The VML Bracket Story
As professional photographers, we spend a great deal of time (and money) trying various products during our career. You can tell almost instantly with some if they’re going to work for you or not, while it can take years to find just the right one of other products (camera bags, for example). Within the last few years I started working with studio lighting outdoors for senior portrait work, and after some trial and error I decided to go with Alien Bees strobes from Paul C. Buff. In order to shoot on location, I needed a portable power source and initially began using the PCB’s Vagabond II battery pack. Due to it’s size and weight, it was challenging to use and carry around. But the trade off was it was reliable, consistent, and it allowed me to use my strobes on location. Needless to say, when Paul C. Buff released his newest battery pack, the Vagabond Mini Lithium (VML), I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get my hands on one!
After patiently waiting for my new VML, it finally arrived and I immediately put it to work. It was all that I had hoped it would be, except for one small thing…the plastic light stand clamp that came with it. While it was a good design in theory, and I knew that PCB had the best of intentions by providing at least some way to attach the VML to a light stand, it simply wasn’t adequate enough. Using the provided clamp, the VML simply wouldn’t stay attached to any of my light stands and I knew it was just a matter of time before my VML took one too many falls and broke completely. So, I began doing what every other photographer I knew that used the VML was doing…just hanging it by the carrying strap around one of the knobs on my light stand. While this did work, it wasn’t really the best option for keeping the VML from swinging all over the place during a shoot. Especially when you had to move the light stand a dozen times. I got tired of the swinging around, banging into the light stand (and me), and wondering how long it would be before something happened to the VML to render it useless. So, I began looking for other solutions to mounting it securely to a light stand.
My initial research led me to dozens of make-shift solutions that photographers from all over the world had hand-crafted themselves using whatever they could find laying around the garage, or in that “miscellaneous” drawer in the kitchen (you know the one I’m talking about). While they all had their merits, and all seemed to work for the photographer who created them, each of them had some serious design flaws that ultimately wasn’t what I was looking for. I knew that a better mounting solution for the VML was needed, and really had no intention of creating an elaborate mass produced bracket of any kind. But I knew what I was doing wasn’t working, and that there seemed to be A LOT of other photographers out there with the same thought I had…
“Why isn’t there a better solution available for attaching the VML to a light stand”?
After months of toying around with the idea of making my own bracket, I finally gave in to my entrepreneurial spirit and subconsciously got to work doing all the crazy things that people do when they’re in “invent mode”. After a few weeks of gathering various sketches and design ideas that were scribbled on dirty napkins and pieces of old mail, I began putting the pieces together and came up with my first solid design of what would become the VML Bracket (Version 1). To me, the hardest part was over…getting a design from my head to the paper. Now it was only a matter of finding a metal fabrication shop to take my drawings and turn my vision into a physical product. Little did I know how hard this part of the process would be.
Absurd minimum quantities, insanely high production costs, and a genuine lack of desire to work with a small fish in a big pond seemed to be the nature of the beast for several weeks as I waded through manufacturer after manufacturer trying to find one that would work with me on producing the VML Bracket. It became painfully obvious why so many companies have their products manufactured overseas. But I was determined to find a manufacturer in the United States that would work with me, and ironically enough a few days later I finally found one in my own backyard that would! A Colorado based precision metal fabrication shop decided to take on the VML Bracket, and within a few weeks I had the first version of the VML Bracket in my hands!
After introducing the VML Bracket to several photographers (in five states, and three other countries), I began getting some very positive feedback and some suggestions for improvements to the current design. I took these comments and suggestions to heart, and immediately got to work re-designing the VML Bracket. The two main things that photographers wanted to see improved were a quicker way to change out the battery on the VML while it was mounted in the VML Bracket, and a more substantial way of clamping the VML Bracket to a light stand. Taking these things into account, Version 2 of the VML Bracket began to take shape and it was time to talk to the guys at the metal fabrication shop about producing Version 2!
