As usual, in pursuit of inexpensive camera supplies I set out to find a good alternative to commercial grade photography bean bags.
To those of you who are new to macro, bean bags are very a useful tool for subjects that lie very low to the ground. Even if you are fortunate enough to own a tripod that can be adjusted to lie quite flat, some subjects remain either too delicate or too short to work well with a tripod. Therefore, the next best solution is a bean bag. It is a very simple and easy-to-use tool that will often reward the photographer sharp images that would otherwise be impossible to make. To use the bean-bag you simply place it near your subject, sit the camera on top and apply pressure with both hands while pressing the shutter. It is (sounds as) simple as that.
One would think that finding a bean bag would be really simple in any craft store or mega-mart but I found this to not be the case. The ones that I did find were just too small for my purposes. To be useful, you really need a bag that is somewhere in the neighborhood of approximately 8" x 10" (for a pro grade slr). You also need a bag that can be sufficiently thick enough to allow your camera to sink into the beans, pebbles, etc. that fill the bag. So, the solution turned out to be a $3.00 jumbo pencil case from the school supplies aisle at my local grocery store. Not only is it cheap, tough and affordable but it also didn't require me to alter it any way– I had considered sewing my own. Another bonus is that it is really handy for carrying filters, etc when I'm traveling and I can remove the beans before packing to avoid unnecessary weight. When I arrive in a location where the bag will be needed I can simply stop by any supermarket and purchase some dry beans to fill it up. Also, I can use the beans to make a trail so that I don't get lost in the woods or feed an angry bean-eating bear on the attack. Okay, those two scenarios only happen 3-5 times a year but you get the idea.
Hope this helps.