The simple guide of light stands
Regardless if you are a beginner in this industry or a seasonal photographer, knowing what is the right equipment to use will lead to great results and also a hassle-free work.
Focusing mostly on choosing the best lighting gear for the job, one may overlook the importance of using proper support, the foundation of every complex lighting setup.
Types of light stands
Next, we are breaking down the main types of light stands using different criteria so everyone can know what to rely on to get the job done.
All stands and rigging hardware are identified by either "baby" 16mm (5/8") pin or "junior" 28mm (1-1/8") receiver mount.
The baby stands are the go-to standard of the light stands, they are lightweight and compact and mostly fit small to medium sized lights or accessories.
The junior stands are more robust and heavy-duty, designed to hold heavier lighting fixtures equipped with a 28mm stud.
The baby stands are general purpose stands mostly used by photographers, but recently gained popularity in both filmmaking industry and news crews due to their lightweight and foldable construction. The typical payload is around 5kg and can easily collapse for transport and storage, being portable enough to be taken to any location.
The combo stands are the most common type of junior stands that use both 1-1/8” junior receiver and 5/8” baby pin, hence the name “combo”. These were originally designed to be used on mobile or location productions and hold both lighting units and reflectors.
The C-stands (short for century stands) are multipurpose grip stands designed to support flags, nets, reflectors but also for rigging small lights, especially when they need to be cantilevered out on a gobo arm. The C-stands come with top 5/8” baby pin and are considered to be the workhorse of the filmmaking industry, being the most versatile stand on film sets.
A low-boy is a type of junior stand that is used for mounting lights and accessories (most commonly sliders) at lower heights (0.7 - 2m) than a typical combo stand can provide.
Overhead stands are heavy-duty stands that offer high load capacity at maximum height. They are designed primary for large backdrops and heavy overhead lights.
The standard base is a 3-leg spreader similar to a camera tripod and is the most common type used by photographers. A very important aspect to consider is the footprint diameter which can vary and could be an issue when used in a tight studio.
The wheeled stands use roller bases which make the stands a lot easier to move around the studio, especially with heavy equipment. These wider roller bases are designed for extra stability and are generally featured by the overhead stands, also called high rollers in the industry.
The C-stands are the most stable, durable and robust stands with a “turtle” base design with legs staggered in height (high, medium and low) in order to fit better around the furniture and other stands. These are the heavy-duty stands which can support more weight than any other stand.
Maximum payload and risers connection
When choosing the proper light stand to use, the first thing you have to consider is the load capacity meaning the maximum weight it can support while remaining stable and safe to use. Invest in a suitable light stand for your gear even if sometimes this means levelling up from those basic general-purpose stands if they don't match the weight you are loading on top. To overlook this aspect means endangering the subject, working team and the whole equipment you've put your money into.
The height of a light stand can be adjusted by extending and locking the stand’s sections into the desired position. This a very convenient feature but be aware of the strong link between the number of sections and how they influence the overall payload. As a general rule, you can consider the maximum payload of a light stand with all its sections half extended.
Pay attention to the minimum and maximum height. The more sections a stand has, the higher it extends and the lower it collapses but keep in mind that more sections mean less overall stability and load capacity. To ensure a stable rig, you have to use sandbags to weigh down your stand, especially when the installed equipment is off the light stand axis.
Key features to consider
The lightweight stands with reverse legs are the most compact light stands, perfect for travel and tight studio spaces. The legs can be folded around the central to take up as little space as possible when stored.
The sliding legs of C-stands allow the stand to adapt and secure it to uneven terrain such as stairs, off curbs or even to high objects such as desks or counter tops. Particularly useful when using the stand on location or even outdoors.
The adjustable "rocky-mountain" leg is a feature some standard light stands have and is used to level the stand on uneven terrain, just like the sliding legs of a C-stands.
While many stands feature a simple spring to protect the equipment when lowering the stand sections, the air-cushioning /pneumatic is a feature that protects the equipment further more by preventing it from dropping too quickly, therefore reducing the likelihood of damage.
Accessories to make them more versatile
To increase the stability of a light stand, use sand bags to weight them down and ensure a safe operation with your equipment. We can’t stress this enough about how important is to keep your equipment stable when mounted and your subject safe on a set.
Mounting additional wheels on compatible light stands increases the mobility of the lighting equipment, very useful especially for the heavy ones.
Designed to add more height to a light stand, these extensions can be a very good solution but be aware that the load capacity is reduced and they adversely affect stability.
Use boom arms to extend the mounted equipment away from the stand central column. The most common setup used in the filmmaking industry is the combo of a C-stand with boom arm. Make sure to counterbalance of the weight of the equipment so it doesn’t fall off.
Tips for stand operation
“Righty tighty” and “lefty loosey”- the T-handles that are used for the stands columns and legs tighten when turned to the right (clockwise) and loosen when turned to the left (counter-clockwise).
Get the help you need when mounting larger equipment on a stand to avoid causing injuries or damages.
Begin with extending the top riser first to keep the mounted light into your reach, unless it’s a slightly heavier light for the stand; in that case, you can boost your stand’s strength by not using the first riser or using just a small part of it.
Weigh down any raised stand. The general rule is one sandbag per riser. If you extend all three risers of a stand, you have to use 3 sandbags on each leg so that the weight rests on the stands base, not on the floor.
Consider the maximum payload by only half extending all of the stands sections.