PhotoMobile by Bruce Chester

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve posted any updates to the Golf Cart Light Stand.  For the most part, it’s been working and I take it out when I don’t have an assistant with me and I know I want to do some creative lighting for my shoot.

A couple weeks ago, I got an email from Bruce Chester (aka “Bruce Chester, photographer based in central California”) asking me if I still had the the how-to on doing the portable light stand, and we went back and forth talking about the original design.  And lo and behold, a week later, he sends me his detailed how-to on how he was able to make it sturdier and make it strong enough for his Paul C. Buff setup.

I thought his design was very well-thought out, so I’ve asked Bruce if he wouldn’t mind sharing it here, and he didn’t.

So, without further ado, here’s Bruce’s “PhotoMobile”…

(Thanks again Bruce, and I’m looking forward to enhancing my golf cart with some of your ideas!)

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Hi Alex,

Here is my creation – I call it the PhotoMobile.  It rocks!

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The Golf Cart

I started with the CaddyTek EX-Fold 3 Wheel Golf Cart.  Got it from Costco – $120.  This has a much beefier frame, wider wheelbase, and two flat frame rails along the base (“base rails”).  It also has larger wheels, and the whole thing folds up quite small.  It rolls easily and is quite stable and well balanced.  It even has two zippered compartments on the back for cold drinks, etc.

The Light Post

The Impact Reflector Holder is solid but proved to be too thin for my purposes, so I pirated a light post from an old Photogenic Black Talon light stand.  This post is beefy – 1 3/8” diameter at the base, has air cushioned sections, and extends to over 11 feet high.  I added an Impact Junior to Baby Pin Adapter ($9) to the top of it to give a bit more heft connecting with my Einstein 640.

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Impact Junior to Baby Pin Adaptor on Black Talon Light Stand Post

To connect the light post to the cart, I placed an Impact SuperClamp ($20) on the cart’s massive down post, an Impact LSA-TBC Tilting Boom Clamp ($40) around the light post, and connected them together with an Impact 4.7” Snap-In Pin ($3.75).  Placing the SuperClamp high on the cart’s down post gives a nice vertical hold – very solid.

The SuperClamp can stay on the cart when folded – the 4.7” stud and Tilting Boom Clamp stay together on the light post.

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Impact Tilting Boom Clamp connected to SuperClamp

To secure the bottom of the post, I used the cart’s umbrella holder.  The base of the post fits right inside of it, and tightens snugly with the umbrella holder’s side knob.

The umbrella holder sits perfectly on the cart’s right base rail.  I used the right base rail to maximize stability, since the cart’s front wheel is slightly on the right of center.  When the umbrella holder sits down on the flat base rail, it’s rock solid.  The bottom knob fits right inside of the steel support rod, and the holder won’t move up, down, or sideways. No Velcro or screws needed.  Easy peasy.

BTW – This whole light post assembly ends up right in the middle of the cart, perfectly balanced without ballast.  Amazing!

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Base of Light Post, in Umbrella Holder, Sitting on the Right Base Rail

When not in use, the umbrella holder snaps right in its carrier, on the cart’s lower right leg.  See photo below.

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Umbrella Holder Stores in Clamp on Cart’s Right Leg

Battery Pack

I mounted my Buff Vagabond Mini Battery Pack directly to the light post.  I found the Buff clamp was a bit too small for the big post, so I used another Impact SuperClamp, which comes equipped with a small brass stud with ¼” male threads on the other end – this screws nicely into the Vagabond’s clamp socket.  Sweet!

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Battery Pack Mounted to Impact Super Clamp with 2” Stud

This is the 2” stud with ¼” male thread that comes standard equipment with the Impact SuperClamp.  For $20 – a much better deal than the Manfrotto SuperClamp with no stud.

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Impact SuperClamp 2” stud with ¼” Male Thread

BTW – I found the Einstein 15’ power cord way too long for this rig, so I substituted a normal computer power cord, 6’ in length.  Much cleaner fit.

