DIY Century Stand (Nearly Finished Version)

It's been a little while since I have written a DIY post for this site, so today I have a pretty easy and useful one. In the interest of full disclosure, this is a slight adaption of an existing design that can be found on several sites and forums. I was really excited to find the original articles but there were a few features lacking from those designs that kept me from building one of these stands until just recently. I will  give a rundown of the specific changes that I made a little further down the page. Those who have spend any time with me know that I tend to look for a DIY solution for something before a turn to a commercial option. Over the last few years I have built up a nice little collection of tools that has made many of these projects cost effective and efficient. Very often these projects fall into two distinct categories: advanced designs created by an engineer who has a photography hobby and access to tools and knowledge that most folks don't, and so called "duct tape DIY's", projects that sort of get the job done, but are ugly or unreliable or both.

For me, it is only useful to build something if it will perform as well as a commercially available product and have a cost savings that justifies the time spent building it. I have actually built a lot of gear that you will never hear about on this site, either because I don't feel that it is worthwhile for you to build, or because I greedily want to keep it for my self. If you do want to see some of this other stuff, give me a call and I'd be happy to give you a look in person.

Ok, to the project. Since I am not completely done with this, there is no parts list yet, I will update this post as soon as I feel comfortable with the finished product. As for tools, I used the following:

Suitably sized pipe wrench: (maybe $10, you can get the cheapest you can find here) Drill press OR hand drill and vice: I used a hand drill on some of the holes just to try it and it works pretty well if you take your time. Decent bit set: If you plan on doing DIYs with any sort of frequency, get a set with fractions, numbered and lettered bits, you will need all three for taping threaded holes. Menards used to have a set for about $40, they were cheap, but worked well if you keep them sharp. Cheap bits kept sharp will last longer and cut faster then an expensive bit that is left dull. Also, if you drill into stainless with any regularity, you will break bits, even the expensive ones. Tap Set: Here is where you will want quality, you don't have to buy a whole set, you will probably only use a handful of sizes. Buy a handle and add taps as you need them. Hack saw, sawzall, cutoff saw, etc.: Technically you don't need to cut any metal for this project, however I plan on cutting the threads on the first extension off, and you will need some sort of saw that can cut metal for that, just sayin'.

Ok, like I said, the goal here was to create a stand that was both cost effective and useful. I spent around $80 on the parts. Before you get upset, I realize that you can buy a commercial c stand for under $100, but the fact is those stands suck. They are probably less stable than the $40 aluminum ebay light stands, so if you want to go cheap, please go that route rather than the bottom level c stands. Another factor is that those cheap stands only go to 6.5/7 feet. This stand goes to 8ft currently (2 sections) and could go to 11ft (3 sections) with almost no added cost. Above you can see the leg assembly, the legs are made of standard 3/4" pipe, you can find all of the parts at your local home building center. The only tool you will need here is a pipe wrench to turn the pieces together. As you can see in the photo, the second segment in the middle leg is a little too long, causing the feet to bump into each other, this doesn't matter when the stand is in use, and I plan on replacing the too-long segment with a shorter piece soon. The legs connect to the base of the stand with a standard "T", I taped a hole in each T to allow for a set screw and knob to be added. Since the T's fit over a 1/2" pipe and there is some play, the set screw can be tightened to keep the legs in the proper position while moving the stand during use. The stand is still functional without them, just a little tricky to move.

You can see how the leg sections fit over the base in the picture above, there is about an inch of extra space on the base column, the next shorter size of pipe is to short. This is really not an issue and could be fixed with a clamp collar.

The other weak point in the original design was the clamp and extension portion of the stand. The second segment was made of EMT conduit and the clamp was simply a set screw taped into the first segment. EMT conduit is not a terribly stiff tubing and actually has quite a bit flex to it. Unfortunately there are not a lot of commonly available substitutes for it. I used a 4' section of 1" galv. pipe for the first segment. All pipe is measured by its inner diameter (i.d.) where as tubing is measure by it's outer diameter (o.d.). Basically, I needed a section of pipe for the first segment and a length of tubing for the second segment. Some home stores sell a small selection of metal tubing, but it is mostly overpriced and of mediocre quality. Fastenal is the place you want to go for this, unless you have access to a cheaper source at least, there is likely a Fastenal within a 30min drive from where you live.

