Flat lay photography is the hottest style for product display, 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 standard 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.

DSLR vs iPhone/Smartphone Photography

Full DSLRs, iPhones/smart phones, and point and shoot cameras can be used with this extension arm to create dramatic flat lay photography. You will need to purchase a small part, however, in order to use this extension arm with a camera phone. Personally, I use mine with a Google Pixel, which depending on light sometimes does even better than my DSLR. This $7 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 horizonal 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 – 1-1/4″ PVC pipe and 1-1/4″ 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 this $17 lightweight model or check local thrift stores- my local Goodwill generally has a selection of tripods in the $10 range (just be extra, extra sure to check that any tripod you purchase second hand includes a tripod adapter that will screw into the port on the bottom of your camera)

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod
In this tutorial I’ll show you how to build an extension arm for your tripod that will hold your camera stable in a horizontal position over your subject.

Required Supplies:

• 3   foot piece of 1-1/4″ 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 1-1/4″ 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 Zinc Plated 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 Basic 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 coupleing nut should securely screw on to 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 piece fit and secure snugly, you’re set to continue]

Before beginning, double check that the parts you've sourced interlock. The links and dimensions provided above are for nuts and bolts that fit standard photography equipment like shown here.
Before beginning, double check that the parts you’ve sourced interlock. The links and dimensions provided above are for nuts and bolts that fit standard photography equipment like shown here.

Required Tools:

• 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 a ultra-affordable horizontal camera mount.

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod

Step 1: Prepare Camera Mount End:

Begin by drilling a 1/4″ hole in the center of the PVC pipe cap

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod

Once drilled, insert bolt, extending from inside out. This should be a TIGHT fit to tighten, and that’s a good thing.

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod

Tighten bolt till it extends about 1/3″ from the exterior of the cap, as shown.

how to build a horizontal camera mount for your tripod

 

Place superglue along the base of the cap and insert into cap. Tap on a had surface to ensure the end of the pipe has fully seated in the bottom of the cap, in contact with the superglue.

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod

 

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.

It's easier to drill into a pipe if you first place duct tape on the pipe. The tape prevents your drill bit from slipping off the curved surface.
It’s easier to drill into a pipe if you first place duct tape on the pipe. The tape prevents your drill bit from slipping off the curved surface.
Drill hole on the end, and then repeat midway down the length of the pipe.
Drill hole on the end, and then repeat midway down the length of the pipe.

 

Step 3. Prepare Center Hole for Tripod Mount

These photos demonstrate the required actions performed on 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 fist attempt referred to in the error portion of the “trial and error” referenced in developing this tutorial.

how to build a horizontal camera mount for your tripod

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.

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod
This image shows what your center hole should look like,if you were able to view cross section.

After you’ve drilled your 1/2″ hole, insert 1/4″ bolt, facing the large hole.

how to build a horizontal camera mount for your tripod
cross section of hole drilled in center of PVC horizontal tripod arm.

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.

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod

 

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 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.

A third bold partially inserted into the pip serves as a hook for counterweights.
A third bold partially inserted into the pip serves as a hook for counterweights.

 

That’s it! With the right supplies and these 4 easy steps, you can create this extension arm for your camera or phone

instructions to DIY a flatlay tripod

 

 

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 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, allowing your to press your shutter and take a photograph with zero camera movement, resulting in a clearer picture.

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