Einstein 640 Strobe and Softbox

The Einstein 640 sits securely atop the Black Talon post.  I attached my Buff 37” folding octobox.  It is nicely balanced and rotates 360° easily. I suppose that a 7’ umbrella with a diffusion sock would work equally well, on a calm day or indoors.

I usually use the Einstein Cyber Commander to trigger the strobe, but the PocketWizard MC-2 ($101) will plug into the top of the Einstein and allow you to shoot high-speed sync and your choice of manual or TTL.  But you have to also have the PocketWizard on-camera Mini Transmitter and AC3 Controller.  Pretty cool.

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Front View – Buff 37” Octobox, Camera Bag and Reflectors

The light post is shown here extended only 1’ to allow the battery pack connection.  But it will go 11’ high.  This fall, I am shooting a season-long photo essay for a university volleyball team, so I am sure this rig will find itself way up high during practices and photo days.  I may opt for the 7’ umbrella for that.

Camera Bag

I shoot with a Lowepro X100 AW roller case on location.  It’s a good carry-on, with lots of sections and compartments for cameras and lenses.  I was pleased to find that it fits perfectly on the front of the cart, right on the two prongs there to hold a golf bag.  I use a 40” bungee cord to secure it when rolling, with the bungee passing through the top handle.  Otherwise the bag just sits on the cart holding my cameras and lenses in easy reach.  Plus its weight does add nice ballast to the rig.

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The top edge of the camera bag leans against the umbrella holder just enough to give the light post even more stability, as you can see in this photo.  Also, notice how the tripod legs rest on the bag.

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Tripods – Monopods – Light Stands

As you can see, any assortment of tripods, monopods, and/or light stands can be carried above the cart’s center post.  I just close the golf bag holder arms around them – you can add a bungee cord around them for extra security if you want.  The tripod or light stand legs rest securely on the top side of the camera bag.

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Tripod / Light Stand Mount – Right Side View

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Tripod / Light Stand Mount – Front View

I can even add one of my 14 lb. Matthews Hollywood Baby Jr. Triple Riser rolling stands on there, and it still works great.  Perfectly balanced!

Reflectors

I put 2 Profoto 47” reflectors on the cart, sitting on the main cart handle.  Their bottom edges sit right down on the top of the golf bag holder arms, and slip right under right under the tripod / light stand.  All that’s needed is a 40” bungee cord to go around the reflectors and connect at the top.

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47” Profoto Reflectors in Cases – Water Bottle

Reflectors

Another option would be to mount your Impact Reflector Holder to the Black Talon light post, to hold a refl ector, as shown below.  It just takes a SuperClamp with a 2 ½” stud.

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Impact Reflector Holder Mounted with SuperClamp and 2 ½” Stud

 

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Right Side View

 

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Left Side View

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Rear View

Final Thoughts

My rig is a pricier version than the others I’ve seen, but very sturdy.  You get what you need, and then enjoy it.

I like the beef of this unit – as I expect to use it mostly with an Einstein 640 for its power and controllability.  The light post will go very high if needed, has the air-cushioned safety feature, and is strong and very well balanced.  I would assume the whole setup would be even more stable with a lighter speedlight and a 26” Rapid Box.

Although this cart’s very wide wheelbase gives it good lateral stability, it will not go through normal doors, although it will pass through a normal home front door and a typical side yard gate.

The cart has an optional side chair that attaches to it.  I won’t need that, but still pretty amazing.

I have a convertible with a small trunk, and the cart fits in the trunk in any direction with lots of room to spare.  The Black Talon post and Matthews Baby Jr. stands are a really tight fit, but they make it.

BTW – Impact makes a clone of the Black Talon light stand for $70.  And if you ever need another swivel bracket for your Impact Reflector Holder, you can buy one directly from Impact for $12.

And Home Depot now has nice 60” black golf cart umbrellas on sale for only $5.

Perhaps the real question for me on long serious shoots is:

Do I use the PhotoMobile as a rolling light stand, or do I use it just to schlep my monster Matthews rolling stands and other gear to the venue and just set up the lights there?  I suppose it depends on where I go and if I will be moving around to different locations.  I can set up four Matthews stands in the time it takes to set up the post on the cart.

