Dean Collins is looking down from above and laughing.


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Nov 3, 2012
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So, I have a flash coming and I ran across the classic Dean Collins Tinker Tubes plans ( We are experiencing a few hiccups based on my level of distraction in the home depot (where the heck did these wrong sized peices come from?), but my three year old thinks this could be the best day ever. We're thinking small (panel and light stand), but I can see how this could become addictive.


I love arts and crafts time.:mrgreen:
Dean Collins was very influential to me and my peers as we tried to learn professional lighting back in the 1980's. His articles in the photo press of the day, pre-Internet, were VERY influential for us.

"Panels" are super,super,super-versatile. So glad to see the link to the tinkertoys PDF available; the last time I looked,a couple years back, somebody was SELLING it, and it was very hard to find on-line for free.

One of my main go-0to accessories is the old door-sized panel from Lightform. The clamps to hold the panels at angles are SUPER-valuable to have--really,worth every single cent they cost.

A tip: if you want a great, ready-made accessory, look into a low-cost, steel-tube style rolling laundry hanging rack, like these from WalMart:

Rolling Adjustable Garment Hanging Rack -

The rolling racks make a fantastic way to hold a tall panel up, off the floor, and to have a castor base, and a way to suspend, and tilt and angle, the panel.
This strobist review ( me totally searching my library catalog on the off chance of some old VHS tapes, but no luck!

I'd love to see some shots of your garment rack in suspending tilting and angling action. Mr. Squirrels is going to do some serious eyerolling about the tinker tube empire I'm thinking of building as soon as I clean the basement for it. :mrgreen:
I've got the laundry rack packed and in storage, but do have the clamps and a panel or two around. Here's a quick iPhone snap I just did of the clamp system. The black, rubber expanding plug is what goes into the female receptacles that are on the OUTSIDE, centers, of any panel; the plug is pushed in, and then the T- is turned; the washer, and the bolt that runs thru the plug, forces the rubber to expand,and is a simple "expansion plug" type of system.

The lightstands, or laundry rack, or any other type of "pipe", fits into the V-block on the right hand side. One of these clamps is used on the left and the right side of any panel that is to be suspended, or angle/tilted.

The left side can rotate, and the tension holds the panel tightly. Does this make sense?

$Lightform Attaching clamp.jpg
Those clamps are genius. They're clearly made by sawing off inch-long hunks of a couple different standard extrusions, and then doing a little drilling and tapping. I love engineering like that.
Ahh! That is cool.

Here's a quick sketch I just drew out, showing the rolling laundry stand I used for so many years. Here on the left, the panel is mounted straight up and down, and seen from the front. To tilt it up, all you need to do is loosen the expansion block T-bolt a bit, and pull on the top of the PVF frame, and when the desired angle is reached, lock the T handle...presto...45 degree angle [shown in the small inset drawing on the right hand side,m sloppy I know, but hey], or whatever angle is right. With the whole panel on rolling castors, it never gets knocked over--it ROLLS along the floor when bumped into. You can add weight to the bottom if needed, like adding gravel inside the pipes, or a few bricks in a basket, whatever.

This is called a "rolling flat" when made of solid materials...rolling flats are usually boards, and covered with solid poster board, or are white-painted and HEAVY, and non-portable...these are light and some of the rolling laundry stands are made with slip-together steel pipes,light gauge, and easy to disassemble.
Super cool! Thanks Derrel. Now, to come up with my own superclamp. Mwahahaha!
Here's a quick drawing of a ONE-light studio flash setup that Collins demo'd. It gives a butterfly lighting effect, so it's good for women, and is fairly soft, not showing a "lot" of texture. It gives a beautiful under-the-chin catchlight in the lower eyeball, which adds a lot of dimensionality to a portrait or headshot. SOME of the light is allowed to spill over the top, front edge of the top panel. This is often called "clamshell" lighting, due to the way the main light and reflector are placed so,so close, and are almost "hinged" att the back, and the camera peers right thru the opening.

