by Sean Setters
A few months ago, I reviewed the RigWheels RigMount X4 Magnetic Camera Platform
, a device that allowed me to safely and securely mount a DSLR to the hood (or just about any other metal part) of a car for capturing dynamic, in-motion automotive imagery. While RigMount platform works perfectly as designed, I became interested in other tools used for similar automotive photography, specifically boom rigs.
It didn't take me long to realize that a specially designed car boom rig can be a significant investment. Therefore, I made it my goal to create a DIY version that met the following requirements:
- Easy to assemble
- Compact enough for transport
- Strong enough to provides sufficient safety to camera gear
- Rigid enough to allow for slow shutter speed use (creating a sharp vehicle)
- Relatively economical
The "relatively economical" portion is just that – relative. As I had several of the components that I would later employ in my boom setup, the investment cost for me was less than it may be for you, if you don't currently have any of the components conveniently at hand.
Before I go on, let me be absolutely clear – use of a car boom rig involves a certain amount of risk. In other words, you could damage your camera if a suction cup fails, you could damage the car's paint job with a high-strength suction cup and you could easily injure yourself or someone else if they were to get clipped by the boom during a moving photo capture. Proceed with caution; we are not responsible for property damage or injury which may occur as a result of using the gear or techniques described below.
With that out of the way, listed below is the kit I assembled which sufficiently met my requirements above:
(2) Qadira Premium Quality Heavy Duty Aluminum Suction Cup Plate
(5) Impact Super Clamp
(1) Arca-style Clamp
(2) Arca-style Plate
(1) Ball Head
(1) 96" Heavy Duty Closet Pole
(1) Manfrotto 022 Counter Balance Weight - 15 lbs
Of the components listed above, I already had the ball head, Arca-style clamps/plates, Manfrotto counter balance weight and two super clamps, making the total investment in new gear relatively reasonable. However, even at full cost for all of the components listed above, you'll likely be spending significantly less compared to a specially designed car photography boom rig setup.
Here's a closer look at the components that make up the portion of the rig that holds the camera:
Because I loathe having to screw ball heads onto surfaces over and over again, I've installed a quick-release plate onto one particular ball head so that I can quickly be swap the head between various rigs. With a clamp installed on a super clamp, affixing or removing the ball head takes all of 2 seconds.
Note that one of the Arca-style plates listed above is installed on the camera, with the other (as previously mentioned) installed on the base of the ball head. Typically speaking, I have a battery-grip and an L-bracket
installed on my DSLRs. However, wanting to reduce the overall weight hanging on the end of the boom, I opted for exchanging the battery grip and L-bracket for a traditional Arca-style plate.
Here's basically what the setup looked like in use (taken with my Samsung Galaxy S5):
And yes, being roughly 13 years old now, the paint is peeling on the right side of the windshield and the paint on the bumper seems to have faded at a much faster rate. Just after taking the picture above, I disassembled the setup and then recreated it on the passenger side to avoid capturing the peeling paint on the driver's side. I adjusted the front bumper's color in post-processing.
Notes on the DIY Boom Rig
I originally purchased the 96" (8') regular duty closet pole at Home Depot after trying to stress it in store (propping it against a sturdy shelf and pushing on the middle of it) to see if it would flex. A quick test seemed to indicate the regular duty (less expensive, lighter) would work. However, after assembling the components for a test run, I realized that the regular duty pole flexed/bounced a bit too much. Therefore, I bought the heavy duty version instead.
When it comes to booms, 8' (2.44m) isn't necessarily all that long. In fact, a longer pole would likely provide more flexibility in positioning with increased rigidity being required for similar performance. However, as my pole isn't sectional (it doesn't break down), getting anything larger would have required a different vehicle to get my boom to the shooting location. As it was, I was still required to drive to the location with my passenger-side window down with the pole sticking out several inches (I forgot to close the window when capturing the shot atop this post).
Something to keep in mind in regards to boom poles, as the market for car rig photography is relatively small, I don't think anyone is designing boom poles specifically for the purpose. As such, even companies that are selling car boom rig kits are sourcing their boom materials from other companies who design them for other industries. As such, poles designed for windsurfing masts or other similar products could also be used. In fact, you may even be able to purchase your boom pole directly from a tubing manufacturer, with a wide range of materials and specifications to suit the purpose.
When affixed properly to flat portions of your vehicle, the aluminum suction cup holders in the setup above worked quite well in my limited experience (3-4 test runs). Depending on the shape of your vehicle, though, finding flat enough areas for optimal suction can be challenging without articulation between the two handle-connected suction cups. An even more versatile (and more professional-looking) solution would be to use Avenger F1000 Pump Cups
, high-power 6" suction cups with a baby swivel pin. Using the Avenger F1000s would require a smaller flat working area and would eliminate two of the super clamps needed in my particular setup. Another benefit of the F1000s is that there is visual confirmation of proper suction, as a red line will appear on the pump when suction is at a critical level (requiring a few more pumps).
Be sure to clean your hood of dirt and debris to ensure the best possible connection between your suction cups and the car. Years ago, a photographer friend of mine who used to do these kinds of shots warned me that strong suction cups can damage
a car's paint job, so he typically used paint protection film
under the suction cups to protect the car's paint job.