Either way, the golf cart solution is ingenious!  I’m ecstatic that I can schlep this much gear to and fro so effortlessly, and quickly roll to a different location.

Thank you so much for your guidance, and I will let you know if I get any more ideas.  This has all been quite a lot of fun actually.

Take care Alex.

Bruce

Golf Cart Light Stand Update v1.1

It’s been about 6 weeks or so since I’ve had my Golf Cart Light Stand, and I wanted to share my experiences so far.

THE FALL

During an engagement shoot last month, I thought I’d use a 42″ umbrella instead of my usual 28″ octobox, just to get a little softer lighting.  There was a wedding shoot at the same location, so I wanted to make sure my couple and I didn’t get in their way, so I had the couple move over to a location on a slightly bumpy area of grass.  I needed to park the light stand on a slight incline and put on the brake.  It was getting a little gusty but I thought the brake would keep the cart from rolling back.  Well, the brake did hold, but the wind caught the umbrella and pushed the cart back enough to tip it backwards.  The handle hit the grass, and the force of the fall bent the top part of the stand that was close to where the light was mounted.

Nothing broke and I was still able to continue using the light stand.  However, I was unable to contract the stand because of the bend, and I had to wheel the cart with the stand in the most extended state.  This of course swayed the light as I was moving the cart around.

THE FIX

Back at home, I was able to take apart the retractable light stand (actually a reflector holder) quite easily by taking out a couple screws, and was able to straighten the bent top post.  But this experience led me to think of how I could make this cart a little more stable.  I had noticed that just a few lenses and a flash in my bag was not heavy enough to keep the cart stable in a strong wind environment.

Also, I typically carry my tripod with me — a medium-weight Manfrotto which tends to put more weight towards the handle as I velcro-strap it to the shaft, making it a little heavier for the camera bag to counter on the opposite end.

So what I did was re-introduce the sandbag that I’ve been trying to avoid back into the solution.  Instead of using the camera bag to act as a ballast, I now hang a 15 lb. sandbag there instead.  And my camera bag has been replaced with a Think Tank Lens Changer 3, and I just hang it off where you would strap the top of a golf bag.  There’s several advantages to doing this — (1) the heavier sandbag keeps the cart more stable, (2) the lens bag puts downward pressure towards middle of the cart, again keeping the cart more stable, and (3) the lens bag which is now placed higher is easier to access.  The addition of a sandbag does add one more step in the setup of the stand, but you still don’t have to lug it around since it’s always on the cart.

Here’s how it looks…

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I’ve also added a 2nd Super Clamp to the post where I can mount a video light.  This comes in handy in darker environment where focusing may be a problem, or to use in a situation where a flash may be too strong.

Golf Cart Light Stand Gets Tested

I was finally able to take the Golf Cart Light Stand out for a little testing yesterday.  Perfect testing environment — a no-pressure model shoot on a typical summer blistery cold and windy San Francisco beach.

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Here’s a pull-back shot of me with the light stand.  Sand doesn’t quite make for an even surface, so I was able to stress the light stand at various non-level angles.

