In this blog post, I (a person admittedly without carpentry skills) will offer step-by-step DIY instructions on how you can build a rock solid (semi-permanent) camera platform out of wood, even if you (like me) have only rudimentary skills and tools available to you. In a future post I’ll cover how to build a temporary/portable camera platform.
Before we get started, there are a few things to keep in mind when building camera & operator platforms. They are …
A) Camera shake is often caused by a camera operator him/herself! So, to minimize camera shake it is important to keep the camera and the operator on separate platforms with a gap separating them so the platforms are not in physical contact with each other. Your operator can them move around as much as they want without it affecting the camera.
B) Camera shake might also be caused by flooring in the venue if it flexes (even slightly), for example when people walk near the camera platform or by vibrations from loud and low frequency sound pressures (as in from sub woofers). Also consider that some venues are built above or near things that vibrate, like subway train stations, which may also cause camera shake. It is therefore helpful to have your camera platform be as heavy as possible and for all materials to be secured tightly using a combination of glue and screws.
C) Make sure that your camera tripod is sufficiently heavy and rigid, capable of carrying a payload well beyond your camera’s actual weight alone to aid in minimizing camera shake. It may be necessary to add weight to the tripod (and the camera) to minimize shake. Sandbags, tied mid-leg or higher on the tripod is often helpful.
D) The amount of camera shake visible is usually proportional to the lens focal length you are shooting with to achieve your desired field of view. Thus (for example), a 300mm focal length lens will appear to have more shake than a 150mm focal length lens (at a similar field of view but closer to the talent). Therefore when all else fails, moving the camera closer to talent simultaneously decreasing the lens focal length will reduce visible camera shake.
E) Platform width, depth & height: As mentioned above, it is recommended to have the camera and the operator on separate platforms. An industry standard width and depth for the camera-section platform is 4’ wide x 4’ deep. It is possible to go with a slightly smaller platform than 4’ x 4’, especially if your camera’s tripod has a smaller footprint than 4’ x 4’ when fully extended widthwise, or if space in the venue is at an unusual premium. In general, it is always best to set up your tripod at its widest & lowest (vertical) height, that will still achieve the desired lens height necessary. For most tripods, that’s 4′ wide x 4′ deep.
As mentioned, the height of the camera-section platform should be that which allows the tripod legs to be spread as wide as possible with the legs extended vertically the minimum to achieve the desired lens height. For “main cameras” (tight follow and/or loose follow center at the back of the house cameras) the desired lens height will typically be that which is necessary so the lens is at eye-line level to the talent including the height of the stage. Thus, if (for example) your venue’s flooring is flat (not raked), and your stage platform is 36″ high, and your tripod is most stable (widthwise extended fully and vertically extended minimally) at a lens height of about 41″ tall, then your camera-section platform may be as much as 64″-65″ tall. A platform this tall usually requires it to be behind all audience seating, at the back of the house.
A typical width and depth for the operator-section of the platform is also 4’ x 4’ (which means the combination camera & operator platforms will have a slightly larger total footprint than 4’ x 8’). Again, it is possible to go with a slightly smaller operator-section platform (for example 4’ x 3’) however the space savings in doing so is marginal and may not be worthwhile considering what you may be giving up in camera movement or camera operator comfort. A 4’ x 4’ operator-section platform allows adequate room for an operator, a chair and a comfortable operating distance between the camera and its camera operator.
The operator-section platform may be the same height as the camera -section platform, or taller, or shorter; subject to the height of the camera operator chair (if any) and the position of the camera’s viewfinder. Ideally, the camera operator’s eyes should be level to the viewfinder, or the camera operator should be looking downward 15-20 degrees toward the viewfinder. To mitigate strain on the operator, the camera operator’s head and eyes should not be below the viewfinder forcing him/her to look upward.
Here is what you’ll need – a parts list (per platform):
QTY 16 (apprx.)
2″ x 6″ (which are actually 1-1/2″ x 5-1/2″) x 48” long wood joist
2″ x 6″ x 45” long wood joist
1″ x 6″ (actually 3/4″ x 5-1/2″) x (TBD long) wood legs
3/4” thick plywood, 48” wide x 48” long
2.5” – 3” long wood screws
2.25” long wood screws
1.5” long wood screws
OK, here we go …
STEP #1 Cut two 2″ x 6″ (which actually will be 1-1/2″ x 5-1/2″) to 48” in length
STEP #2 Cut another two 2″ x 6″ (which actually will be 1-1/2″ x 5-1/2″), this time 45” in length
STEP #3 Lay the two 48” 2″x 6″ out parallel to each other with the two 45” 2″ x 6″ inbetween, to create a total 48” x 48” (x 5.5” tall) square. This square will be the floor joists your plywood floor will go on later.
STEP #4 Drill four pilot holes (two on each end) of each 48” long 2×6’s, into the 45″ 2×6’s, each hole about ¾” in from the corners
STEP #5 Using (8) 2.5”-3” long wood screws, screw together the two 48” and two 45” 2x 6s (through the pilot holes)
STEP #6 Lay the 48” x 48” x 3/4” thick plywood on top of the 48” x 48” (x 5.5” tall) box
STEP #7 Drill (at least) eight pilot holes (two on each corner of the plywood), each hole at least 3” in from the corners (additional holes mid 2×6, and/or wood glue can be used as well)
STEP #8 Using (8, or more if you drilled additional holes) 1.5” long wood screws, screw the 48” x 48” x 3/4” plywood onto the 48” x 48” x 5.5” frame. The total height is now 6.25”
STEP #9 Flip the frame upside down so the 48” x 48” plywood deck is now temporarily on the bottom
STEP #10 Cut (8) 1″ x 6″ (which will be 3/4″ x 5-1/2″ actually) to your desired platform height minus, 3/4″. In other words, if you want your camera platform to be a total of 42” tall, cut the (8) 1″ x 6″ leg planks to be 41.23” in length.
STEP #11 Glue and nail (2) 1″ x 6″ together at right angles. Repeat four times, creating (4) hog troughs.
STEP #12 Place one hog trough in each corner of the floor joist frame
STEP #13 Using (16) 2.25” long wood screws (four per hog trough) screw through the 2”x6” floor joist frame attaching the the hog trough legs to the 2x6s. Each side of the hog trough leg should be screwed to the frame in a diagonal pattern
STEP #14 If the total platform height is over 2ft tall, use 1” x 3” (3/4” x 2.5” actual) wood strapping to tie each hog trough leg together to the next, diagonally. The total length of each 1” x 3” strapping will be subject to the height of the platform (for example, if the platform total height is 42” the strapping will be approximately 55.5”). Use a tape measure to confirm. Repeat (one strapping each) for all four sides of the platform.
STEP #15 Repeat steps #1 through #14 so you have matching “camera” and “operator” platforms, or make the camera-operator platform taller or shorter as needed.
STEP #16 Paint or carpet the plywood platform top as desired and staple felt (or duvetyne) fabric to the 2×6 joists allowing the bottom of the fabric skirt to hang free covering the platform’s legs.
STEP #17 Place the camera and operator platforms ½” to 1” apart so they are not touching.
STEP #18 If codes in your area or the height of the platform require a safety rail for the camera operator, Hollaender speed-rail offers all the parts and pieces needed to create a low profile but strong hand rail:
Here is a suggested list and links:
Tom D’Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys. As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.