Added info and images regarding bent forground piping.
Changed Piping Measurement Info
If you are a photographer on a tight budget like myself, you have probably noticed how over priced photography equipment can be. Fortunately for us, many of the expensive items and equipment that we need are fairly basic in design and perform fairly fundamental tasks. Take for example a strobe soft box. It’s an enclosed space, with a reflective interior, and a translucent sheet at the end. I have to admit, I’ve never actually made my own soft box, but it’s nice to know that if I had to, it wouldn’t be prohibitively difficult to make one, for half the cost (or less) than if you were to purchase one at your local camera store or online.
I found myself needing a shooting table for the studio, as I have been shooting a lot of food an product lately. Naturally, I went online to see what my options were and I wasn’t surprised to see that shooting tables are quite expensive. I realize that manufacturers need to make money, but a shooting table just seemed too easy of a concept to drop $700-$1000 plus shipping on some metal tubing and a shooting surface.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a functional and nice looking shooting table, much like a Bogen / Manfrotto 4′x8′ shooting table, which retails for $649.99 plus shipping. While there are literally dozens of different ways create your own shooting table, this method creates a very sturdy shooting surface, it’s collapsible, and it looks professional. While this tutorial won’t show you how to make a shooting table for free or almost free (although it can be done!), it is still significantly less expensive then purchasing one from a manufacturer.
Here is what our shooting table will be modeled after:
Let’s get started:
Sawzall (Optional, but huge time saver)
Hex Key Set
Sharpie or other marker that marks on metal
Bubble Level (optional)
Yep.. thats all the tools you’ll need!
“Key Lite” Klamps:
After asking around several local hardware supply and machine shops, “Key Klamps” are the best option for joining metal tubing together at 90 degree angles. They are incredibly sturdy and actually made for creating temporary scaffolding and handrails in construction settings. You can find them here. If anyone else finds something better let me know!
Total $189.38 + Shipping
The nice thing about Key Klamps, is there is a huge variety to choose from. The fittings listed above are just one of many ways to create a shooting table. I think that this configuration is the cheapest, but I could be wrong.
Ignore the metal tubing on the site I linked you to above. That is super expensive and in my opinion, unrealistic to ship. Unfortunately, for us, the tubing size of Key Klamps has a somewhat odd OD/ID (outer dimension / inner dimension). Before I actually got my order in the mail, I figured that 1″ EMT (electrical metal tubing) would fit perfectly inside the Key Klamps. This wasn’t the case, as 1″ EMT is literally 1″, while the opening of the Key Klamps is about 1.38″. Using EMT would be convenient, but unfortunately, it just wont work.
Feeling somewhat beaten by this discovery, I was aimlessly roaming around my local hardware store trying to figure out what to do and then I came across these gems.. 4′ and 6′ Closet Poles in 1.25″ diameter. This fit well into the Key Klamps and best of all, they are (for the most part) already cut to the perfect sizes.
11 x 4′ 1.25″ Diameter Stainless Steel Closet Poles – $6.97 each
4 x 6′ 1.25″ Diameter Stainless Steel Closet Poles – $ 8.49 each
You have some options here. I chose to go with Formica. It is pure white, and has a slight texture less gloss to it. Other options might be Masonite or translucent Plexiglas. The Masonite would be quite affordable, but very thin, while the Plexiglas would be the most rigid, and offer expanded shooting options, but at a much much higher price. Let’s go with the Formica for now. You can find it at almost any hardware store.
1 x 4′x8′ White Formica Sheet – $46.99
Any Hardware store will have these
10 x Large Steel Spring Clamps - (Price Varies, usually between $1 and $5, it’s a good idea to stock up on these if you don’t already have a bunch, they come in handy!)
Formica isn’t exactly a rigid surface, so you will need something to put underneath the Formica sheet to support whatever you are shooting. Particle board is usually the cheapest, but you could substitute plywood or press board as well. Particle board is convenient because it comes in 2′ x 4′ pieces, perfect for our needs.
2 x 2′x4′ Particle Board Panels – $ 5.73 each
I think this is better shown then stated.
We are dealing with some fairly basic stuff here. A lot of the tubing that you purchased will already be the correct length. You will need to decide if a height of uncut heighth of 48″ is too tall. If it is, cut the legs to the height you like. I eventually cut my down to 40 inches. Less sawing and it just seemed to make sense with the way my studio is set up.
You will notice that all of the cross bars need to be cut to 45″. This is because the clamps at the end of the pipes adds length, so if you don’t cut these down, your shooting table will be too wide and your particle board and Formica will just fall right through. If you want to play it safe and avoid the possibility of extra work, you might want to cut them down to 44″. I’ll leave that up to you.
Here is where the fittings should be placed.
You will notice that there is a hinged section near the riser of the shooting table. This combination of connectors allows the angle of the riser to be changed. To change the angle, simply loosen the screw on the clamp shown. This will allow the entire riser to move freely. Simply re-tighten the screw to lock the riser in place.
So hopefully these rather crude CAD images are clear enough to show the general construction. I used a bubble level on all of the horizontal bars to make sure they were level for aesthetic purposes.
I have not yet done this (although the diagrams show it), but I plan to have the two front bars bent so that they curve downward. This will allow the Formica to curve and create a more seamless foreground. I am still investigating as to whether or not this closet piping can be bent without crimping. Most hardware stores with a decent electrical section will have pipe benders available. I will update this ASAP once I find out of this can be done. As an alternative, if you want to forgo bending your piping, you can buy 45 degree curved EMT elbow sections and connectors (look in the electrical section of your hardware store, usually near the floor).
No pipe bending needed! 1.25″ EMT 45 degree elbows fit almost perfectly on the tubing. You can pick them up for about $4.00 each at any hardware store. See new Photos at the end of this tutorial.
Lay your two pieces of particle board as shown. This will create a strong shooting surface. Clamp these down with your spring clamps where ever you want. This is just to make sure they don’t go anywhere.
Once your particle board is set, you can lay your Formica. Use spring clamps to hold it in place. I used two spring clamps on the risers and 4 on the flat part of the Formica to hold everything in place.
Of course, this is just a basic road map. I expect that people will expand and improve on this design. (I’d love to hear from you if you do).
So in the end, if you purchased the Bogen / Manfrotto online for $649.99, and paid shipping, lets say about $60 dollars, you’d pay over $700 dollars! The materials listed above got us the virtually the exact same shooting table for a total of around $375. I live in California, so I fully expect that many of the materials in this tutorial can be purchased for less in other states.
Feel free to ask any questions or share your projects!
Check back soon for a guide to making your own lighting scrims, the poor man’s octodome!