They say that every great invention comes from a need. And while I’m not sure that’s entirely true (no one needed an iPhone, but they’re really cool!), I can say that in this case that saying rings true. The Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium battery pack is a great product, and is an essential part of many lighting set-ups all over the world. But, unfortunately, it just didn’t have the best mounting system for attaching it to a light stand securely. Clearly, there was a need for a better mounting solution for the VML. I’m proud to say that with the help of photographers all over the world, we’ve now met that need!
The VLX Bracket Story
As luck would have it, a few years after I designed and brought to market the VML Bracket, Paul C. Buff decided that it was time to introduce the world to a newer battery pack called the Vagabond Lithium Extreme. This new battery pack promised much better performance than it’s predecessor, the Vagabond Mini Lithium. Any why wouldn’t it? Paul C. Buff is notorious for producing some of the best photography power and strobe equipment on the market (and their customer service is impeccable!).
Almost immediately after the announcement of the new Vagabond Lithium Extreme (VLX) battery pack, my inbox began filling up with requests for a bracket for the VLX like I had designed for the Vagabond Mini Lithium (VML). Not knowing if there would be enough demand for a new bracket for the VLX to offset the cost of designing and manufacturing it, I started putting feelers out to see what people thought about the idea. Then I waited. And waited. And waited some more, until I was finally ready to commit to the arduous task of bringing a new bracket for the VLX battery pack to market.
As was the case with the design of the VML Bracket, there were several sleepless nights, a lot of drawing on the back of napkins and scrap pieces of paper, and the occasional “your in such a grumpy mood” comments from my wife and kids (sorry guys). But after a few months of going back and forth with the design, I finally settled on making the VLX Bracket very similar to the VML Bracket for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, the VML Bracket was a tested and proven design. It has been sold in over 16 Countries around the world, and is currently being used by over a thousand photographers. If it wasn’t a good design, it wouldn’t have been successful. Secondly, I knew that I wanted to continue to incorporate a Manfrotto Super Clamp into the design because of it’s rock solid performance and worldwide availability. A lot of people have questioned the method to my madness when it comes to my choice in clamps, but for me the choice was easy…it doesn’t get much better than the Manfrotto Super Clamp. Period. So, keeping those things in mind, I forged ahead and completed the final design of the VLX Bracket a few weeks later. It probably would have taken anyone else about a day and a half to complete the design, but I think I may be a little OCD, ADD, ADHD, or all of the above. I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but there are days when I wonder about myself. But I digress…
With the design of the VLX Bracket complete, it was time to talk with the engineers at the manufacturing company that I’ve been using for the last several years for the VML Bracket. They’re a great company in Frederick, CO and have always done their best to ensure that my high standards for craftsmanship and quality control have been met or exceeded. When I brought them my design for the VML Bracket several years prior, the back and forth process of nailing down the final design, producing models, and finalizing CAD drawings took nearly two months to complete. This time around, we were done in just under three weeks with only minor issues having to be addressed throughout the process. I attribute the time savings to the fact that the materials used to manufacture the VLX Bracket were identical to the VLX Bracket. 😉
About a week later, I received word that the first batch of VLX Brackets were ready! This has always been a pretty exciting time for me throughout the journey of developing to products for the photography industry…to finally see what I’ve had in my head and on paper for so long come to life as an actual product! As I expected, the fit and finish of the VLX Bracket were exactly what I had hoped for, and I knew it was another product that I was going to be proud to introduce to the photography world.
As is the case with most things that are worthwhile, the process of bring another mounting solution to market for photographers around the world hasn’t been easy. But at the end of the day, the hard work became secondary to the process of creating something that was functional and would better the lives of photographers (and their assistants) who use the Vagabond Lithium Extreme battery packs. I hope you’ll agree.
As always, I’m open to suggestions and comments. So, please feel free to share with me any ideas you have for improving the VML or VLX Brackets. I would also love to see your VML & VLX Brackets in action…so send me some pictures!!
Owner/Photographer of Joe Jack Photography
Inventor of the VML & VLX Brackets