The rest is just a matter of turning the pieces together.

Next: 5/8" stud and the parts list.

Western Digital My Book Studio

In the mail yesterday I received a pair of Western Digital My Book Studio external hard drives. I must say that I was really excited to find these drives. Until now I was using a combination of G-Tech stuff and a Linux based 8tb server. 8tb is a lot of space even for a busy pro, but I have been doing a lot of video stuff as of late (I will post some of it here eventually) and that sucks up hard drives like crazy. So much so that I have taken to storing all of my other file types on portable hard drives. The reason for this is pretty much the expense of either expanding my existing server's capacity or building a second one just for photos. I was lucky to have an older dell desktop laying around to drive my existing server, but the cost of building a new one from scratch put it out of the question for now. The other popular option is the various desktop raid arrays (g-safe, drobo, etc.). The cost per gb is high and they are not as safe a storage solution as advertised. The solution (for now at least) is to continue with the paired hard drive strategy. I was excited to find the large WD drives at such a great price. Only time will tell how durable these drives are, but they are plenty large and fast enough to work off of and it is easy to have a spare or two on hand.

I'm talking about the ugly stuff

One of the most under rated, but very active discussions in the creative community is about the cost and effectiveness of the so called "support" equipment that is vital in any professionals kit. The gear hounds love to talk about the latest glass/camera bodies/lighting gear, and people seam all too happy to hand over gobs of cash to have the latest and greatest stuff but somewhere along the line folks seam to have forgotten about the importance (and expense) of support gear. For me, the largest expense that I didn't consider when I was first starting out, were the cost of bags and cases to house all of the expensive and fragile gear that I was acquiring. I added up that I have spend over $2000 in protective gear in the last two years. Now, if you are a casual photographer, you will probably be just fine with asingle high quality back or pack, but if you intend to use additional lighting gear, be prepared to at least double, but most likely triple the amount of gear that you will lug around.

Other things that you will eventually realize that you need: expensive software, hard drives, card readers, clamps, stands, mounts, cords, adapters, soft boxes, sand bags, booms, and tons of other stuff.

I guess I really started thinking about this after reading an article on Ken rockwell's site about shooting RAW vs. Jpegs. His argument was that you should only shoot jpegs because of the increased need for storage and specialized software needed to process and store the large proprietary files. All the points that Ken makes are valid, but in my opinion he is missing the point. The camera and lens are not the complete system used for making digital images, but only part of it.

I was happy to see that kelbytv.com has recently posted some short videos describing and explaining how to use various pieces of grip gear. Hopefully this will help folks understand better the value of such gear.

- Posted from my iPad

Pushing Pixels

This weekend I sat down for a periodic cleanup of my hard drives. This is one of those things that always gets away from you, and the longer you let it go, the tougher it gets to put back in order. Basically, if you are not careful to put files back were they belong, it can become a huge headache later when your trying to "find that one sweet shot from a few years ago"

Some common problems:

Different versions of the same file in different locations The same file with multiple names Live versions with broken links to referenced files.

Now, I was planning on doing a screencast of my work flow and an accompanying post on how I store and back up files, but that is probably far in the future (and Chase Jarvis just did it). Instead, I will try to lay it out for you short hand. If you get lost while I am talking about this stuff, then that is the first sign that you need to read up on proper workflow. When I was new to the game, a lot of this stuff was pretty confusing and I really didn't understand the reasoning behind some of it. After using the following method for several years now, I can say that it will save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run, and if you shoot photos for a living it will eventually save your butt when something goes wrong (and it will, eventually). I would say that, after a camera, lens, card, computer, etc. your next purchase should be a matched pair of hard drives to store your precious work on. No, hard drives are not as sexy as that new ttl flash that you've been eying up, but when the day comes that your computer crashes, or is smashed to bits, or your roommate spills his drink on it, you will be glad that your data is safe. Below are the steps that I use to manage my photos and video.

