DIY Camera Strap- The tactile art of photography

For me taking pictures is partly a tactile activity. The feel of the camera, the click of the aperture dial, the-ever-so faint sound of the leaf shutter all contribute to the experience of making photographs. How the camera feels, sounds, and looks is important to me.  Not just because I like cool-looking cameras. It’s because the camera can bring an important value to the picture-making process both in terms of enjoyment and picture quality.

Most cameras that you can buy today will make great pictures. There are a limited few though that will make a great picture-making process, though. If you are all about the end product, then choosing a camera is easy. Just look for the best image quality you can buy and be done with it.

If you are like me, though, and you really want to enjoy the experience of taking a picture, then not just any camera will do. I would assert (without any real evidence) that having equipment that brings you more joy in the process will also help you to make better images.

Out with Rita on a stormy late Summer evening on the Portland waterfront taking pictures.

Out with Rita on a stormy late Summer evening on the Portland waterfront taking pictures.

I was reminded of this recently when I took my new camera (fujifilm X100) out for a spin in downtown Portland. What I love about this camera is that all the main settings are done with physical dials. You can actually set all your exposure parameters with the camera turned off. Once you set the camera up for the type of shooting you are doing, there is little or no need to look at a LCD screen. That’s how I shot  that day. It was a wonderful experience. Not since I shot black and white film with my old Minolta SRT 101 film camera have I had that kind of an experience with a camera.

Another shot from the stormy day Rita and I spent downtown Portland on the waterfront.

Another shot from the stormy day Rita and I spent downtown Portland on the waterfront.

After a while I hardly noticed the camera at all. I would scan the scene for some interesting composition and without missing a beat lift the camera to my eye and examine that composition again through the viewfinder. If it still looked good I’d push the shutter button and move on.

Portland's Steel Bridge in the background.

Portland’s Steel Bridge in the background.

I had forgotten how much button pushing , changing settings, and staring at LCD screens has gotten in the way of being present in the act of photography. I wonder if all the button mashing and LCD looking causes photographers to miss something? If you are focusing on the camera you are not focusing on the scene. This camera just simply got out of the way and let me take pictures. A camera that does that AND takes great pictures is OK by me.

*image from thecamerasite.net. This was my first "real" camera. The physical controls were great. It had a solid heft and felt really nice in the hand.

*image from thecamerasite.net. This was my first “real” camera. The physical controls were great. It had a solid heft and felt really nice in the hand.

There is something transformative about the experience of photographing something. You just experience it in a different way. When you are looking at light, color, composition, subject etc. you tend to see a scene in more detail and notice things that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I really like that.

Paradoxically the camera allows you to both connect deeper to the scene and you examine it intensely and it puts you in the role of voyeur. You find yourself looking at the scene through a window. There is something about having that buffer that works for me, though. That separate connectedness with the world around me just feels right, and it’s one of the things I love about taking pictures.

I captured this beautiful sky in Montana on my way back to Oregon. There was not a tree in sight. You can see why they call it big sky country.

I captured this beautiful sky in Montana on my way back to Oregon after a trip last spring. There was not a tree in sight. You can see why they call it big sky country.

I guess I’ve always been a process over product kind of guy. Something as insignificant as a camera strap might not be a big deal to some, but to me it’s vital. The tactile quality of a good camera strap can really contribute to the experience.

A good camera strap hangs the camera just where it needs to be and allows for rapid camera deployment when the photographer is ready to take a shot. And for me, it must feel good around my neck. The camera should be secure. I should be absolutely confident that the strap will hold and that the camera won’t bounce around as I move.

I just happened to have my camera with me one late summer day when Ella was running through a field at the end of the street. From this field you can see Mt St Helens and Mt Hood on a clear day.

I just happened to have my camera with me one late summer day when Ella was running through a field at the end of the street. From this field you can see Mt St Helens and Mt Hood on a clear day.

I have a thin leather strap on my  other camera (Olympus EP3 )that I really love. It’s a simple and made of supple leather. I can throw it across one shoulder and let the camera hang at my hip. With this strap I can lift the camera to my eye and take a picture without having to fiddle with the strap at all.

The leather just moves as it needs, and it’s both strong and functional. It has just the right amount of friction to keep the strap in place and just the right amount of slipperyness to allow it to slide across my shoulder easily as I raise the camera to my eye. After I take the picture I lower the camera to my hip and it goes right back where it was. Perfect.

Here's a gritty black and white of an abandoned warehouse near the river. I took this one with my Olympus EP3.

Here’s a gritty black and white of an abandoned warehouse near the river. I took this one with my Olympus EP3.

