The Backgroundulator 2000

More Photography on a Shoestring
Trashcanulator 2000

The Backgroundulator 2000 is tabletop photography aid based on a piece of ABS plastic, two yardsticks and a couple of shoestrings.

I was motivated to build this device when I had a need to photograph small objects with a background which wasn’t distracting, or could easily be “knocked out” in Photoshop.

There are many tabletop shooting setups available commercially, of course. Places like B&H Photo in New York sell some really marvelous ones. At the time I did my research, a Bogen/Manfrotto table especially designed for shooting still lifes ran between $400-700. For $2300 I could get a really swell table made by Elinchrom and a Digro shooting table was a mere $3700.

These products looked and sounded great, but they were also a little rich for my blood. Sighing a little, I made myself come down to earth and look for other alternatives. A company called Cloud Dome sold what they called an Infinity Board, a bendable 19 x 28″ sheet of plastic which would sit on one’s desk, for $33. That was a little small, but it sounded more in line with what I needed. Another company, Novoflex, sold a system called the MagicStudio that looked identical. The wanted $87.50 for a 39 x 20″ board, which was closer to the size I wanted but a bit pricey. (It was nice, but did I really want to pay $90 + shipping for a piece of flexible plastic?)

Trashcanulator 2000As is often the case in such situations, I started thinking about building something myself. Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult – I’d just need some firm but flexible plastic, some cord to tension it into shape, some cord stops, and maybe a couple of things to hold the top and bottom edges rigid. Shopping list in hand, I headed to Tap Plastics and a few other stores. My supply list:

  • $0 – Epoxy, which I already had on hand
  • $7.25 – one 24 x 48″ piece of white ABS plastic (other colors are also available)
  • $3 – two 45″ long white shoe laces
  • $4 – four cord stops
  • $0 – Two ad-covered yardsticks from a lumber yard

Total: $14.25

Building the contraption, which I dubbed the Backgroundulator 2000, took approximately ten minutes not including drying time. Should you wish to build your own, here are the steps:

  1. Cut plastic sheet to desired size. (I trimmed mine down to 24 x 36″ and saved the scrap plastic to use as a reflector.)
  2. Cut yardsticks or other lightweight stiffener to match the length of the short ends of the sheet plastic.
  3. Glue and clamp one cut yardstick to each end of the sheet plastic. (If glue doesn’t work or isn’t available, screws or heavy duty staples should also work fine.)
  4. After the glue has dried, drill holes 1/2″ in from each of the four corners, drilling through both the plastic and the yardstick.
  5. Thread a shoelace end through each hole.
  6. Clamp the shoelaces in place with the cord stops. Use the cord stops to adjust the shoelace length to bend and tension the Backgroundulator 2000 as desired.

After completing the Backgroundulator 2000, I took the test photo shown below. This shot has been cropped but is otherwise unretouched save a color cast adjustment:

Trashcanulator 2000

I lit this particular scene with a 25 watt fluorescent bulb held in a standard bendable desk lamp. With some tinkering with the lighting – diffusers, reflector, daylight-adjusted bulb, perhaps a fill or rim light – one can get better results.

Here’s another test shot, taken under similar conditions:

Trashcanulator 2000

When taking photos, one does have to be careful not to get the tensioning cord between the light and the scene or bizarre shadows will be cast. However, for less than twenty bucks, it’s hard to complain.

If this article was helpful, you may also be interested in the Trashcanulator 2000.

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