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.


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Blogger Rey Bugia said...

I think yo pretty much covered eaverything, David. I also use it on set to hang costumes, props and what not (if I don't need it).

November 08, 2010 1:38 AM  
Blogger john said...

hey, i saw this on youtube, its a half hour presentation of heidi klums shoots, interesting for the fact of it shows different lighting scenarios - plus it has seal music in the background.... the singer not the animal



November 08, 2010 1:38 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

I also typically buy the 1/2 length rolls, I find using a 4.5 ft section of 2.5" ABS pipe with 2 5/8 drilled in each end to work VERY well. Because of the larger diameter, the cardboard tube typically stays a lot easier and thus, doesn't do the 'toilet paper endless roll' thing when blow or stepped on.

Best thing about the ABS pipe. At 4.5" it's pretty damn strong, and CHEAP!


November 08, 2010 1:49 AM  
Blogger Wynajmujący said...

Hi Dave,
I for one use a C-stand instead of a background stand. For stability I hang something heavy on a coat hanger which attaches nicely through a hole in the horizontal whatsamacallit part of the stand.
Of course it is not wide enough for a full width seamless paper, but I use only 1,5m wide pieces of fabric from a fabric store anyway.

A. Kuszell

November 08, 2010 2:16 AM  
Blogger eejit said...

The linked shot is not really a hack of background stands (because I don't have any) but it does show a different way to hang the rolls of paper or sheeting when the space is limited: http://www.flickr.com/photos/victorf/4270430419/

November 08, 2010 2:59 AM  
Blogger eejit said...

The linked shot is not really a hack of background stands (because I don't have any) but it does show a different way to hang the rolls of paper or sheeting when the space is limited: http://www.flickr.com/photos/victorf/4270430419/

November 08, 2010 3:03 AM  
Blogger Boris said...

Wow, very useful! Never thought of shooting the flash through a sheet before ;) Thanks for sharing!


November 08, 2010 3:18 AM  
Blogger Sabrina said...

Awesome info. Love the shoot through backdrop ideal. Where do you get your paper backdrops?

November 08, 2010 3:46 AM  
Blogger Jack - jwphoto.pl said...

Besides using my BG stand the way you described it, I also use it as a solid stand for a boom. I bought a super clamp attached to a boom thingy (circular thingy with holes for stands with varied diameters) and I use another stand (small standard light stand) as the arm. It's good to buy the clamp with the circular thingy because it gives you two options. You can make a boom with a swivel arm, or you can dismantle the clamp from thingy, put it on the top of the stand and use it fixed only for 90 degree arm.

November 08, 2010 4:24 AM  
Blogger Filbert said...

Been putting off getting a BG stand for the longest time but I think it's time to buy one.

This was just the post I needed. Cool ways to use the stand too, thanks!

November 08, 2010 4:42 AM  
Blogger Jacob said...

I've been using a white and a black bed sheet as background for awhile now and never thought to cut the ends of the hem like you suggested, thanks for the tip!

November 08, 2010 5:58 AM  
Blogger Photography by Depuhl said...

There's even a cheaper way to make the cross bar (but it's totally DIY) Go to home depot and buy a 3/4" electric pipe and a 1/2" electric pipe - they come in 8' lengths, so I have cut of 5" from both - leaving me two 3 ft pieces of pipe that slide into each other. They live in my stand case, and when I need to hang half a roll I use this to support.

My 8' white backgrounds hang on the same (uncut) bars.


November 08, 2010 6:34 AM  
Blogger james said...

Does anyone know where you might be able to find red drapes like the ones Brian Smith uses? I've been wanting to try something like that for a while.

November 08, 2010 6:55 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

Save the $44 for the cross bar and buy a piece of 3/4" EMT (electrical conduit) and drill a hole at each end. Need it a little stronger? Buy 1" instead, both options are in the neighborhood of $1/foot.

November 08, 2010 7:05 AM  
Blogger glenn kaupert said...

Another quick, inexpensive way to add large light is to drape a clothes rack as you have the background stands with a sheet or a frosted or translucent shower curtain from the Dollar Bill store. The link below is for a rack @ Ikea, I've picked up others @ Menards, with wheels for under $9.00.


November 08, 2010 8:34 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks for posting this. To some people these may seem obvious but I had never thought of using it to hold a bed sheet or as a boom!

November 08, 2010 8:40 AM  
OpenID corkap said...

My god, I never thought of using my background stand as anything other than a background stand. To think I have had two often needed lightstands sitting in the back of the car all this time. Doh!


November 08, 2010 8:50 AM  
Blogger Dude said...

I've used mine as a paint rack before (covered in plastic of course) http://ambrotosphotography.com/blog/2010/01/diy-dual-speedlite-bracket-for-amvona-softbox

November 08, 2010 10:21 AM  
Blogger PHOTOMAMP said...