The light coming over the top panel's front edge can be softened with a snap-on diffuser, or a honeycomb grid, or whatever is needed. This light will not go through the panel; it can be used to light the top of the hair, and some of it will likely hit the background's top area. With studio flash, it doesn't take a lot of power to light the hair with "raw", undiffused light, so a 35 degree grid or Speedotron brand mylar snap-on diffuser is a good idea.

The majority of the light from the 50- to 65-degree parabolic reflector (think Speedotron 11.5 inch parabolic reflector) will go through the top panel's white fabric and be diffused, soft light. The bottom panel will also catch some of the light, and reflect it, upwardly.

A partner and I used this on our first-ever for-pay shoot in the mid 1980's,and the results were a series of lovely headshots of a young model,seated on a posing stool, as shown. We had only one studio flash, a Sunpak MS-4000 monolight (400 Watt-seconds). This required 2 panels,2 white fabrics, two stands, a boomstand and arm, and 4 of the positioning clamps I showed above. The key is how the lights and reflectors are positioned. My sketch is not good enough to do this setup justice; this is why Amolitor's "don't be a recipe follower" advice from last week makes sense. MY DRAWING is not very good, but it's "fundamentally" accurate, but in "real life" this setup would def. need modifying and fine-tuning depending on several factors.

$Dean Collins setup.jpg
I can see how the tinker tubes adjustable light box 16 (page 9) is totally set up for butterfly lighting. :thumbup: Having everything right there ready to be tweaked does seem pretty cool. The intentional spilling of the light over the panel is 201 level thinking in my book. Ooo!

I was never any good at cooking on the fly until I learned to at least start with a recipe or at least read up on several good cookbooks first. :mrgreen:
Yes, the adjustable light box 16 is VERY similar to what I diagrammed, except that the panels are mounted on light stands, and the light is mounted on a separate boom stand. The ability to allow the light to shoot over the top of the top diffusion panel really depends on having the light moveable, and not fixed into one,particular spot.

If you'll notice the "Lighthouse 48" item: that could be made from two, individual horizontal format panels, clipped together, and mounted onto a...rolling laundry cart... Of course, that would be for using it floor-mounted in tall orientation. It could also be free-standing on the floor. Google "V-flats"...

I can see one thing for sure: a LOT of the accessories made out of PVC are a lot of extra work,and in many ways,limit versatility, but maximize economy and DIY ethos. IF a person has a couple of sets of the clamps I referenced above, then there is absolutely NO NEED to make all of the support stuff out of PVC...simple light stands, or anything made of pipe, and with a weighted base, would work as well, or better. In many cases, better.

The other thing about the TinkerToy project is that being locked into ONE,specific light placement behind the panels negates a HUGE part of the reason that panel lighting is so flexible; not being able to vary the placement of the light, in relation to the diffusing material, is throwing away a large part of the versatility of panel/scrim lighting. No offense meant, but it's the truth.

There's a guy on the web that sells a book devoted entirely to lighting professionally with scrims/panels. Lighting Magik?
Hmmm. I see what you are saying about limiting light placement options. That's a darn good point. Not to mention, that's an awful lot of little pieces of PVC!

There is a something to be said for economy, though. If I'd had actual light stands I wouldn't have been jousting my way through home depot today!

Googling V flats. :study:
This strobist review (Strobist: Review: The Best of Dean Collins on Lighting)had me totally searching my library catalog on the off chance of some old VHS tapes, but no luck!
Dean Collins is one of my photographic heroes. Keep an eye out on ebay. Video tapes and Finelight Series materials come up there fairly often. Here's a current one:

Commercial Illustration Vol 1 VHS Video Dean Collins Photography Studio Artist | eBay

Also, these are kinda pricey, but I have them and love them: Photoshop Training and Photography Training Tutorials - Software Cinema - Trainers :: Dean Collins

You can find deals on used ones sometimes on ebay and even Amazon.

Speaking of Amazon, I have this book, and love it as well: Photographic Global Notes: A Dean Collins Production (v. 1 & 2): Tim Mantoani: 9781883403232: Books From my POV, it's WELL worth the used price.
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