DIY: 20' Rolling Camera Jib

I have been reading a lot of DIY (do-it-yourself) websites lately, and it inspired me to post about a fairly large project some friends and I undertook earlier this year. I will apologize now that I don't have any close-up shots of the bits & pieces because I didn't intend to blog it at the time.

After storyboarding a short film, we decided on some camera angles that were going to require some kind of jib--a crane or boom with a long reach. So, on a tight budget (which is what DIY is all about, right?), and after a few trips to Home Depot and Radio Shack, the 20' Rolling Jib was born.

This project required a bit of planning as far as weight distribution/limit was concerned. With one 2'x4' beam supporting the entire length of the boom, having too much weight would cause it to bend and flex excessively due to the flat orientation of the 2'x4'. Having it sitting vertically would have provided a solid foundation, but we were also worried that the boom would flex left to right. We decided to lay it flat. However, we wanted a 20' reach with this thing, so large counterweights were required. The boom was reinforced with a guywire (running over the post at the fulcrum) to keep it straight.

Here are the kinds of reinforcements needed for the jib. The base post is a 4'x4', supported by four metal struts bolted to each corner of the stand. We used fixed lawnmower wheels to allow single-axial movement.

We later drilled several holes into the boom at the head, as you can see, in hopes of weight reduction, but this only caused the boom to droop under tension and led to bouncing movements and ultimately the limited use of the jib.

This is the "console." A cheap DVD player was zip-tied to the boom and connected to the camera for real-time video feed while moving the crane. This was an all-in-one setup--that is, the crane operator and camera operator could be one person. We found this wasn't really a good idea, though, because there are several controls (even for this simple rig) and conditions that needed two people to control. Moving the jib itself took quite a bit of concentration to ensure fluid movements, and rotating the camera took just as much. The left/right control wasn't really exacting; it was more for broad adjustments.

Here is the jib head. We found a stepped-down servo motor at an RC hobby shop for $50 that had a gear ratio of something like 240:1--enough for fine movement and solid holding torque. The camera is mounted on a standard 1/4" bolt through a riser plate on the arm. We stuck a piece of rubber in between the arm and the camera for protection.

In order to keep the head from swinging freely in the breeze, and to allow panning control, we installed a stabilizer arm that would keep it in the same angle when the boom was raised or lowered.

The jib's overall cost ran us about $400, not including the DVD player or camera. I think there were some things we could have been more meticulous with, but like I said, we were working on limited time constraints. (We're submariners who spent most of 2007 underwater.) I'd say total working time was around 50 man-hours.

Have you done something like this? Do you have any DIY suggestions? Let the ideas fly!

The Gallery Is Open

Okay, I have a few pictures up so far. I'll add to them later (subscribe to the gallery's feed to be the first to know!) I apologize for the URL change from'm still trying to work out some kinks with the servers.

Save Hundreds!!!

Today I learned a very important lesson about shooting with hot-shoe strobes mounted on light stands: If the stand you're using has an aluminum hot shoe adapter, put a piece of electrical tape over the part where the flash's hot shoe contacts go. This two-minute, basically free tip ($0.89 if you don't own a roll of electrical tape) can save you hundreds of dollars--not to mention the anger and wasted time!

This tip was brought to you by Strobist, one of my favorite sites for common-sense how-to help. Add it to your feeds--you'll thank me later.

You know you're a photographer when...

  1. You turn a light on in the morning and you curse your eyes for not stopping down fast enough.
  2. Everything in your life just clicks.
  3. You lose track of a dramatic conversation between two characters in a movie because you're too busy paying attention to the nice bokeh behind them.
  4. You lose track of the entire movie by thinking about which lenses were used in each shot.
  5. You go on a road trip timing everything to get the best light at the places you want to stop.
  6. Your idea of fun is to spend 2 hours standing in Ritz Camera and mentally correcting the salespeople.
  7. You own tens of thousands in optical glass, all happily paid for (no credit) and yet you live in a dingy downtown apartment, own nothing but jeans and shorts for wardrobe, don't have cable and watch the three local stations on a 16 year old Sears 20" color TV, and drive a POS '86 Corolla with a cracked windshield and rattling muffler that you paid $850.00 for three years ago.
  8. 1 GB of memory lasts most people a month but barely lasts you the afternoon.
  9. You know what aperture-priority means.
  10. You delete more photos in a week than most people make all year.
  11. You need just one more lens.
  12. You’ve crawled on the ground to get a shot of something rusty.
  13. You find yourself nodding, agreeing and laughing at everything you're reading on this page.
  14. Your camera equipment is worth more than your car.
  15. No one else brings a camera to an event if they know you’re coming.
  16. Your family doesn’t recognize you without a camera covering your face.
  17. You have thousands of pictures and you’re not in any of them.
  18. You’ve been up before dawn or out in the freezing cold or even done something semi-dangerous…all for a photograph.
  19. You have a picture of your cameras and other equipment in your profile and title it "Weapons of Choice."

New Portfolio

Hey everybody. I'm working on setting up an entirely new online storefront where all my images will be available for purchase as fine-art prints. Zenfolio is incredibly inexpensive for the website services they offer. Check them out! And tell them I sent you by using referral code XT5-TX2-JCY.

