Main Project Inspirations

For my final project for Aesthetics of Design, I want to make an ultralight camera tripod. As a semi-professional expedition photographer, I am always torn on the decision on whether or not to bring a tripod with me. My tripod is almost always the heaviest piece of camera gear I carry, and I frequently leave it behind for longer trips like backpacking or multi-day climbs. But I always end up wishing I had brought it, as stable time lapses and long exposure night photography are usually some of my best shots from a trip. 

This dilemma was particularly difficult this summer when I was hired by a guiding company to shoot photos and video of their expeditions on Denali, the highest peak in North America. While planning for this trip I knew would be carrying over 100 pounds of gear and food with me for the entire 24 day expedition, and this was before factoring in the camera equipment I would need to do my job. I really did not want to bring my two-pound tripod, already considered somewhat light. Why would I go to such great lengths to find lightweight jackets and skis when I would gain all that weight back with one heavy tripod? But when I thought of the time lapses I could capture of the sun circling the mountain and clouds flowing through the glacier valleys, I knew I would regret it forever if I didn’t bring it. I scoured the internet for lightweight tripods, but I couldn’t find any that were substantially lighter than the one I already had that weren’t made out of cheap plastic or completely out of my budget. This is when I had an idea.

I didn’t need to use 90% of the features of my heavy tripod. All I wanted was three legs, and a mount to connect a ball head. I didn’t need it to extend, I didn’t need multiple positions, and I needed it to be as light as possible. Being a mechanical engineering student, I designed a prototype in CAD and 3d printed a simple frame to connect to some carbon fiber tubes I had leftover from another project. This tripod performed very well on Denali, enabling me to capture shots that wouldn’t have been possible without a tripod while sparing me the weight for the entire expedition.

But it wasn’t perfect. For starters, the 3d printed frame contracted in the cold, making it impossible to get the carbon fiber tubes out. And I used carbon tubes I just happened to have from another project. They need up being too small and not long enough to really make an effective tripod. Also the only way to set up and lock the tripod to shoot was by tightening screws on the side of it, and when I wanted to pack it up, I would just take the rods out of the frame and they would all be stored loose in my backpack.For my project, I want to redesign this tripod out of more durable and stable materials, improve the design for usability, and implement a fluid, futuristic aesthetic for the whole project.

The Aesthetic I want to implement is part functional and part decorative. I want to emulate the structure of aluminum climbing cams. These pieces of equipment are designed to be as light as possible while still holding the impact forces associated with a climbing fall. As a result, they have interesting geometry, and their design is visually intriguing. I want to emulate this on the tripod by milling it out of aluminum, and drilling out any unnecessary material.

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