lists and resolutions for next year. With that in mind, I thought I’d share the Top 3 DIY Photography Projects that I have planned for 2014.

underwater sport photographer jp danko blurmedia photography toronto commercial photographer

Do You DIY?

Most of the time I build things because there is not a good commercial option available…well, at least not a good commercial option that is in the price range I am willing to pay.

The following list is a handful of projects that have been floating around inside my head for a while now. I am interested to find out what the DIY community thinks is feasible, what’s crazy and what could be done better.

1. LED “Spiderlite” Style Hot Lights

I have recently been shooting more and more video – mostly instructional videos and behind the scenes video, but video nonetheless. I don’t really have a great video light solution right now, and I don’t really want to shell out a fortune on video hot lights or LED light panels that I will probably only use once in a while.

westcott spiderlite head

So instead I am planning on building a Westcott Spiderlite style light head.

Take a look at the light head. It is essentially just four to six light bulb sockets with a bracket so that it can have light modifiers attached and be mounted on a light stand.

Westcott Spiderlite bare head

I use Elinchrom studio lights with a mix of Elinchrom and Westcott light modifiers right now, so the idea would be to make my DIY hot light head so that standard Elinchrom speed-rings can be attached – which should not be too difficult.

I was originally going to use hardware store daylight balanced compact fluorescent bulbs for this project (I actually already have them – they have been sitting on my workbench for nearly two years). But now, I think I will use LED bulbs instead.

Home Depot Philips 100W Equivalent Soft White LED Light Bulb

These hardware store LED light bulbs are 19 watts (100W equivalent) each and rated at 2700K. I would rather find a daylight or at least “bright white” version up around 5000K – but as long as I set my white balance correctly (and assuming the bulbs have a relatively even color temperature), it shouldn’t matter that much.

So six 19 watt LED bulbs (114 watts total) would give me the equivalent of 600 watts of tungsten light, or about the equivalent of one of the smaller Spiderlight kits.

The best part is that LED bulbs are fully dimmable – so all I need to do to control the light power is build in an LED compatible dimmer.

2. GoPro Remote Control Blimp

The first time I saw one of these things at Toys R Us, my first thought was – damn – I bet you could strap a GoPro to that thing!

GoPro Blimp Air Swimmers RC great white shark

If you want to see this bad boy in action – here is the obligatory Jaws themed YouTube video:

OK – so I realize that a toy flying shark probably won’t float a GoPro on its own – but I am thinking maybe adding another one (or two or ten) of those big foil helium balloons might be just enough to get a GoPro flying.

I also realize that a toy flying shark (or killer whale, or clown fish, or you can even get a flying bass – I know ahhhhhhh the bass is on your a$$…) with another few helium balloons tied to it is not going to be able to actually move around outdoors and be controllable via the built in RC controls (and for whatever range you get with that controller) – but maybe it would be enough remote control to rotate and pivot the GoPro to frame your shots while you guide the blimp manually.

And then there is retrieval. I am thinking a heavy test fishing line would do the trick…and maybe a pellet gun for backup.

What could go wrong? Certainly nothing worse than ditching a DJI Phantom quadcopter and a Sony RX 100 II into the ocean in Iceland.

(BTW – my hat’s off to Chase on this one. We all screw up on shoots once in a while – especially when we’re pushing the envelope to get the shot. Its cool to see one of the best in the biz put himself out there – even when he messes up – and I’m sure he found a way to nail the shot with or without the DJI copter).

3. Fiber Optic Underwater TTL Strobe Triggers 2.0

In the original iteration of this build, I used Pelican micro cases to house my Nikon SB-800s underwater and plain old off-the-shelf toslink cables to trigger the strobes.

underwater fashion photography underwater fashion photographer jp danko toronto

underwater fashion photography underwater fashion photographer jp danko blurmedia toronto

After losing a good friend, one of my original SB-800 strobes to Davy Jones’ Locker on a recent underwater shoot, I think it’s time to look at upgrading the Pelican boxes to some sort of custom molded plastic housings.

