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Lighting On A Budget – Pt. 2

My 6-light CFL fixture worked well in the studio, but I wanted more light and the option to add a light modifier.  I decided to move up to 3” PVC and install eight lamp sockets around the outside of the pipe.

We’re going to call this fixture a SPIDER, you’ll see why in just a moment.

Here is my original collection of parts.

A 3” clean-out plug serves as a hub for the sockets.  My original idea was to attach the clean out plug to a 3” bushing that would be attached to the front of the 2” tee fitting.  The power cord would run out the back of the tee and the light stand would attach to the base of the tee.

I measured and marked the clean-out plug and drilled it with a 5/16” bit.  I made a simple jig from scrap wood to hold the fitting in place.

Using a 2” lamp nipple and a pair of channel locks, I carefully cut the threads for the shorter nipples.  This is where the working characteristics of PVC came into play.  You can cut threads into PVC with a bolt and a little patience, instead of using a tap and die.  I chased the threads all the way through the side of the fitting.

Here is the clean-out plug with all of the lamp nipples fitted.  I chose a clean-out plug as opposed to a regular cap so that I could access the wires more easily.

Each socket was wired and the wires passed through the hole of the mounting bracket.  The design of the bracket and the lamp nipples allowed me to keep all of the wires hidden.

Above is the front of the SPIDER WITH the wiring in place.

Above is the back of the SPIDER with the wiring in place. The sockets were wired in pairs, then the pairs were wired together.  I used wire connectors instead of soldering so that a socket could easily be replaced if it failed.

LOOK; it works! 

At this point I realized that my original design was way too front-heavy.  I needed to move the center of gravity farther back.  So, I’m off to Home Depot yet again.

I found a 3”-3”-2” tee fitting that solved my problem of balance nicely.  I added a 3” to 2” reducer to the back of the tee fitting and a 2” to1.25” threaded reducer to that.  A 4” circle of plywood and a 1.25” male fitting is attached to the reducer and this holds the speedring to my Paul C Buff OCTOBOX™ firmly in place.  A 2” to .75” threaded reducer is mounted at the bottom of the tee for the light stand fitting.

Here’s the light inside the OCTOBOX™.  It throws a very even lighting pattern, even without the diffusion panel.  It’s well balanced and easy to handle in the studio.  I’m working on an improved version for my still photography.  Stay tuned…

Kirk Draut
Director of Design
Aarthun Performance Group, Ltd.


Gadgets Hardware Photography

Lighting On A Budget (Pt. 1)

A few months ago, my boss told me that we are expanding my department (me) into the world of video production. I was given complete freedom in choosing the camera, computer, and lighting. Like any good photographer, I spent the entire budget on the camera and computer.

I initially thought that I could use 500W work lights with diffusers, but two problems arose.
One- the color temperature of the work light bulbs is very warm and it changes with bulb life. Two- They throw out a lot of waste heat. Sitting between the equivalent of two space heaters gets old fast. The PVC clip "T" holding the light also began to warp from the heat. I needed something different.
I decided to go with CFLs instead, but I couldn’t find any multiple bulb fixtures that fit my non-existent budget. I wandered around Home Depot for a while grumbling until I saw the security light aisle and the modular fixtures. I sat on the floor of the aisle and started test fitting parts, with a couple quick trips to the plumbing aisle for fittings. A stop at the grocery store and I had everything I needed to make my new light.

Let’s get started:

16" mixing bowl
6 light sockets
2 ½" PVC tees
1 ½" PVC threaded tee
1 ½" PVC cross
5 ½" PVC 90-degree corners
½" PVC pipe
The total cost for materials was less than $35. CFL bulbs were another $18.

The PVC is assembled as shown. Short pieces of PVC pipe are used to join the fittings. The threads on the PVC match the threads on the light fixtures. The wires for the fixtures will run through the PVC.

The PVC assembly is test-fitted on the back of the bowl before any cuts are made.

The bowl is primed and marked for cutting. 

IMPORTANT: EYE AND EAR PROTECTION IS A MUST WHEN CUTTING METAL WITH HIGH-SPEED TOOLS. You only get one set of eyes and ears. The drill and the Dremel™ both throw tiny pieces of sharp metal that can instantly end your days as a photographer.

My trusty Dremel™ tool made short work of the bowl. I used a 1/4" drill bit to create pilot holes, then opened up the holes with the Dremel™.

Each light fixture is threaded through the hole in the reflector, into the PVC assembly. The fixtures have a lock washer at the base that allows them to be tightened in place.

The wires from the fixtures pass through the angled pipe. My original plan was to run all of them into the central tee fitting, but the pipe was too small. I drilled a 3/8" hole in the backs of the tee and cross fittings and ran them out the back of the assembly.

I used twist-on connectors to join the wires to a computer power cord that I had in my big Pile-o-Cables. Zip ties are used to secure the power cord and keep the wires from being pulled apart.

Each fixture gets a 23-watt CFL bulb. This gives me the equivalent of 600 watts of incandescent lighting for a quarter of the power and a lot less heat. I can also vary the color temperature by changing out bulbs. The light attaches to my light stand with a piece of SCH 80 pipe fitted with a thumbscrew. 

It’s alive! Even without a diffuser, the new CFL light gives a nice even light with less heat, bulk and power. 

Stay tuned for part 2 when the CFL light gets a big brother…

Kirk Draut
Director of Design
Aarthun Performance Group, Ltd.
kdraut at