DIY Folding Light Tent

There are many instructions for DIY light tents online which are based around cardboard boxes. Naturally these don’t fold flat for storage in a drawer. This model not only folds for storage, being folded flat also makes it very portable. This means that you can set it up anywhere. It is an instant pop up studio where ever and when ever you want it. No need for flash guns (strobes) (although you could still use flash with this tent), all you need is suitable lighting such as desk lamps or spotlights.


  • Mount board or any other stiff card
  • Drafting film or tracing paper
  • Tape 2” wide gaffer tape or duct tape
  • Velcro

Cut 5 – 30cm x 30cm squares out of mount board. Naturally you can make these any size that you want but this size will probably suit most uses. Take 3 of them and cut windows leaving a border of about 4cm, glue drafting film to the inside. Alternately you could use tracing paper, which is cheaper and easier to find. This will act as a diffuser to soften any light entering from outside the box.

SONY DSCUse the tape to join the two boards without windows. They will form the floor and back of the tent. Tape on both sides but make sure that the boards can fold flat as shown above. Join the window boards in a similar way ensuring that they can still fold flat. Making a Z or W fold (see below) works better; i.e. one board goes behind and one goes on top.


Add small pieces of Velcro to the edges to hold the sides in place. Glue and staple them in place. Don’t add Velcro to the side that joins the back solid panel to the top window.



Finally add a sheet of paper down the gap between the back panel and the top panel, clip it in place and allow it to curve across the bottom sheet (see below). This prevents shadows. Alternately you could use a piece of fabric choosing a colour to suit your subject. The two most common colours used are black and white.


Once you have set the object to photograph in place, shine spotlights through the most appropriate window, or windows to light it (see lighting tips below). Here two clip on spots are fastened to a frame made from an old shelf unit. Be careful when using lights like these close to the light tent as they can get quite hot.

By unfastening the Velcro and folding the boards the light tent packs flat for storage until you need it again.

SONY DSCCamera and Lighting tips

You don’t need a fancy or expensive camera to use a light tent. Many compact cameras have setting that will let you alter the white balance for artificial light; they will also allow you to disable the cameras flash. Lighting an object from above or the side or even both is usually more pleasing than using the built in flash. If you are using spotlights its a good idea to keep your camera as still a possible to prevent blurring. You could stand it on the same surface as the light tent or you can use a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod but find that you want the camera a bit higher you can stand it on top of a couple of books. Naturally if you have flash guns (strobes) you can use these to light through the panels.

To get professional looking results you may need to edit your photographs to strengthen the background. Usually this will be adjusting the brightness and contrast to make it a brighter white or blacker black.

Possible uses

SONY DSCIMG_1262Craft – product photography

SONY DSCEbay – product photography

SONY DSCArchaeology – artifact photography

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Setting up CHDK on a CANON S100 for Kite Aerial Photography (KAP)

This tutorial assumes that you know what CHDK is and have successfully identified your firmware version and loaded the correct CHDK build onto your cameras memory card (for the S100 see here and look out for the link to a quick step by step guide). I have also assumed that you will be able to work out how to scroll up and down the menus and select options by pressing FUNC SET. It is quite intuitive.

Different CHDK builds for this and other cameras may look slightly different but these instructions should still help you get you started.

Starting CHDK

Once you have set up your card lock it and put it back into the camera. Now switch it on by either pressing play or the on/off button. You should then see the CHDK splash screen below.

This will disappear and your camera will function normally. Press play and you will see alt at the bottom of the screen. CHDK is now running and capable of overriding the cameras settings.

IMG_6844You can ignore this shortcuts menu for now. Press the menu key on the camera to bring up main CHDK menu.



CHDK allows you to set and control many parameters and if you loose track of what you have done and want to clear the settings go to CHDK Settings and scroll down to Reset Options to Default. With such a complex set of options this can be quicker and easier than trying to find a wrong setting that is causing the camera to misbehave.