I’m thinking something like a GoPro housing – it’s just a plastic box with an O-Ring gasket and a sturdy latch right? And then use an assortment of different cradles on the inside to support different strobe sizes and brands.

I also want to upgrade the toslink cables.

While the toslink cables work quite well in ideal conditions, in practice the cables have to be lined up perfectly with the slave sensors on the strobes in order for the strobes to trigger.

What that means on a shoot is out of the blue (pun intended) one strobe will stop firing – which is a major pain in the butt when you and all your gear are underwater.

I think the system would be more reliable with a larger diameter fiber optic cable – a bigger diameter cable equals a bigger area and a bigger area means much more light to pop the strobes (remember that inverse square law thingie?).

Of course, I have no idea what sorts of fiber optic cables are available out there – but that is what the internet is for (hit me up if you have any suggestions – seriously).

underwater fashion photography jp danko toronto commercial photographer

What Are You Going To Build In 2014?

Have any great ideas bouncing around in your head?

Have a suggestion, improvement, materials source or comment on these three DIY photography projects?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

About The Author

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube.

JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.

  • Rick

    Consider using Otterbox housings next time. They are tested to 100′ so they don’t have to use the weasel clauses that Pelican uses.

    You might also consider just going to underwater strobes instead. They are fully adjustable underwater which makes them considerably easier to use. Optical cable linkages are also somewhat foolproof. And while they represent a substantial investment, at the $100/hr rate you have previously noted, they don’t need to save more than 7 or 8 hours each over their lifetime to recover their cost.

  • Luca

    I agree underwater strobes are probably the best investment if you shoot underwater, especially on location.
    However if it has to be DIY, why not try to keep the strobes out of the pool and bringh the flash light underwater with long optical fibers?
    I found this guy made something close to what I was thinking:

    I guess you can then use some sort of RF triggering then.

  • JP Danko

    Good suggestions guys – just going to quickly touch on commercially available underwater strobes – they are made for close up work – subjects that are 3 to 6 ft away – which is why they have those little arms that are a couple feet long max. All except the most expensive are significantly less powerful than an SB-800, and as far as I am aware they don’t have a built in Fresnel – so you can’t zoom them in to optimize your light throw (very important to maximize the light available from a strobe). I am not shooting little fishes and coral that are right in front of me – I am shooting models that are usually about 10 feet away from the camera, and 10 – 15 feet away from my strobes. My underwater sync cables are 30 ft long – not 3 feet. Anyway – the point is that although commercially built underwater strobes are waterproof – they don’t really do what I want – and they are over 1k each (my typical rig includes 3 or 4) – that’s a pretty chunky investment. But keep the suggestions coming!

  • Fiberstrobe

    I think you should reconsider underwater strobes. They are not just for macros but also for wide angle reef scenes and they are way better than housed flashlights. You may be mislead by the given guide numbers, because it’s for underwater. You can multiple them by 2 or more to get the number in air. They have wide coverage and homogenous light distribution (but you can snoot them if you want, or can do DIY frensel modification) Some used manual strobes not capable of TTL can be found really cheap, but you can also find strong strobes under 1000USD.
    For example this inon would be way better than any housed flash:
    Instead of tosslink cables you can use optical fibers. You can find my recommendation regarding the vendors in US or Europe here:

    You can even curl these fibers if you want, but for long distance I wouldn’t recommend:

    I recommend this topic on wetpixel with good examples:



  • Edward Antrobus – If You Can R

    I’m just getting started on my photography journey as a food blogger. My very first DIY build is going to be a small lightbox for shooting my dishes at night.

  • Mexicandiver

    I use Strobes with a slave wireless triger when I shoot my models underwater. Ikelite has an eceptional strobe setings that allowed you to use the underwater strobes off camera. All you need is one strobe conected to the camera or housing to triget the others. Also, using a wide angle lens you wont need to be to far from your subject. Any 16-35mm lens is a good lens. Later on I will post here my underwater studio setup.