1) Save exact copies of all of your files in at least two places. There is really no excuse for not backing up your work. Hard drives are really cheap these days, and even the free software that comes with your camera will have a dialog for saving files in multiple locations right from your camera. When you watch the video you will see almost the exact method that I use for importing image files off cards. "Location one" is the first drive and "location 2" is the second. Later in the video, Chase goes even further, and moves the files both onto the server (very secure), and another raid 1 array off site. This essentially means that the whole server would have to be destroyed (unlikely) to lose the data there, and even if it did there are two additional copies of the file that are safe in another location.

2)The second most important thing is that your files are consistently labeled in a way that is meaningful years down the road. This way, you will be able to find a specific image or file when you need it. The files the come off my Nikon dSLR look something like this: DCS_9456. This would initially work for cataloging files, but there is a major flaw with using this naming system; the counter on my camera resets every 10000 images. As it happens, the above example is the 49456th image that I took with this camera, but because the camera counter resets every 10k there is no way of knowing that without looking at the metadata. This also means that if I had used that defult naming system, there would be 5 different images in my system that have the same name, not ideal. Instead I use this system: 20101101_picnic_0001. The file name begins with the reverse date of the day it was shot, in this case YEAR: 2010, MONTH: November, DAY: 1st. After that, there is a tag that describes what is in the folder, this is generally a single word, just enough to identify the subject of the project. Finally there is an ID number given to each image, in this example the ID number is 0001. This particular photo would belong to a folder named 20101101_picnic. By labeling both the image files and the folders this way, each shoot will be arranged on the drive in the order it was saved and it will be easy to find a particular image down the road with some basic info like the date and project name.

3) The third thing to realize is that this is just how a store the raw image files. I will also create a Aperture library for each project and label it the same way. Aperture is a non-destructive raw editor. When you open a file in aperture, you are being shown a preview of the raw file on your hard drive. As you edit the photo it makes a tiny rider file that keeps track of all of the changes that you make, without actually changing the raw file. This information is stored in the Aperture library. When you export an edited file from Aperture, the program saves a copy of raw file with the changes you made to a separate file that you save in a different. Chase calls this "Live Work". I think that this is a good way of doing it. If you actually made changes to a raw file, you would have to update your backup of that file as well. I have about 3.5 TB of raw files, and if you had to update all that data every time you made a change to 1 file, you would go crazy pretty quick. It would take like 8 hours to do the update every time, the constant overwriting would also increase the chance of corrupting your precious data and wear out your drives pretty quickly. To solve this problem, I also use a "Live Work" folder, saved in a separate area of my system. I only have about 10 GB of data in my live work. This is because even though I might shoot 1000 photos in a day, I am only choosing the best 2 or 3 to work on and deliver to a client. Even on a large project, a may only choose 1% 0r 2% of the total images to deliver. I pretty much follow Chase on this part of the process, so watch the video for a little more detail.

That's it! That is really all you need to do to protect your photos and other files. By saving your data this way, you are creating a situation where there would have to be many simultaneous failures before you actually risk losing anything. Once you are in the habit of working this way, it is very easy to keep track of a huge about of data, and the whole process really doesn't take much more time then dragging the files off of you camera and into a random folder on your desktop. It is important to note that this is just what works best for me, there are many ways to save and backup photos. Take a minute to watch this awesome video by Chase Jarvis, he can explain this stuff with a little more detail.

(Updated) For the record, I use a pair of G-Tech 500gb G-Drive Mini's travel with my laptop. When I get home I dump them onto a my server, which is a Dell Dimension E521 running Linux, that drives a pair of rack mounted 8tb boxes. I used the same system for my design work.