I got sick of carrying flash around, so I built them into a backpack

Feb 6, 2023

Zero Serenity

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

I got sick of carrying flash around, so I built them into a backpack

Feb 6, 2023

Zero Serenity

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The Rig, later named “The Revenant” is an idea that I had at Fanimecon 2019, where I was tired of carrying around a flashgun to get nice lighting. Instead, I wondered if through my backpack I used to carry my equipment around in, could I just use that and hold it static? So I ended up attaching two of my speedlights and small softboxes to the already set tripods and went that Friday to try it out. It worked remarkably well, so it stuck. The idea is not original to me, as I saw someone at Dragon Con years ago doing something similar (without softboxes).

After the Marshall fire at the end of 2021, I had to rebuild the concept if I wanted to continue. In five days, I basically had everything back together, but the softboxes I had were too big to navigate very well. After correcting that, I was largely putting things together for comfort and use, so I could have what I needed without needing to take them off. The biggest addition to it was a set of side throwers. After working with the overhead boxes for a bit, people with hats or large wigs produced some obvious shadows. The idea was to put more lights lower, and then the small boxes to my sides came out. This went through multiple iterations to get it just right. I started with a pair of cheap steel tripods, but they kept bending out of place. I then went to carbon fiber and extension rods with ball heads on the ends. They kept coming unscrewed as I moved though, so I went to get some clamps instead, and those work reasonably well.

What’s in the backpack?

Most of the Shinya family is in it to provide padding and keep everything stable. On the sides are four tripod stands, adapters and speedlights with softboxes. Whatever else I think I will need I attach, including bigger softboxes and reflector disks, are in the bag. In addition, around my waist is a set of drop bags that carry the Shinya pair I am using at the time, camera gear like lenses and cleaning cloths, masks, medical supplies (really), business cards, sunglasses, provisions including protein bars for calories and pop for caffeine. Since the backpack also carries a water reservoir, I also carry 3l of water around and, through the course of a con day, usually drink all of it.

How much does it weigh?

37kg (81.6lbs) when fully loaded with water and provisions. Towards the end of the day, it will drop by several kg as I eat and drink.

Your back must be killing you.

Not at all. The backpack is designed for hiking, and light camping, meaning when properly fitted, all the weight resides on my waist, not my shoulders. I break every so often too. Also, with my strength training, the pack doesn’t exactly feel like much after a while, though my maximum speed is limited to a fast walk.

The Revenant?

Play Doom. It’s a bloody good time. Here’s the answer.

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The Future

So far, there isn’t much planned to do with it apart from shaving a little bit of weight off some parts to help with balance.

Zero Serenity is a cosplay and burlesque photographer based out of Louisville, Colorado. He started in photography with a film camera as part of his childhood and, over the years, has grown a fascination for pop culture and cosplay. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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One response to “I got sick of carrying flash around, so I built them into a backpack”

  1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    Someone at Burning Man had a setup kind of similar to this. I’ve been thinking about doing it myself for a few years now but the right occasion never presented itself. Shooting cosplayers at cons really makes sense tho.