DIY or Not: That’s the Question

DIY or Not: That’s the Question

If you want to buy some items for your photography, prices are often high. It feels like the manufacturer has increased the price just because it is for photography. Sometimes, it is possible to make that item yourself. But is the DIY solution just as good?

I think you recognize the problem. You want something for your photography, and when you go shopping, prices are higher than you expected, sometimes even unreasonably high. Perhaps manufacturers know these products will sell regardless of the price. That’s how most photographers are. And it’s a great way of making a profit.

Some will find this kind of practice ridiculous or even a scam. But paying more than is necessary is something that is not only of the modern world. If you are not willing to pay more than necessary, you can do it yourself. Yes, a DIY solution.

Do It Yourself

On many occasions, it will need certain skills and perhaps even tools to make something yourself instead of buying it for a lot of money. In fact, you are probably doing almost the same thing the manufacturer is doing by buying the raw materials and building the product during the hours in your own free time. But now, you’re not paying for all the extra things like wages, advertisements, shipping, and profit margins of course. As a result, you will spend less on something that you can buy for a lot of money.

Let me give a couple of examples I have used throughout the years that I made myself to spare some expenses.

The Better Bounce Card

When using a speedlight on camera, you need to bounce the flash in order to improve the quality of the light. In a lot of situations, a ceiling is used or even a wall. A reflector card can be very helpful on those occasions. But the best light is indirect light without any spill. For that, you can use a flag. This is called directional lighting.

I bought black and white foam from the hobby store and a roll of Velcro. I cut out a couple of nice cards that I could attach to the flashgun with some Velcro. At first, I used some elastic bands, but the Velcro worked better. I made a white card and a black card, one for bouncing, the other one as a black flag. It worked like a charm.

I made this better bounce card myself. It sticks onto the flash gun with a piece of Velcro. It works, but doesn't look that professional, I think.

Background System

Sometimes, you need a nice backdrop for your portrait photography. I got a chance to get a couple of canvases from the secondhand store. But I needed something to hang them on. For that, I bought a plastic drain pipe from the construction market and a couple of 45-degree bends. I attached the bends to the drain pipe and placed them onto a couple of light stands. With some clamps, I was able to use the backdrop.

A drain pipe and a couple of bends and you have your own self-made background system.

Later, I replaced the bends with a Manfrotto super clamp. It was a small investment, but this way, I didn’t need to use two light stands anymore.

A Manfrotto Superclamp is very handy. I also use it for my background system. Now, I only need one light stand. But it is another step away from a DIY solution.

Heat Pads to Fight Off Condensation

Have you ever used your camera for an extended amount of time in a cold and moist environment? If you did, you probably know about the condensation that occurs when the lens temperature drops below the dew point.

To prevent condensation, it is important to keep the lens temperature above the dew point. Heating tape will help, but some heating pads can also work.

Heating pads can help you prevent the lens from cooling down below the dew point. 

Heating pads are cheap gel packs that become warm by a chemical reaction when exposed to air. These pads are often for one-time use, although there are also types that can be reactivated. Attach two heating pads onto your lens with an elastic band and the lens won’t cool down. This way, you can prevent condensation.

The Downsides of DIY

Although every DIY solution is different, there are a few general downsides. First of all, it's a makeshift solution, a hodgepodge of materials that is sometimes time-consuming to assemble on location.

Chances are the DIY doesn't look that professional. Often, this doesn’t matter that much as long as it gets the job done. But at the same time, it can damage a customer’s trust. Fumbling around with DIY solutions may not give the professional look you want.

I have a magnetic holder for my collapsible background. You can also use a clamp. It's a better solution than the DIY, I think.

There is also a lack of reliability. The Velcro may come loose or the foam you used for the better bounce card can rip. The drain pipe will bend eventually and thus cause a lot of folds and wrinkles in the background canvas. Or the elastic band holding the heat pads can snap. The things you used for the DIY solution are often not made for that kind of use.

The Benefit of Ready-Made Products

After a while, I decided to get rid of the DIY items I describe in this article and use the ready-made products of manufacturers. They looked much more professional, and they were also much easier to use. The quality of the product was much better than the DIY materials I used.

The better bounce card and the Rogue Flashbender. Both work perfectly, but the Flashbender is much easier to use and of a better quality.

The funny thing is, the ready-made products I bought to replace the described DIY things weren’t that expensive at all. For the better bounce card, I bought a Rogue Flashbender. I used a collapsible background instead of a drain pipe with cheap canvases. Instead of a heating pad, I got myself Dew-Not heating tape and fumbled about with a DIY battery pack. It worked, but lately, I’m using a Haida Anti-Fog belt that has a standard USB connection for power banks.

The Haida Anti-Fog belt is a good alternative for the heating pads. Just attach a power bank, and you're ready to go.

These products are of a great material that will last a long time. They’re reliable and easy to use. And most of all, my clients see me use professional equipment instead of a bunch of loose parts that were bought at the nearest store. In the end, it didn’t cost me a whole lot more.

What Do You Think?

These are only a few simple examples of a DIY solution that worked but didn’t look too professional. There are a lot of DIY solutions that do look professional. But perhaps it doesn’t matter how it looks because you don’t have customers.

What do you think of DIY solutions? Do you think these are great or do they only make you a cheap photographer that doesn’t want to spend any money? Or perhaps you just like making things yourself.

Do you have a great DIY solution that prevents an expensive buy? Please share your DIY solution in the comments below and let me know what you think. I’m looking forward to your response.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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These C47's are not usable for the 32mm or 40mm thick drain pipes. But besides that, these are perfect for a lot of situations

Why buy it if you can make a better and cheaper mouse trap? You've got to figure out if your DIY does the job well or just spend the money on an available product.

It is only possible to find out if your DIY works after you've made it. But if it needs more modifications to make it workable... how much time do you want to spend on that? If you love making these things yourself, it can be a hobby also. :)

I have a small studio, that I shoot in, and I use a lot of DIY stuff, Especially from Home-Depot and Lowes Home Hardware stores. I use PVC like tinker toys for many things, and the Cloth stores.

Great article! Thanks Nando! I always learn something from you!

I modified a lens assembly out of a old projection tv set for my Nikon Z camera. Razor sharp? Nope. Tons of character and uniqueness? Yup.

I recently found that a white shower curtain (not liner) creates pretty good diffusion.

I appreciate the info about the Haida Anti-Fog Belt.

I have written a review on the Haida Anti-Fog belt. In case you haven't seen it.