To override the camera settings select Enhanced Photo Options in the main menu

IMG_6869Set Disable Overrides to NO and then set any options that you want. Here I have only selected Override Av (i.e aperture) and set the value to 2.05 which is the maximum setting that it will allow letting maximum light get to the sensor. Your preferences may be different. With the camera set in Tv mode the speed and ISO can be set as usual without going into CHDK.

Running Scripts

Press menu to exit and then press FUNC SET to open the Script menu.

IMG_6855Select load script from file. Scroll down and select the script that you want to use. In this case I have selected INTERVAL.BAS

IMG_6856You will now see your selected script at the bottom of the screen and can set any variables. In this case the interval has been set to 2 seconds. IMG_6857Press back and then the shutter button to start the script. The script will run until you turn off the camera, or the card fills up, or the battery gives up.

This script will work for both KAP (kite aerial photography) and PAP (pole aerial photography).

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Stratospool Field Test

My intended field testing of my Stratospool has been delayed for a while due to other priorities. This weekend though I did get the chance to try it out. The wind was blowing around 9-10 mph at ground level so I chose to fly my Paul’s Fishing Kite (PFK). I didn’t have to work to get the kite in the air, it launched from my hand and steadily took line off the reel. Adding a little tension with the brake caused the kite to rise quicker just like you would expect anytime that you tension the line. The variable tension possible with the reel made this a much easier, less physical, process. Once at a suitable height and clearly stable in the wind, I attached my camera rig and let out more line. Again the ability to let line out in a controlled way was a bonus as it prevented any sudden jerks being transmitted to the camera. That helps to keep the camera level with the horizon.

StratospoolTestHands free – Click on the image to enlarge

I worked with the reel strapped to me via a climbers sling clipped into a shackle on the frame. The sling is long enough to pass around me twice and I tend to slip one loop around the back of my thighs and the other around my waist. It therefore shares the load like a climbing harness. I had a shorter sling that I had planned to put around my neck to further share the load (see here). I can see that this may be useful in very strong winds, but would normally not be needed. This short sling was however very useful for locking off the reel. Once locked off the reel looked after itself. I could feel the tension on the line just the same as holding it, therefore I am confident that any fluctuation in the kites behavior would be just as easy to respond to. The pull of the kite was quite capable of supporting the weight of the reel. This was a pleasing observation as the reel can initially seem a little bulky and awkward compared to a simple spool.

Locked off Stratospool

Reel locked off with a small climbers sling – Click on the image to enlarge

I let out plenty of line and then reeled it in. I can see that I need to practice this stage as it did make my arm ache and unlike a simple spool its not that easy to swap arms. I could however lock it off to have a rest if needed.

Now for some of my more detailed observations. The small tee piece at the bottom of the frame, resting against my thigh, worked well.  Turning it through 90 degrees may however be more comfortable. The screw eye for the line appears to be in the right place, but did have a tendency to wind the line on the outside side of the reel. This was rectified by manually deflecting the line with my left hand so that it loaded evenly.

One aspect of the design that I have never quite got to grips with is how the reel runs on its axle. In my case this is a 10mm fully threaded bolt. The bolt needs to be just tight enough to allow the reel to rotate but not so tight that it binds against the brake pads. Equally if it is too loose the brake will not work at all. The full details can be found here. The brake lever needs to be able to move the axis of the bolt a small amount so that it binds against one of the brake pads (see below).

StratoscoopBrakeClick on the image to enlarge

Having a fully threaded bolt may be a problem as I think that as it is pushed off its axis when braking, the thread, as it rotates, acts as a cutter enlarging and deforming the hole in the frame. It may be that this would be prevented by using a partly threaded bolt, or by adding a metal bearing, or just a metal sleeve to protect the frame.

edit – Just remembered that Barry Carpenter used plumbing brass olives (see discussion here). Got some 10mm ones and the problem appears to be solved.

Final alteration for now is adding a loop of bungee cord to the head of the frame to  lock off the reel. Although primarily to lock the reel in use it should also help to keep it tidy when not on use. If you chuck it in the back of the car without, you inevitably get some line escaping and the potential for a birds nest of tangles.