Home Sweet Home

Man, it feels great to be back on solid ground!

It's finally over. The never-ending days, the meals that never quite hit the spot, the sleep that was always over too soon, the stress that just wouldn't stop, the six-month stress test that I thought I would never make it through--it's all over. I can't express how I felt on the 8th, when I stepped onto the pier and saw Karen for the first time. Imagine how your body feels after a killer workout--that feeling of everything relaxing--and multiply that by 100. I think I actually grew three inches after taking all that load off my shoulders.

Long story short, it's good to be home, off the boat, back with Karen. I have been home for a week now and I haven't done anything. It's been wonderful. Actually, a little less than wonderful because I came down with a 104° fever the day we pulled in, but I'd rather be sick in port than healthy underway.

The cruise book is essentially done. All the pictures are taken, with the exception of a few people on leave. To be honest, I realize now that when I agreed to do the cruise book I may have bitten off more than I could chew. It's been a gigantic hassle. You wouldn't believe how many of my crew--some guys I've known for years--told me they wouldn't have their picture taken. Flat out no. I have one more CD to deliver--shots from the day we pulled in--but other than that and some final layout touches, it's finished. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

I shot about 3600 pictures throughout the deployment, all in all. It's been very easy to organize and edit them with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, although now I'm transitioning away from the laptop loaned to me by the boat. I've decided to keep my photography on portable storage now, using the Maxtor One Touch III 160GB external hard drive. My plan now is to start pushing my 'regular' photography--the art I was working on prior to deployment--and work on making some decent sales this year.

Wish You Were Here

Hello again, this time from wonderful Sasebo, Japan. We've been here almost three weeks because of a major equipment problem that forced us to pull in for repairs. I've spent more time in port in the last two and a half weeks than I have in the last four months of deployment. We still haven't had a liberty port (if you don't have duty, you don't come to work) so it's been busier than we would all like, but it's still been nice to be able to get away.

Shooting had all but come to a standstill before we pulled into Sasebo. There was nothing to shoot, really. All I have to do is to finish the crew headshots and we'll have our content for the cruisebook. I've been procrastinating and I think if I wait too much longer it'll bite me in the ass before I know it. We are gearing up for a major reactor safety examination at the end of deployment, and the closer we get the busier it gets. Drills, monitored evolutions, training, rinse, lather, repeat. The entire engineroom is getting de-rusted, repainted, and simple-greened over the next two months.

I have a handful of shots from Sasebo, although they're not up to my usual scrutiny since I just wanted to get snapshots from a place I'll probably never come back to. I've posted them on my facebook profile for your mild entertainment.

Life in the Western Pacific

Hello from the Marianas Islands, also affectionately known by hundreds as the middle of nowhere!

The last two months have been crawling by as I realize after 45 days without seeing the sun that each day was exactly the same as the preceding day, only with different meals. I chose not to shoot many pictures underway for lack of space--since we carried almost twice the nominal personnel payload for the last month and a half. There literally was nowhere to go and hide just to get away; every last corner was packed full of either Seals and divers and ship's crew working out, or Seals' and divers' equipment.

So it was easiest to just zone out and spend as much time in the time machine (the rack) as possible. Slide in, and poof, five hours goes away!

But amidst all that, I have still been doing my part as the ship's photographer. We are setting up a Cruise Book for the deployment--basically a yearbook for the crew. I've been taking portrait shots like the one above, and candid shots, and shooting pictures of the boat coming in and out of port. I learned some valuable tips for shooting the boat, especially when shooting from another boat: Things can change more quickly than you think! There was one point when I saw the boat turning toward me--there was about a 10° starboard angle on the bow--so I bent down to switch lenses for the 0° shot, but when I came up the boat had already crossed and was opening to port. Blast!

Another time involved me running a half-lap around the tugboat as it spun around 180° to position itself to tie up with the submarine. It's hard enough to pan with a moving subject, but when you pan while the ground you're standing on is rotating the opposite direction, it quickly becomes twice as tricky, and naturally you have half as much time to capture the shot. I did capture some great shots, though. Some of them are those I see in magazines, hanging on walls in the Squadron HQ buildings, pictures I look at saying, "Man, I wish I could shoot that." Well, I did!

I will be uploading more pictures if and when I can find the time--trust me, I have literally a thousand pictures I want to upload but it takes so long at this internet place. I'll do what I can, but for now, thanks for reading.

Sea Magazine on Shelves Now

Three of my recent images were published in the March issue of Sea Magazine! Grab a copy today! (

Getting Published! (Maybe)

So on our recent underway, we had a chance to visit Los Angeles, the first time our ship has been to the city after which it was named more than 30 years ago. We were well received by everyone and we all had a fantastic time. I shot well over a thousand pictures for official boat functions, and almost that much more on my own time out in town.

Long story short, I got done talking with a reporter who visited with us in LA, and he has submitted a story to Sea Magazine, with a couple of my shots. Who knows, they might use them!

It's a distinct change from my normal style. I'm not really a people photographer. Please take a minute to look at my small gallery of favorites from the trip. Let me know what you think!