Fiddling With Work Lights

Categories: DIY, How To, Photography
Comments: No Comments
Published on: 2012.07.22

A few weeks ago, I had to dust off my old work lights (or see image below) to paint a bathroom while the light fixture was disconnected. When I was finished and began disassembling the work lights, I realized the thread size on several bolts was familiar.

2 x 1,000-Watt Halogen work lights
(Copyright © 2007 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Halogen Work Lights, $29.99 at Atwood’s in 2007

It turned out that all the removable parts on the work lights — the cross-bar bracket and the two light cases at top — were held on by 1/4-20 screws, which is a standard size for many photo applications like the tripod mount holes in the bottom of most cameras. (1/4″ is the diameter of the screw and “20” refers to the thread pitch.)

Before I go any further, I should note that the work lights themselves, without modification, can be used for photography. If you already have garage-style work lights, they can add light to a scene. I took this photo and others by their light. But those lights create a lot of heat, have to be plugged in, and draw as much electricity as two or three chandeliers filled with incandescent bulbs. If you have cheap work lights like mine, their stands aren’t very stable, aren’t very adjustable, and yet are bulkier than most camera tripods. They also only create a fraction of the light as a standard hot shoe flash.

In other words, a very poor lighting solution.

I wondered: if I removed the light casings from the bracket at top, could I use it to hold two flash units instead?

Carriage Bolt With Hex Nut
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Carriage bolt and hex nut

So I bought a handful of 1/4-20 carriage bolts (15 cents apiece) and matching hex nuts (6 cents apiece) at a local hardware store. Sure enough, they fit the holes on the work lights’ bracket perfectly, and screwed into the tripod mounts of my cameras and even my Cactus wireless flash triggers. But a bolt alone doesn’t provide enough stability for those items, which wobble quite a bit without a flat platform. This is why tripods have a flat plate on which to set the camera, with a very short bolt in the middle.

I already owned one Manfrotto 143BKT camera bracket, which came included with my Magic Arm kit.

Manfrotto 143BKT Camera Bracket
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Manfrotto 143BKT Camera Bracket

Another 143BKT bracket cost only $11.90 at B&H. These brackets are perfect for mounting cameras or flashes, and have several attachment options, but they don’t screw directly onto a normal threaded bolt. They normally attach to a 5/8″ stud, which in turn can be screwed onto a normal threaded bolt.

Avenger E300 Studs
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Avenger E300 Studs

A pair of Avenger 5/8″ studs cost less than 10 dollars ($4.95 apiece) at B&H and these were perfect for what I wanted.

The carriage bolts attach to the cross-bar of the work lights and are held in place by the hex nuts. The 5/8″ studs screwed directly onto the ends of the exposed bolts. The brackets mount perfectly on the studs. Then a camera or (in my case) wireless flash trigger can attach directly to the bracket.

DIY Flash Stand (detail)
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Cactus flash trigger on bracket, stud, bolt and cross-bar

The above image shows a Cactus V4 wireless flash trigger resting on the bracket platform which is attached to the 5/8″ stud, which is screwed down tight onto the carriage bolt, which comes up through the yellow cross-bar of the old work lights.

So now I have a portable, hand-holdable bracket capable of carrying two flashes, or two cameras, or one of each, or any two things that will mount on a 1/4-20 thread or 5/8″ stud.

DIY Flash Stand (on table)
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
DIY portable flash bracket

In the image above, my contraption is holding two wireless flash triggers and two flash units — the LumoPro LP160 and the Canon 420EX Speedlite. The handle in the middle means it’s easy to carry, and the four rubber feet mean it can be set on just about any surface.

Note the bottom center of the yellow cross-bar. There’s a plastic knob, attached to a (you guessed it) 1/4-20 bolt protruding from the bottom. This is how the cross-bar normally attaches to the tripod it came with (see top photo). So my DIY contraption can (of course) be mounted to that original tripod. But it can’t be mounted on a normal camera tripod, all of which have male threads sticking up, either 1/4-20 as part of the camera holding plate or 3/8-16 meant to hold a detachable ball head.

So I need one more part.

Manfrotto 119 Adapter Spigot
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Manfrotto 119 Adapter Spigots

For $3.59 each, I got these Manfrotto 119 adapter spigots from B&H. They have female threads at each end. One end is 1/4-20 and the other end is 3/8-16. The larger hole screws down onto my camera tripod, and the smaller hold accepts the bolt from the work lights’ cross bar.

DIY Flash Stand (detail)
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)
Adapter spigot attaching cross-bar to tripod

Now, not only is my contraption portable and hand-holdable, but it’s mountable onto any standard camera tripod.

DIY Flash Stand
(Copyright © 2012 by Wil C. Fry. All rights reserved.)

I don’t have a photo of it, but the cross-bar can also now be attached to my Magic Arm or even to the tripod’s ballhead, and thus positioned at various angles. Not to mention that both flash heads can be rotated.

What’s the Point?

To a gearhead, the point is obvious: I got to tinker with some stuff, attach things, and figure out a solution to a non-existent problem. That’s an end in itself for some of us. And it was all done for very little cost. (If your wife quibbles with “little cost”, keep in mind that I spent less on this entire project than one pair of shoes at Wal-Mart.)

For a non-gearhead, someone who just takes pictures, the point should still be obvious — I can now bring more light to a scene without having to buy expensive light stands or other products.

Once you’ve begun experimenting with off-camera flash units and wireless flash triggers, it’s difficult to undo it. More light isn’t always better in photography, but more options in lighting is always better.

The really cool thing about everything pictured here is that all these bits have multiple purposes. The 143BKT camera platforms can also attach to the Magic Arm or to anything with a 1/4-20 threaded bolt — assuming you bring the Avenger stud. The 5/8″ studs can attach to anything with a 1/4-20 thread as well. The adapter spigots also aren’t limited to this single application.

◊ Addendum, 2013.12.12

In hindsight, I could have saved money and time by leaving out the 5/8″ studs and the Manfrotto camera brackets, buying shorter 1/4″-20 screws, and getting a couple of cold shoe adapters like these. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t know such things existed.

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