Update 23/12/2012

I have had another flight today in difficult conditions. The wind was all over the place at ground level and strongly gusting above the treetops. Lesson learned today is that trying to coax a kite skywards in these conditions cannot be done simply by winding in or letting out line from the reel. The solution was to pull a suitable length line off the reel and then use that hand over hand to get the kite up into more consistent air. Once all that line was under tension I picked up the reel and used that to control the kite. The reel did exactly what it should and I was able to let out and take in line in a controlled way. The addition of the brass bearing has improved the rotation of the reel and has not had an impact on the effectiveness of the brake.

More flights planned in the next week or two.

Update 28/12/2012

Back out again yesterday and today and got a bit more flying time under my belt with the reel. I am now getting a good feel for the reel and how to use it. Conditions were pretty rubbish today so I actually flew on three separate sites. The first had poor wind, the second had far too much, and rather like the porridge that Goldilocks sampled, the third was just right.

One minor problem today. The bungee that I had temporarily tied around the head of the frame caused the tee piece handle to come away from the frame. It looks like the cord was causing sideways stress and there was no resistance, so the joint came apart. Now working on strengthening the joint and reconsidering the use of bungee.

Update 22/01/2013

I have had the stratospool out for several more flights, with a fled in light winds, and in stronger winds with a DC. Both times the reel worked very well, although reeling in 100m of loaded line is still hard work. My technique is improving though and each flight is easier as I get to understand its behavior and how to best use it.

My plan now is to keep using the reel “as is” to monitor any long term wear and tear issues. That means for now I am happy to stick with the current design.

Update 06/04/2013

Over the last month I have had a few more flights with the reel which is still performing well. Discovered a new trick to tie off the reel. Simply loop the line over the handle (see below) and it locks solidly.


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Stratospool Kite Reel

Having followed various discussions on the merits of the Stratospool kite winder on the Kite Aerial Photography Forum ( ) I decided to make my own.

Click on the image to enlarge

The real catalyst was a recent visit to my in-laws. The house next door is being renovated and the builders had just broken up and thrown out a load of built in cupboards made of plywood. They kindly allowed me to help myself to whatever I wanted. Yay free stuff!!!

The build was fairly straight forward with the dimensions more rule of thumb than copying existing designs. The stratospool consists of two parts that I will call the reel, that’s the part with the line on, and the frame, which is the bit that the reel is attached to.

The reel incorporating the handle was drawn at 1:1 in inkscape and then printed and stuck onto the wood to provide a cutting and drilling template. The core of the reel is solid, made by cutting several circles out of the plywood and then gluing them together, before shaping them so that they were round. To do this I drilled the centre hole and inserted a long bolt and attached a washer and nut to keep the core segments together. The end of the bolt was then placed in the chuck of my pillar drill and with the use of a rasp this was used as a makeshift lathe.

To make the winding handle I cut out a number of rounds with a hole saw. These were then glued and also held together with a nut and bolt while the glue dried. The length of the handle was designed to fit my hand. Just one of the bespoke measurements that I expect make the difference between a good winder and a great winder. Currently this design has only one handle for winding. Others have placed another one closer to the centre for fast reeling and it remains to be seen if I will later follow suit.


Click on the image to enlarge

The sides of the reel are not glued to the core, but held in place with round head roofing bolts that go through the core. These are attached to tee nuts that pull the sides tight against the core. The bolts are countersunk into the side of the reel that is against the frame. Having them flush with the surface prevents them interfering with the fame and braking. The handle is also bolted on. Using washers and a nylon insert nut, not quite fully tightened up, allows the handle to stay still in the hand while the reel is rotating.

The frame length was decided on after testing the reel with a temporary frame made to allow me to see how the reel and brake preformed under load. This also allowed me to understand how the design could be refined and made more comfortable to use. This is where personal preference took over and where my design differs a little to others.