I wanted something like that for my x100. There are some online that can be had for 50 bucks or so. They look great and would do just what I’m looking for. I was interested, though, in something hand-made. The idea of making my own camera strap just sounded too fun to pass up.  In Portland we have a leather shop downtown. My idea was to head out there and have the guys help me to get what I needed to build my own strap. That’s just what they did.

This is a great store. They've been in this spot for a million years. If you need anything leather related this is the place to go.

This is a great store. They’ve been in this spot for a million years. If you need anything leather related this is the place to go.

I brought in my camera so that I could better describe what I wanted to the guys there. What I had in mind was a half inch wide piece of black leather that was supple and not stiff. Stiff leather would make the camera bounce around too much instead of hang like it’s supposed to. I also needed some good D rings and a way to fasten the ends. A bit of digging around and the clerk found everything I needed. Cost was around 10 bucks. I left the store with 5 feet of leather, 2 D rings, and 2 Chicago screws (pinch screws).

I saw online somewhere a hand-made camera strap that used colored thread wrapped around the end to keep everything tight and add a bit of color. My camera sits in a beautiful leather half case that has a red lining. I had the idea to wind red cord around the ends of the strap.

camers strap

On my way home i stopped by the fabric store and went to the leather section. They had leather working tools, rivets, needles, and all sorts of things you’d need to work with leather. In that section I found some red cord. It’s thicker than thread and it’s coated in wax. It’s made specifically for leather. 5 bucks. Kind of spendy but I thought it’d be perfect. I also grabbed a large needle as I wasn’t sure if we had any at home.

Here’s my supplies: 5 feet of half inch leather, 2 D rings, 2 pinch screws, and some thread.

camera strap

Here’s my supplies. 5 feet of half inch leather, 2 D rings, 2 pinch screws, and some thread.

The procedure is fairly simple. I put on the D ring and folded the end of the leather the way I wanted it to go. I laid it on a scrap piece of wood and drilled a hole all the way through with my portable drill and a sharp bit. I put one end of the pinch screw on one side and the other on the other and pushed them together and tightened with a screwdriver. That’s it! Looks like this when done.

D ring and pinch screw installed.

After holding the end up next to the camera, I was a bit worried that the D ring would rub against the side of my camera and scratch off the paint. I took a leather spacer piece that came with my old strap that was designed to protect the finish from strap rubbing and incorporated it into my new strap. I had to undo the pinch bolt and thread the leather piece in. You can see it in the picture below.

On the end of the strap you can see the leather piece that came with my old strap. It covers the D ring pretty well and has a hole at the end so that it can be attached to the camera.

On the end of the strap you can see the leather piece that came with my old strap. It covers the D ring pretty well and has a hole at the end so that it can be attached to the camera.

I could’ve stopped here, and this would be fine–but I really want to wind the thread over the end to keep the D ring tight and hold the pinch bolt in. Here’s how I did it.

I wound the end of the thread through the pinch screw to secure one end and then proceeded to wrap the thread tightly around starting at the D ring and working my way down.

I wound the end of the thread through the pinch screw to secure one end and then proceeded to wrap the thread tightly around starting at the D ring and working my way down.

Once I got to the end I threaded a needle and fed the end back through the wrap. I did this a few times to make sure it'd stick. The wax really made the thread hold fast though.

Once I got to the end I threaded a needle and fed the end back through the wrap. I did this a few times to make sure it’d stick. The wax really made the thread hold fast though.

I cut a piece from an old belt that I found at Goodwill and made some slits in it to serve as a neck pad. Not necessary, but why not? I placed this on the strap before doing the other end. You can see it in the picture below.

I found this cool belt at Goodwill that had leather strips woven into the sides. I removed the strips and weaved in my red waxed thread. I was able to cut the belt to size using scissors and an xacto knife made easy work of cutting the slits for the strap.

I found this cool belt at Goodwill that had leather strips woven into the sides. I removed the strips and weaved in my red waxed thread. I was able to cut the belt to size using scissors and an xacto knife made easy work of cutting the slits for the strap.

I followed the same procedure for the other side. Took about 45 minutes start to finish. Cost about 15 bucks. I love it so much better than the strap that came with my camera. It works just as I wanted it to. The leather is soft and supple and slides across my shirt effortlessly as I lift the camera to my eye. The pinch screws and heavy-duty D rings give me confidence that the strap will hold and last. That’s important. Plus it looks way awesome!

Oh, and is this the sexiest damn camera you ever saw? (Rhetorical question because you know it is.)

I rewound the red cord a bit tighter. Didn't like how it looked the first time through.

I rewound the red cord a bit tighter. Didn’t like how it looked the first time through.

And that’s it–10 bucks, a little bit of time, and a strap that adds a whole lot to my experience of taking photos when I’m out in the world.