Also note that suction cup mounted car rigs should not be used in colder weather, as suction cups will lose suction very quickly at lower temperatures.
Also pictured in the setup shot above are the Canon EOS 7D Mark II
(set to intervalometer mode) and Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye lens
used to create the final image, with settings of f/5.6, 1s, ISO 160. For the location, I chose to shoot at a large shopping plaza near midnight to ensure I had an expansive open area (parking lot) with almost no obstacles aside from the easily avoidable light poles.
An important thing to keep in mind when creating your in-motion car images while using a boom rig is that you will likely want to remove the boom rig in post-processing. That means that you may wish to be careful how you position the camera and rig so that hard-to-recreate elements of the car are not blocked by the suction cups or boom pole. To keep post-processing requirements to a minimum, I purposefully positioned the camera so that the suction cups could be seen just above the edge of the car. If the camera had been higher, the suction cups would have blocked a portion of the hood scoop which would have been difficult to recreate in post-processing. If you are an expert in Photoshop, you'll likely have more leway in positioning the camera.
In post, I applied some distortion correction to remove much of the fisheye look while leaving some of the lens' distortion intact, as well as minor color corrections (including adjusting the color of the bumper) before tackling the boom removal. Here's a before/after shot showing the removal of the boom.
After working with the image, I decided that I wanted less tilt and a looser framing. I decided to give Photoshop CC
's Content Aware Crop a try to see how well it generated extra space around a significant portion of the edges. I was pleasantly surprised by the results.
Tips and Final Thoughts
If I were going to be offering this type of photography to potential clients, I would probably change a few things about my setup and image-capturing procedure. For one, I'd likely use two Avenger F1000 Pump Cups with Baby Swivel Pins
for easier positioning of the rig and the visible indicator of proper suction provided by the red line on the pump. I actually own one of those pumps from a project I did years ago, and upon testing it yesterday, it took about 10 seconds to affix to my hood and about 5 minutes of forceful pulling to remove it.
Also, instead of having the client actually drive the car with the boom rig installed, I think a better idea would be to push the car and simply use a longer shutter speed for a similar effect. That will reduce vibrations induced by the engine as well as lessen the chance impacting obstacles with the boom with avoidance being even easier at ultra-slow speeds. Of course, those pushing the car would need to remain in an area blocked from view by the car.
The TSA has just announced that it will now require travelers to "...remove electronics larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and place them in a bin with nothing on top or below, similar to how laptops have been screened for years."
Now might be a good time to enroll in the TSA's PreCheck
From the Transportation Security Administration:
– To ensure the security of airline passengers and the nation’s airports, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is implementing new, stronger screening procedures for carry-on items that require travelers to place all electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes. Following extensive testing and successful pilots at 10 airports, TSA plans to expand these measures to all U.S. airports during the weeks and months ahead.
Due to an increased threat to aviation security, DHS Secretary John Kelly announced in late June new security requirements for nearly 280 airports in more than 100 countries. In an effort to raise the baseline for aviation security worldwide, TSA continues to work closely with airports and airlines to enhance security measures and stay ahead of the evolving threat.
“Whether you’re flying to, from, or within the United States, TSA is committed to raising the baseline for aviation security by strengthening the overall security of our commercial aviation network to keep flying as a safe option for everyone,” said TSA Acting Administrator Huban A. Gowadia.
As new procedures are phased in, TSA officers will begin to ask travelers to remove electronics larger than a cell phone from their carry-on bags and place them in a bin with nothing on top or below, similar to how laptops have been screened for years. This simple step helps TSA officers obtain a clearer X-ray image.
It is possible that passengers may experience more bag checks, however, through extensive testing, TSA identified ways to improve screening procedures with quicker and more targeted measures to clear the bags. The new screening procedures in standard lanes are already in place at the following 10 U.S. airports with plans to expand to all airports during the weeks and months ahead:
- Boise Airport (BOI)
- Colorado Springs Airport (COS)
- Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
- Logan International Airport (BOS)
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
- Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport (LBB)
- Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU)
- McCarran International Airport (LAS)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
In standard screening lanes, TSA officers will be stationed in front of the checkpoint X-ray machines to guide passengers through the screening process and recommend how best to arrange their carry-on items for X-ray screening. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving. There are no changes to what travelers can bring through the checkpoint; food and liquid items that comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule, electronics, and books continue to be allowed in carry-on bags.
“It is critical for TSA to constantly enhance and adjust security screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats and keep passengers safe. By separating personal electronic items such as laptops, tablets, e-readers and handheld game consoles for screening, TSA officers can more closely focus on resolving alarms and stopping terror threats,” said Gowadia.
The stronger security measures do not apply to passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck who are using TSA PreCheck lanes. TSA also marked another milestone earlier this month with TSA PreCheck now available at 200 airports nationwide. Travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck do not need to remove shoes, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, electronics, light outerwear, or belts. The program allows TSA to focus resources on passengers who may pose a high risk to security while providing expedited screening to those travelers who have been identified as low-risk, trusted travelers.