I found that holding the frame at the end pushed it back against my body. Making this an asymmetric tee allows me to hook my thumb underneath and fingers over the top, making my grip more secure. Just having a handle on one side as some other designs have, I felt, may need more pressure to keep the frame in line with the body as it would also tend to pull the whole winder to one side, unless you kept your grip very close to the frame. This tee also has a screw ring in the end as a line guide. During testing I saw that this can be a point of stress and so added a steel bracket underneath. This was cut down on one side in order to fit and is secured with screws. From my research I had seen that some people rest the frame against their stomach and others against the top of their thigh. I found that I preferred the latter and therefore added only a small tee piece to the bottom of the frame. This has proved to be just right for me. The other key dimension determined by the test flight was the position of the hole for the bolt that attaches the reel to the frame. Once in the right position for my arm length, reeling in became a smoother operation and everything feels more balanced.

Unlike others I chose to have a brake handle that is only tapered at one end. I felt that for me I only needed the brake to be effective closest to the frame handle. The brake is ingenuous and very effective once you have it tuned up. Two leather pads are attached to the side of the frame adjacent to the side of the reel. When the brake is depressed it moves the reel slightly off centre so that the side rubs against the pads. This effect can also be achieved by pulling the handle away from the frame.  This is actually more effective at stopping the reel but does place more strain on the brake lever. I am currently thinking about how the brake could be improved. I have found that, as well as stopping the reel, braking can be useful to control the speed when letting out line. The bolt attaching the reel to the frame needs to be just tight enough to still allow the reel to rotate but not so tight that it binds against the brake pads. Equally if it is too loose the brake will not work at all. Two nylon insert bolts have been used to maintain the correct tightness, although more field testing is needed to see if that is the best option. The spacing of the various components attached to the bolt is achieved using washers, which also help to keep the reel off the brake pads.

Click on the image to enlarge

The final addition was a shackle from a chandlers. This is fixed through the frame and allows me to attach a climbers sling with a carabiner. This can be used to attach the winder to a fixed object like a fence , a bench or a tree. Passing the sling around my body attaches it to me, allowing me to walk around with the kite in the air. Having a double loop allows me to have one loop around my waist and the other slipped down behind my thighs, therefore sharing the load like a climbing harness. A second shorter sling can be either worn as a neck strap, to share the load with the waist strap, or to lock off the reel.

I am currently conducting field tests and will add more to this post as I tune and refine the winder.

Web resources

Get a SketchUp model of the reel here

Variations on the stratospool design

Demo of statospool by Jim “Windwatcher” Powers

Various discussion on the KAP Forum

Also search Flickr for images of stratospool reels.

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Meerstone expands into photography sales

Just by chance, a couple of weeks ago, we found out that there was going to be a craft market at the Halifax Piece Hall over the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend. There were still stalls available for all but the Saturday and as we had been talking about trying to sell my photographs at this sort of event for some time we booked a stall. Preparations included building a new online shop, selecting, editing and printing photographs. Currently the site has just over 50 images arranged under nine categories. Two main themes are represented: low level aerial views taken using kite aerial photography and pole aerial photography, and close up / macro photography. Both giving viewers an unfamiliar view of familiar objects. My favourite type of photography.

Remembering the tricks that I learned exhibiting at trade fairs years ago I built two free standing table top display boards using some old boards that we “inherited” a while ago; each pair hinged so that they could be folded together. The photographs were placed in clear bags with a grey board backing to keep them stiff and flat. These were then attached to the boards with velcro. The boards were set up at home and were simply opened and clamped onto the market stall. Probably the quickest set up of all the stalls there, as well one of the better looking displays.

Meerstone at the Piece Hall Craft Market 3-5th June 2012
The weather was terrible on the first day with constant rain. We were one of the last to pack up but still left before 2pm. Monday was better weather and as a result there were a lot more people and we had a lot of interest, and positive comments about the photographs. Tuesday was similar with plenty of foot fall. Overall sales were disappointing, but a lot of people took cards and our website and facebook page are being visited. What was very encouraging were the comments received. People were genuinely impressed, especially when I told them how I took the aerial images. What every new venture needs is a positive response and that is certainly what we received. We are now looking for similar events, although perhaps with more of a contemporary craft focus rather than a traditional craft fair.

