Hack Your Background Stand
Normally used for seamless paper, background stand systems can pretty useful items for other stuff, too. Especially when you consider how little they cost.
Four more ideas on how to use your background supports, inside.
Seen above is the most common way for a background stand to be used -- as a support for seamless paper. Most background stands will support full-width rolls of paper, but I usually grab the half-width rolls shown above -- cheaper, easier to transport and just fine for single-person portraits. (Or, the occasional cat who looks like she swallowed an SU-4'd SB-800.)
I keep a full-width roll of white and black on hand, but I think the last time I used it was back in January for the theater shoots. Ninety five percent of the time, I use the cheaper, half-width stuff.
Muslins and Drapes
Beyond paper, the support bar can hold up just about anything that does not weigh a ton -- like a cheap, muslin backdrop. And most of those have a built-in hem loop on one end, meaning they will slide right over the bar for continuous support across the width. Because of this, they are easy to bunch up to get the texture and wrinkles that you want.
But don't stop at made-for-photography muslin backdrops. Many draperies have that same built-in loop. And you can find cheap close-outs on the web or in local fabric stores. It is handy to have a few photo-friendly sets of drapes around to use as a backdrop. Brian Smith did that in his burlesque shoot for X-Rite Photo. Careful, it might be NSFW-ish for some (no real nudity, just attitude) and the music and video auto-starts.
You can even prop them out with a small table, lamp, etc., and you have a pretty simple and graphic setting for a portrait.
Shoot Through a Sheet
Need a gigantic light source? A giant, portable window? A humongous, on-axis soft box you can actually stand in front of?
Buy a cheap, queen-sized white sheet at WalMart and snip the ends of the wide, dressy hem. It'll slide right on -- and you won't even need the clamps that I used above. You can shoot a flash right through it (very efficient) or go through an umbrella first (as above, for more even light and less of a hot spot.)
Boom in a Pinch
This is one the most frequent "off-label" ways I use a background support. By running that long crossbar (they are sectional and span up to 12 feet) across my frame, I can use a super clamp and mount a speedlight over the top.
You can run it straight across, or run it diagonally for the ability to place two top lights pretty much anywhere you want. I keep the super clamp right in the backdrop bag, because this is how it gets the most use.
Light Stands, if You Choose Wisely
The set pretty much stays cased in my trunk because I can always, always use a couple of extra light stands. Only, don't screw up like I did at first and buy a background support which has stands with those skinny little studs up top. They are only useful for one thing -- that crossbar. You can see them in the photos up top, and it is not something I would recommend.
I have since added a better one with standard 5/8" studs up top. Which makes them great as moderate- to heavy-duty light stands. It is the LumoPro MF613, which actually will run 12 feet across. I have not had need of that far of a run, but it feels solid enough to do it. You can get the whole set (2 stands and sectional crossbar, with a good case) for $165. If you already have plenty of sturdy stands, you can grab just the crossbar for $44.
I went with the kit. It's a lot of versatility for pretty cheap in my book. And, I'm guessing some of you are already using BG stands in ways I have not thought of. If you are, sound off in the comments with your tips and tricks.