Build a Macro Photography Setup on the Cheap: A DIY Guide for the Not-So-Keen Photography Enthusiast

I recently completed a DIY project building a macro photography setup for my freelance work – here’s how I did it.

Before I begin, I’d like to say that I’m very inexperienced when it comes to understanding all the terminology, techniques, equipment, and resources for photography – so if I make a mistake or leave something out … be gentle with me.

With that being said, let me explain what’s going on here …

My past position over at the ecommerce company TonerRefillKits.com (they sell printing supplies) put me in a fun position. I started off as a video editor for their marketing and eventually found my way to managing much of the website and doing product development. We built a massive photography rig for taking product shots for marketing materials, ecommerce pages, and product instructions. The rig took up an entire room and was actually mounted to the roof!

Fast forward, to today, and I’m back with the company except the tables are turned because they are a freelance client of mine. I do much of the same work remotely, from home, but the trouble was that I didn’t have the physical access to the products. I decided to rebuild a smaller setup for the apartment and was pleasantly surprised that it cost me just a few hundred dollars (most going to the camera).

I threw the picture on Facebook, heard some fine words, and decided to put together this guide.

Again, I’m sure there are better items to use when building this and there are tons of companies that make these kinds of setups but I enjoy a good ol’ DIY project and I’m sure you will too …

The Equipment, Software, and Setup

Unfortunately, I didn’t document the setup when I was working on the project so I can only show you bits and pieces of the main items but I’ll share product pictures to tell the story.

There are really just two elements to the setup that matter most:

  • The camera
  • The lighting

Have those and the rest just works out.

But, that wouldn’t be fun so here’s a breakdown of the elements (and why I chose them):

  • Camera – I went with the Canon G10 because it was the same we used in the office; I wanted to make sure that it would work with the software I would be using. Overall, this camera is a beast and a real easy one to get started with photography without dropping thousands of dollars. You can find it used for under $300 and all the specs check out.
  • Table – I bought a poker table at Staples for $50. I wanted to be sure that it could collapse for when the setup is not in use. It’s sturdy for its purpose (I won’t put things over 50 pounds, anyway) and gives me just enough room to move around the products without feeling cramped.
  • Lighting – I hopped on over to Lowe’s and dropped around $50 on lighting equipment. I went with light bulbs that are 6500K and put out 1600 lumens. In the hardware area you can find the light housing for about $7 a pop which work really well with reflecting the light; they clamp so you can move them around where you need. The other lights use the same bulbs but were retractable, clamp desk lamps I picked up at Staples for $15 each.
  • Mounting – I needed the ability to slide the camera up and down so I wasn’t relying on the zoom function (which can muddy the image if you go in too far). What I did was mount a metal pipe to the table using a mount and then adding nuts, bolts, and washer down through the table. The small rig that holds the camera is metal braces and those are mounted to clamps that wrap around the pipe. The actual camera is mounted using a bolt that goes into the bottom of the camera which keeps it sturdy as hell. In all, it ranked in around $25 for these items.

It’s safe to say that you can most likely pick up all these items online but I’d stick to going to a hardware store for the nuts and bolts since, if you’re like me, it’s a lot of trial and error.

Here are a few shots of the individual areas of the rig:

Minus the camera, I think it all came out to be roughly $150 which puts it cheaper than a lot of the professional, pre-built setups. The only drawback is that it’s mostly for top-down shots but my plan is to purchase a light tent and I already have a small tripod I bought for $15. Future revisions to the setup may include the ability to do 3D product shots by essentially just running a video, putting the product on a spinning disk, and then using software to break down the images so it can be used on product pages.

The Software I’m Using

Just like in-house at TRK, I’m using PSRemote which allows you to remote control the camera, adjust the settings, take shots, and have them right on your hard drive.

For $20, I picked up a 6ft USB extension (yeah, I could have waited to get it online for cheaper) so I can keep back when I’m working at the setup (the lights can get a bit too bright for me).

I believe there is competitor software out there that can handle the same thing but I went with the tried and tested setup as we had from work.

Bonus: Freelance Opportunities

Having built the setup – it got me thinking: what opportunities does this create for freelancing?

Here were a few ideas that came to mind:

  • Expanding out and doing product shots for other small businesses in the area
  • Taking stock photography of common (non-copyrighted) items and posting them on PhotoDune
  • Doing top-down tutorial/overview/showcase videos
  • Making product documentation for other businesses (and have them send you their product)
  • Renting the setup to businesses

The camera is quite powerful and I’m sure more than a lot of small business owners have access to which also gave me the idea of simply going around and taking new pictures for their websites such as employees and the location (think: salons, bars, restaurants).

I’m too busy to pursue these items (at this time) but the opportunity is out there and I think it easily extends the value of building a setup like this.

Anyway, thought you might get a kick out of this DIY project.

If you do it – lemme know how it turns out.

Post a comment with your thoughts about the rig or if you have suggestions for improvements – and share.

One Response to “Build a Macro Photography Setup on the Cheap: A DIY Guide for the Not-So-Keen Photography Enthusiast”

  1. March 31, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    This is pretty crafty. The regular lens on that camera allows shooting that close up?

Leave a Comment