Flat lay photography is surging in popularity but can be difficult to master- especially without special equipment- namely, a flat lay tripod. 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
It works, and it’s how I usually use this type of tripod! You just need an inexpensive phone-to-tripod adapter in order to use this extension arm with a phone. Personally, I use mine with a Google Pixel (which, depending on the lighting, sometimes takes better photos than my DSLR).
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 takedown, 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- it’s essential but often lost)
• 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
• 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 DIY Flat lay 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.
How to Build your Own DIY Flat lay Tripod Attachment for Flay Lay Photography
Prepare Camera Mount End:
Begin by drilling a 1/4″ hole in the center of the PVC pipe cap gathered via the required supply list.
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.
Glue Cap to Extension Arm
Place glue along the base of the pipe 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 glue.
Drill holes in extension art
Next, drill two holes in your pipe. One in the center of the pipe midway down the length and a second 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 helps to prevent your drill bit from slipping off the curved surface.
Prepare Center Hole for Tripod Mount
These photos demonstrate the required actions performed at the end of the pipe, for a better visual, but you will be performing these instructions on the center hole drilled midway down your pipe in the previous step.
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.
Add Coupling Nut
Now screw a coupling nut onto the center bolt and tighten until the coupling nut is flush with the exterior surface of the pipe.
Attach tripod mount
With your coupling nut secured, attach your tripod mount and twist until securely attached.
Attach Counterweight Mount
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
Flat Lay Tripod 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.
A flat lay tripod is excellent for a number of media types. Modern product photography often features a background, unlike the transparent backdrops of mid-2000 product photography. When it comes to cooking videos, you won’t get far without a flat lay tripod, which can make the cost to start up your own cooking video channel a steep hurdle for newcomers to overcome. Make your own DIY Flat lay tripod for a fraction of the cost of purchasing one by using the instructions outlined above.
Friday 11th of September 2020
I’m so happy to have found your DIY horizontal arm! I followed your instructions and it works great. Thanks
Saturday 22nd of August 2020
i got the idea here..but i wanted it for my hp so i just used a phone holder thingy,taped it to a metal ruler,then taped the ruler to a tripod!! easy peasy..it worked like a charm..but i dont think it would be sturdy enough for a camera....
Thursday 22nd of June 2017
This almost worked for me. However, the holes that I drilled using a 1/4″ bit were too big and the screws would not tighten because they fit right in the holes instead of being snug. So I will have to redo the holes with a slightly smaller bit and try again. But I’m excited to make my own tripod arm instead of spending an arm and a leg! Thank you for the tutorial!