Flat lay photography is surging in popularity but can be difficult to master- especially without the right tools. In this tutorial I’ll show you how to create a horizontal mount for a tripod so you can stabilize your camera at the perfect angle, leaving you free to stage your flat lay layout with an exact preview of how your photo will turn out.
Why Special Equipment for Flay Lay Photos?
The more I’ve branched into hand lettering and promoting my illustration and graphic recording through Instagram, I’ve realized I needed to master the flat lay in order to create photography on par with trend leaders.
My hand-held attempts at killer flat lay photography just weren’t, well, killer. With a little research, I learned that many flat lay masters of Instagram use one of the many commercially produced Horizontal Camera Mounts. Unfortunately for me and my fledgling experimentation as a flat lay photographer, I couldn’t find even one model priced under $75!
Determined to DIY my way to a cheaper alternative, I began experimenting. Through trial and error, I managed to create this horizontal extension arm for my standard tripod that works perfectly to mount my DSLR or my tripod adapting phone holder to a tripod in order stage perfect overhead photography.
Using this Hack with Smartphone
You will need to purchase a small phone adapter, in order to use this extension arm with a phone. Personally, I use mine with a Google Pixel (which is saving me TONS on data and, depending on the lighting, sometimes takes better photos than my DSLR). This tripod adapter will adapt this flat-lay extension arm to hold your phone.
Intro to Tutorial
Horizontal camera arms are expensive! While commercial models start at about $75, in this tutorial I’ll show you how to make a horizontal extension arm for your camera tripod with less than $10 worth of materials. With such a huge savings, this is definitely one of the best-values tutorials I have created.
To save even more, stop by your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. 2 of the parts- 1.25″ PVC pipe and 1.25″ PVC Pipe Caps are usually in abundance at ReStores and may be as much as 90% less than lumberyard prices.
A note on the obvious: Use at your own risk. This DIY version might not be quite as sturdy as a commercial model. Use common sense, protect your safety and your camera (in that order), and if possible use a buddy during set up and take down, as careless removal of either camera or counterweight can quickly destabilize your tripod and cause damage to camera or tripod adapter. However, with care and extra support, this DIY is a cheap solution that works great.
A standard camera tripod is required as a starting point. If you don’t already have a tripod, check out the cheap tripod I love or check local thrift stores (doublecheck that a second-hand tripod still includes the small adapter that sits atop the tripod and screws into the port on the bottom of your camera)
• 3 foot piece of 1.25″ PVC Pipe (buy it online here)
DO NOT attempt to save money by using a thinner pipe, a thinner circumference will not support the weight of camera and counterweight without bending.
• 1 PVC 1.25″ End Cap (buy it here)
• 3 1/4-Inch-20 TPI (threads per inch) by 2-Inch length bolt (buy them here)
• 1 1/4″ – 20 TPI Coupling Nut (buy it here)
• 1 Tripod Mount Adapter (generally comes with the purchase of tripod)
• 1 sturdy bag with handles & weights equivalent to camera weight (I use a fabric shopping bag and soda cans)
• 1 Tripod- I love AmazonBasic’s $17 lightweight model
[double check your supplies before starting: the 1/4″-20TPI bolts should screw into the 14″-20TPI coupling nut, the coupling nut should securely screw on to your tripod mount adaptor, and the 1/4″-20TPI bolt should screw tightly into the tripod mount port on the bottom of your camera. If all these pieces fit and secure snugly, you’re set to continue]
• Power drill
• 1/4″ Drill Bit
• 1/2″ Drill Bit
• Wrench or Pliers for tightening bolts
• PVC-friendly glue (You can purchase PVC glue but superglue worked for me!)
How to Build your Own Horizontal Tripod Attachment for Flay Lay Photography
Before I walk you through the step by step DIY guide, here’s an image with the layout and hardware illustrated. Yellow markup indicates bolts and equipment needed to convert a simple PVC pipe into an ultra-affordable horizontal camera mount.
Step 1: Prepare Camera Mount End:
Begin by drilling a 1/4″ hole in the center of the PVC pipe cap
Once drilled, insert the bolt, extending from inside out. The bolt should fit TIGHT.
Tighten bolt till it extends about 1/3″ from the exterior of the cap, as shown.
Place superglue along the base of the cap and insert into the cap. Tap on a hard surface to ensure the end of the pipe has fully seated in the bottom of the cap, in contact with the superglue.
Step 2: Drill Holes
Next, drill two holes in your pipe. One in the center of the pipe midway down the length and one hole in the center of the pipe about an inch from the unfinished end.
Step 3. Prepare Center Hole for Tripod Mount
These photos demonstrate the required actions performed at the end of the pipe, but you will be performing these instructions on the center hole drilled midway down your pipe in the previous step. (I’m gonna pretend I did this on purpose to illustrate, and not that it was an ill-fated first attempt).
Midway down your pipe, you have a hole that extends through both sides of the pipe. Affix the 1/2″ Drill Bit to your drill and re-drill ONE of these 2 holes as a 1/2″ wide hole.
DO NOT widen both holes. We need one to stay small to secure the 1/4″ bolt.
After you’ve drilled your 1/2″ hole, insert 1/4″ bolt, facing the large hole.
Now screw a coupling nut onto the center bolt and tighten until the coupling nut is flush with the exterior surface of the pipe.
With your coupling nut secured, attach your tripod mount and twist until securely attached.
Step 4. Attach Counterweight Mount
The final step is easy: just insert a bolt into the hole drilled on the uncapped end. Be sure the head of the bolt is located on the opposite side of the pipe from where the tripod mount is attached.
Screw in until secure, but no further. Use this protruding bolt as a hook to attach counterweight. When the camera is attached to the camera-mount end, hook a bag with equivalent weight on this bolt to counterbalance and stabilize your camera and minimize stress on your tripod adapter.
That’s it! With the right supplies and these 4 easy steps, you can create this extension arm for your camera or phone
If this tutorial helped you build your own Flat Lay Tripod for $7 in parts instead of spending three figures on a flat lay tripod, would you consider saying thanks by buying me a coffee or becoming a $1 per month patron to help keep Hawk-Hill’s tutorials online?
Flat Lay Photography Tips
Use a Remote Shutter
Due to the material, angle, and extension, you’ll notice slight wiggle when you touch your camera when attached to your tripod this way. Because of this, I consider a remote shutter to be essential, and a remote shutter with an extension cord to be ideal. With a remote shutter and lots of play in your cord, you can locate your switch on a stable surface nearby. This will allow you to press your shutter and take a photograph with zero camera movement, resulting in a clearer picture.