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  1. Portability — great. I was able to take it apart two sections (lightstand and softbox from the cart) very easily. The cart folds up into about 24″ x 34″ and it’s fairly light (about 11 lbs) because it’s mainly aluminum. I think it took me about 3 minutes to put it together from the car. First you expand the cart, put the camera bag on, secure the lightstand with a thumbscrew, and then secure the softbox with a thumbscrew.
  2. Manueverability — The cart, when the wheels are extended all the way out, is slightly narrower than a width of a standard doorway, so I had to be careful going through doorways as I pushed it out from my house, but there was no problem fitting through them. On the beach, I had expected the wheels to skid or dig into the sand, but they rolled along fine. As with anything in the sand, you do still have to fight it when pulling and forget pushing. I’m guessing I had about 35 lbs, including the cart. That said, on flat ground, it was a piece of cake to push and turn.
  3. Stairs — I didn’t expect stairs that I needed to go down to the beach, but it was a good test. I had someone help me going down, but I was able to pull it up one step at a time without any problems. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I could have pushed it down one step at a time without any problems. It helps to make sure the lightstand is contracted all the way to keep the center of gravity towards the middle.
  4. Stability — the wind was kicking up quite a bit, and the softbox swayed, but the cart did very well. There was one time that I had the cart sitting slightly at a sideway angle and had to catch it when the wind caught it, but that was more my fault for not keeping the cart more level. Other than that, the weight of my gear bag was good enough to keep it steady. So my advice here would be to make sure the softbox is at the center of gravity as much as possible, especially when it’s extended up.
  5. Practicality — Throughout the shoot, everything except my camera was on me as you can see in the photo above. Everything else was in my camera bag which was acting as a sandbag. I was also carrying a 8 lb. tripod (with head) on the cart as well (you can see it strapped to the shaft of the cart in the photo above), so imagine having to carry around lightstand, tripod, camera, camera bag, and sandbag around separately a pretty large beach. I didn’t have to do multiple trips to the car and I really didn’t need any help. I do find it easier to push it around in the wind when I contracted the lightstand to keep the center of gravity low, especially on sand. But I didn’t find it to be a hassle at all doing that. Once I got home, I took the cart and hosed down the wheels, and everything looks as good as new!

Here’s the last shot of the day using the light stand…

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DIY Golf Push Cart Light Stand

This is a quick how-to on making your own portable light stand that’s built on a golf push cart.

The inspiration of my design is based on the original by Peter Nguyen, and a follow-on by Joseph Philbert.  Both these solutions were based on the Bag Boy brand of golf push cart and requires drilling a hold to clamp the light stand to the golf cart shaft.  There was also a similar solution (sorry, lost the link) using a CaddyTek SuperLite Deluxe Golf Push Cart.

My solution is based on last design using the CaddyTek SuperLite Deluxe Golf Push Cart.  This cart can be bought from Amazon for a fairly reasonable $80.

Here’s the finished product…

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The total cost of parts for this DIY solution — about $170, of course, not including the light, battery, softbox, gear bag, reflector, and water bottle.

My solution uses the Impact Telescopic Collapsible Reflector Holder for the light stand.

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The tip is 3/8″, not the usual 5/8″ found on typical light stands.  But this seems to work fine with my speedlite adapter and my Einstein strobe.  I’ll refer to this reflector holder as a light stand from now on.

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Next, you’ll need the Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp along with the Avenger E600C 5/8-Inch Snap-In Steel Pin for Super Clamp.

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Connect the two like this…

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The Superclamp comes with a little wedge that can be placed in the jaw to clamp onto a flat surface.  Make sure that wedge is in place.  The above photos show it in place, but it doesn’t come pre-connected to the clamp.  Here’s how the wedge looks separated from the clamp.

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Before connecting the clamp to the golf cart shaft, stick a strong velcro to the top and bottom of the shaft where you’ll put the clamp.  I use the Velcro Brand Industrial Strength Tape-Black.  Before putting sticking the velcro, it’s a good idea to see where you will want to position the Superclamp.

Make sure to tighten as much as you can without bending the shaft.  This is what’s going to secure the reflector holder and softbox while they’re swaying in the wind.

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Connect the reflector holder to the stud and tighten.

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Straighten the post of the light stand.  It should be vertical and touching the shaft at the bottom.  Adjust the post to be about 6 inches off the floor.  Secure the post to the shaft with a long strip of non-adhesive double-sided velcro (non-adhesive so that you can easily remove the light stand.)  This will help limit sideway movement of the post and will put less pressure on the clamp.

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This is how everything should look connected.

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So just to re-cap, here’s the shopping list for this project, with links to Amazon:

  1. CaddyTek SuperLite Deluxe Golf Push Cart
  2. Impact Telescopic Collapsible Reflector Holder
  3. Manfrotto 035RL Super Clamp
  4. Avenger E600C 5/8-Inch Snap-In Steel Pin for Super Clamp
  5. Velcro Brand Industrial Strength Tape-Black

I’ll post some future enhancements that you can make to this solution to make it even more useful.

Now go make it!