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Extending a wired shutter release

This is primarily so that I can use my Sony α350 for pole aerial photography. I will also find it useful in other situations where the alternative option of a wireless trigger may not work.

What you will need

1. A wired shutter release (available on Amazon and Ebay at a modest cost)
2. One 3.5mm stereo plug and one 3.5mm stereo line socket
3. A stereo extension cable.
4. Wire stripper, or sharp knife, Soldering iron and solder.

Note that if you choose to follow these instructions you do so at your own risk.

Step one: understand how the shutter release works
inside there are three wires that are connected to three blades. Pressing the button causes the blades to touch and makes a circuit. A half press causes the top two blades to contact and this activates the auto focus. A full press causes all the blades to contact and activates the autofocus and shutter.


Step two: cut and prepare the cable
Make sure that when you cut the cable you leave each end long enough to add the connectors. Strip the cable carefully as it will probably be fairly thin cheap cable.


Step 3: have a cup of tea
No going back now so this is the best preparation for the next stage, which with my poor soldering skills is the most technical.

Step 4: solder on the plug and line socket

Remember to put the covers on the cable before soldering. Make sure that the wires are connected to the same tags on each connector. When finished screw down the covers.

Step 5: test
Join the connectors (You do not have to add the extension cable at this stage). Attach to the camera and test. This will prove that it will still work at its original length, now with a joint between the two ends. Now repeat with your extension connected.

Now for a live test using the three lower sections of my pole.


Thomas thinks its great for taking is own photograph.

Thomas on the trigger

It worked well at the park. Although it did scare off the ducks that Thomas was trying to feed.

Thomas & Anna

This type of shot really shows up the difference in image quality between a DSLR and a compact camera.

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New camera mount for Pole Aerial Photography (PAP)

I have recently been thinking how to improve my PAP rig. So far it has been a bit of a bodge. I have taken an 8m fiberglass fishing pole bought from Aldi, taken off the top section and gaffer taped a pound shop mini camera tripod to the top. Not very elegant and often failed to hold the camera in the correct position. The only thing that worked well was the camera running Stereo Data Maker (SDM) and a script to take a photo every few seconds.

Camera mount Mk1

So I gave the problem a bit of thought, had a dig about in the cellar, found some bits and pieces that I though I could use.  There followed a bit of prototyping, a bit of drawing and a lot of holding the camera and pole, before I came to the realisation that I mainly use the pole with the camera in either a horizontal position, or pointing straight down. The best way to get the vertical shots without including myself (or just my feet) in the photo is to tip the pole forward. I therefore needed a mount with two alternate camera positions. One parallel to the ground when the pole is vertical, and the other at 45 degrees so that if I tip the pole forward at 45 degrees (a comfortable angle to hold the pole) the camera will be vertical. The latter is versatile as when the pole is vertical the 45 degree tilt of the camera is ideal for producing oblique views.

Next how to attach the mount to the pole.

This needed to be sturdy, not cause damage to the pole, be easy to use, portable and secure. Here is my solution.

The mount consists of an 8mm aluminium rod joined to a bent 20mm x 2mm aluminium bar. The rod sits in the end of the pole. I had to loose another pole section to do this reducing the length to 6.25m, but that has actually made it easier to handle. A piece of cork added to the rod prevents the mount chipping the top of the rod and also helps to stop it rotating. A velcro strap holds the mount tight against the pole, again to stop it rotating. This is helped by a foam pad added to the mount. Similar pads on the top help hold the camera in place. The camera is held in place with camera keepers from the KAP Shop. The weight of the camera is shared between each point of contact, both internally and externally.

The tests so far have shown that the mount is a vast improvement; is stable and reliable. I even tried it with my DSLR using the bottom thicker sections of the pole and it performed well even with the extra weight.

Kirkstall Abbey

I made this 3D model from 147 vertical images taken using the DSLR. Click on the image to see an interactive version.

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