Studio Light Stands - A buying guide

Outfitting Your Studio with Light Stands

When you start getting into studio photography, either a home studio or a professional set up, you can't get around the fact that you need equipment hold up your lights, reflectors etc. These are not the most exciting pieces of photography equipment to buy. I'd put it way down the list way after a new camera, lens, flash, studio light, background or even reflector. Perhaps light stands are the most boring piece of equipment in your kit but they are also very essential unless you have a bunch of people hanging around to hold up your lights, umbrellas, softboxes and reflectors.

Probably the stand you are most familiar with is the one that hold your camera, the tripod. A tripod is very similar to the other stands in the studio although its much better designed since its crucial to securely hold your heavy and expensive cameras and lens plus it needs to be infinitely adjustable.

Light stands and reflector stands don't need to be as flexible or as heavy weight and manufacturers know that photographers don't want to spend a lot of money on them, they are typically a lot cheaper then tripods. Where tripods start at around $100, some light stands can be as cheap as $15.


Cheap Vs. Quality

When I started outfitting my studio I was dealing with trying to find inexpensive stands to attach my strobes or speedlights. I picked up a few of the cheap stands from Cowboy Studios one of the leaders in marketing low end studio equipment for photographers on a budget.

Like anything, you get what you pay for. The stands were fine for lightweight work but later when I upgraded to an Alien Bees studio strobe (much heavier then the little battery powered flash units), I found myself making sandbags out of old socks and weighting down the stands to keep them from falling over. One also ended up breaking after a few months of use. Its still useable but won't stay up at is highest setting.

As an upgrade I got a $50 air-cushioned heavy duty light stand from Impact. The difference in thickness of the stand, quality of the operation and overall quality of the materials is outstanding. Not only is it more beefy and rugged, the stand also has an air-cushioned action so when you lower your equipment, they don't get jarred by a sudden drop.

Non-Standard Light Stands

Typical or common light stands just have a straight up pole and can fold down to different sizes depending on the number of sections and their size. Other more niche oriented stands are available in all kinds of styles to meet the needs of photographers for getting lights into certain positions or holding various pieces of equipment. There are even dolly versions so you can roll the stands around the studio. Some of the other styles include boom stands which can allow the lights to float over a set up, holding backgrounds, arms for holding reflectors or even products etc. Basically if there is a need, someone has designed a light stand to meet that need. It just depends on your budget on how fancy you want to go.

Accessories for Light Stands

Depending on your use of the light stand, the stand itself might only be the beginning of your purchase. To hold a speedlight or flash unit to the stand you'll have to buy a bracket make for this purpose. Look for one that includes an umbrella hole so you can mount a shoot through or bounce umbrella. Softboxes may require the purchase of additional "J" style brackets to mount on the light stand with a flash.

My Alien Bees simply attached to the top of the light stand. Note that these light stands typically a post style mount, not a screw type as found on tripods.

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