The B&H Light Stand Buying Guide

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Looking for a light stand? Seems like a simple task, until you head to the category and find that there are hundreds of options, each with its own set of features and specifications, which can make the whole experience a little overwhelming. We are here to help. Whether you are a beginner or experienced photographer, choosing the right light stand comes down to answering the same set of questions. This guide will take you through them one at a time.

How Heavy Is Your Light?

The most important job of any light stand is to provide a solid, reliable foundation for whatever it is supporting. Load capacity should be one of the first specifications you consider. This describes the maximum weight a stand is able to safely and reliably endure. It is important that your stand can comfortably support the weight of your light as well as any modifiers or accessories that you plan on using (soft boxes, reflectors, etc.).

Impact Heavy-Duty Light Stand

Add the weight of your light and anything else you plan on attaching to the stand to get a rough idea of what load capacity you need. Make sure there is some cushion between your estimate and the maximum load capacity of the stand. You don’t want to make a habit of pushing the limits of your stand when it is supporting your precious, expensive light. If you can, always opt for a higher load capacity stand because it will be more secure and steady, even with lighter equipment on top.

Key Takeaways:

  • Load capacity is the maximum weight your stand can support.
  • Make sure your stand can hold the combined weight of your light plus any accessories.
  • Always try to have a cushion between your load and the maximum capacity of the stand for added stability.

What Mount Does Your Light Require?

The top mount of your stand should correspond to your light’s mount so you can secure it properly. The most common means of attaching strobes and small- to medium-size continuous lights is via a 5/8" (aka baby) mount. Heavier, production-grade lights may require a 1-1/8" (aka junior) mount.

Impact Folding Wheeled Base Stand

Light stands can be used for more than just lights. If you intend to use your stand for supporting modifiers and other lighting accessories, there are models with grip heads and arms included for exactly this purpose. Some stands also permit studs to be installed both vertically and horizontally, extending the range of positions possible for your lights.

Start your search by checking the mount of your light. Below is an overview of the most common mounts photographers and cinematographers will encounter.

Key Takeaways:

  • 5/8" is the most common mounting system used by still photographers.
  • 1-1/8" mounts are more common when working with lights used for filmmaking.
  • Less common mounting options include: 1/4"-20, 3 /8", 1/2"-13, and M10.

How High and How Low Do You Need Your Light to Go?

There’s no such thing as a light stand that can go too high or too low—but there is such a thing as a light stand that can’t go high or low enough! Make sure you factor in maximum and minimum height when making your purchasing decision. You don’t want to end up with a stand that cannot position your light where you need it most.

While your positioning needs are likely the most important, one thing to consider is that extra sections and extra height can be less stable than shorter stands. You don’t want to get the tallest stand just because you can; you want to find one that is the correct fit.

Key Takeaways:

  • Maximum and minimum height will provide the range the stand offers.
  • Minimum height only refers to the stand’s height; keep in mind your light will sit above this.

Does Your Stand Need to Be Portable?

If you work on location regularly or take your lights along with you on adventures, portability might move up your list of criteria when selecting a stand. You will want to choose a stand that is lightweight and has a small closed length. Be cautious though, as lightweight stands may make some sacrifices to overall stability.

Key Takeaways:

  • Weight: This is a catch-22 for light stands. In terms of portability, weight is going to be at the top of your list. However, before you go searching for the lightest stand on the market, be aware that these stands often give up the stability of heavier stands. If you choose an extremely lightweight stand, you might end up needing to add even more weight back in the form of a sandbag or other support in order to stabilize your setup.
  • Closed Length: While most stands can be collapsed to some degree, the closed length of your stand will determine whether it can be carried in a backpack, squeezed into a carry-on, or require a dedicated case.
  • Sections (aka risers): When you start shopping for a portable light stand, you’ll find the smallest ones often have more sections incorporated into their builds. Note that more sections generally equates less overall stability.
  • Footprint: Tied to portability is the space you are working in. If you anticipate lighting cramped spaces, you will also want to take into consideration a stand’s footprint—how much floor space it requires to be set up. You don’t want to realize your stand cannot fit where you need it to be after making your purchase.

Are There Other Features You May Want?

Stands look simple—most are—but as the industry evolved, manufacturers began adding extra options to their stands to make them more versatile.

Roller Bases/Wheels/Casters

Roller bases, wheels, and casters make your stand easier to move around, especially when using heavy equipment. Wheels can also prevent damage to your floors caused by dragging an immobile stand. If you realize later on that your stand would benefit from being mobile, you can purchase wheels separately and fit them to your stand.

Matthews Low Boy Junior Double Riser Rolling Steel Stand

Air-Cushioning

A feature typically found on general-purpose stands is air-cushioning. This prevents lights from dropping quickly when loosened and reduces the likelihood of pinched fingers or other injuries as well as damage to your equipment.

Impact Heavy-Duty Air-Cushioned Light Stand

Leveling/Sliding Legs

Some stands offer leveling/sliding legs, which are adjustable legs used to secure the position of your stand on uneven terrain. They are particularly useful when working on location, in tight spaces, or outdoors.

Reverse Legs

Designed to fold inward toward the center column of your stand, reverse legs help your stand become more compact when collapsed. This is a desirable feature for photographers who are short on space or plan to travel with their stand.

Matthews MERF Mini Extendable Reverse Stand

Combo/Universal Heads

The Swiss Army knives of the light stand world, combo/universal heads combine multiple types of mounts so that they can be used with a variety of lights and equipment. These are especially desirable in studios where different types of lights are used.

Boom Stands

If you need your light to extend horizontally from the top of your light stand, you will want to choose a model equipped with a boom arm. This will help you position your light exactly where you need it. Be aware that when you use a boom arm, you must counterbalance the weight of your light with a sandbag or other item.

Impact Combo Boom Stand

Grip Heads

Grip heads are multi-functional devices used to secure lighting accessories via 5/8" and 3/8" rods. They can be built into your stand or purchased separately as an accessory.

Color

Worrying about color may at first seem like a superficial concern. However, if you are worried about your stand reflecting light, a painted stand can have practical benefits over a stand with a reflective finish.

What Type of Stand Is Right for Your Light?

Now that you know the basic specs, it is time to figure out what type of stand is best suited for your light. Location photographers, production studios, and live performers each rely on different types of lights and support. Light stands can be broken down into six categories: general-purpose stands, C-stands, crank/wind-up stands, backlight stands, overhead stands, and T-bar stands.

General-Purpose Stands

For everyday use, general-purpose stands provide support for light to moderate usage and are often collapsible for easy storage and transport. Basic stands are versatile and well suited for lower impact applications. Many are lightweight enough to easily carry outside of the studio for location shoots.

C-Stands

A step up from the general stand is the C-stand. These are the industry standard for filmmaking and commercial photo studios. Their popularity stems from their durability, stability, and ease of storage thanks to a standardized shape and design. Their ability to take a beating on set without losing functionality has made them studio favorites. However, unless you are working with a team of assistants, they are generally too heavy and bulky to carry out into the wilderness.

Impact Turtle Base C-Stand Kit

C-stands can also come with plenty of built-in features. Among them is the characteristic “turtle” base, upon which weighted sandbags can be placed to secure positioning. The design of C-stands makes them easy to line up or “soldier” to save space when storing in a ready-to-use position. Some models also offer sliding legs to compensate for uneven surfaces, removable bases, built-in grip heads and boom arms, and more.

Fun Fact: The “C” in C-stand is short for “century,” a unit of measurement used to describe early reflectors that were mounted on them by filmmakers.

Crank/Wind-Up Stands

Designed for installing and adjusting large lights on set, crank/wind-up stands incorporate a crank into their design to raise or lower lights. This makes it easier and safer to precisely position heavy lights.

Global Truss 13' Smart Crank Stand

Backlight Stands

Used for low-angle installations, backlight stands are perfect choices for lighting backgrounds, floor-level lighting, or tabletop shooting. If minimum height is an important spec for your job, a backlight stand may be the way to go. These stands might not even offer center columns so they can get extremely low to the ground, and they usually have a very low maximum height.

Overhead Stands

Sporting a similar look and durability to C-stands, overhead stands offer high load capacities and tall maximum heights. They are primarily intended to support large backdrops, lighting accessories, or overhead lightings. Many incorporate wheels for mobility and grip heads for mounting cross bars or other accessories.

Matthews Medium Overhead Roller Stand

T-Bar Stands

Designed mainly for mounting a series of lights for live events, such as those used by DJs, the T-bar stand does exactly as its name implies—adopting a “T” shape. This allows you to install lights to the left and right of the center column. Some models offer multiple side bars for more elaborate installations.

Accessorizing your Light Stand

Sandbags

Ranking among the most valuable accessories to have at your disposal when working with light stands are sandbags. They have a simple but important role in weighing down your stand, serving to protect it from accidental bumps and tipping over as well as to counterbalance the weight of a light with a large accessory or a boom arm. Sandbags are essential accessories for any studio.

Impact Filled Saddle Sandbag

Extension Poles

If you are in need of a little more height for your light stand, extension poles are the solution. Be aware that adding extension poles may reduce the overall stability of your stand.

Grip Heads and Arms

An extremely useful accessory duo for your stand is a grip head and arm. Together they allow you to mount lights, modifiers, scrims, flags, cutters, and other accessories onto stands—usually C-stands.

Avenger D200 2.5" Grip Head

Mounting Hardware

If you want one light stand to fit multiple lights or accessories, you can pick up extra hardware or adapters to convert the top mount of your light stand to another type.

Cases

The best way to protect and transport your stand is with a dedicated case. Constructed out of materials designed to endure the heavy weight and shape of different stands, they will last longer than non-dedicated bags and cases.

Think Tank Photo Stand Manager 52

Have any more questions? Need some extra guidance on your next light stand purchase? Please feel free to ask in the Comments, below, or contact our knowledgeable sales team, which will be glad to help you find the exact stand you need.

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