Nice alternative infos!
As you asked for other's options: I use a reflector stand kit (horizontal bar + standard lighstand) in a similar way:
- As alternative background support. Only one side stand; so it works for "light" paper or plastic/polypropilene backgrounds (close portrait, tabletop phohtograpy, etc.)
- I works also as a horizontal high lightstand (projected over portraits, tabletop images, or used diagonal).
- And also as an extra big diffuser for full length body portraits.
So, similar uses but for a reflector stand kit... a complement when you already need to keep using your background stand at locations, studio, etc...



November 08, 2010 2:23 PM  
Blogger Joey B said...

Right now one of my background stands is holding up curtains in my living room until my wife and I finally get around to securing them to the wall.

November 08, 2010 2:25 PM  
OpenID jchphotography said...

As an alternative to a sheet, you can pickup several yards of white ripstop nylon at your local fabric store (watch for coupons in the Sunday paper). The advantage is that it's quite translucent, and you can also cut it up for modifiers for other applications (e.g., softbox diffusers, beauty dish diffuser, etc.).

Sample for small tabletop application:


November 08, 2010 2:46 PM  
Blogger Freelance fotograaf Jürgen Doom said...

Hi David, I have used the same technique a few times but I have yet to find someone who can explain me how to measure the light coming from the screen, especially when you want to use it as a white background. And measering with a hand held light meter, that is.
See, if you measure towards the screen, the distant between the light meter and the screen will influence the reading, yet the sensor sees the light source always the same, no matter where you stand. If you measure away from the light source, well, euh, what's the point. So how would you measure it with a hand held light meter?
Puzzled ...
Kind regards

November 08, 2010 3:52 PM  
Blogger Andy M said...

wow glenn kaupert , that IKEA clothes rack idea is genius!
So is Mr. Hobby's using of bg stand kit as boom arm, gotta experiment with that one.

November 08, 2010 6:55 PM  
Blogger Jef said...

I use superclamps on top of two air cushioned stands and then for my cross pole I use aluminum snap button extension poles that cement finishers use to trowel out finishes. I have three sections and snap two together for standard back drops, and then three for a longer backdrop
Here is an example of what I speak http://www.capcityequipment.com/ctrowels9046.html

I also use my white backdrop to show movies on at get togethers with friends using a projector. if you use a translucent cloth you can project from the back or if you're using paper, just project from the front.

November 08, 2010 7:28 PM  
Blogger Phat Baby Photographer said...

PVC Pipes and some stakes make for a lightweight and very stable (in windy conditions) outdoor backdrop stand, shoot through sheet.

November 08, 2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger Digiphotoneil said...

I use my BG stand to store bicycles when its not in use.



Its very stable and gives me a lot of extra room to work. The only problem is the pile of bikes when it is needed on location.

November 09, 2010 5:31 AM  
Blogger Dashney said...

@glenn kaupert,
$9.99 at IKEA? I'm going to ask my IKEA here in Canada why that same MULIG rack is $12.99 even though our dollar value is par with the US. Most camera accessory stuffs are a lot more expensive here too. Next time I go to the States, I'm stocking up on gear. Awesome idea though. IKEA is great for finding stuff to fabrucate lighting mods out of.

November 09, 2010 9:05 AM  
Blogger kdeskins said...

The disadvantage to using PVC or piping found in hardware stores is that it is one long piece that cannot be broken down and stored. It hard to transport, store, or take on location. This is where the MF613 is ideal, with keyed and locking sections for maximum portability without comprising strength. As an added feature the LumoPro Background Stand Kit comes included with a heavy duty compartmentalized carrying case. With this case each stand and crossbar piece has its own section to avoid any scratching and keep the kit organized while transporting or storing.
Lighting Specialist
Midwest Photo Exchange

November 09, 2010 9:37 AM  
Blogger PaulL said...

Calumet also has their "heavy duty" background support system, with the same 12' width and stands with real 5/8" studs (so you can use them as light stands) with carry bag for $139:
Look for sales...I got mine on sale for $99 AND got a posing stool with it.

November 09, 2010 11:08 AM  
Blogger TiMpWeB said...

When i'm out shooting on location with models (well, the modest ones anyway...), i've used my backdrop stand to create a small dressing area. just need to place a sheet up and put the whole thing in a corner (creating a triangle) or at an angle from a wall with the open end facing away from open view. Gives your models a place to feel not so exposed while changing...

November 09, 2010 11:56 AM  
Blogger Sharna said...

Amazing stuff David! I wouldn't have thought of shooting through a sheet either. Nice!!! Thank you!

November 09, 2010 12:07 PM  
Blogger monkeyinabox said...

The IKEA rack looked promising until I saw it was only 59 1/2" tall. Not exactly the height I would want from a background stand.

November 09, 2010 12:20 PM  
Blogger Rob Acocella said...

David, don't forget the flip side of this. You can easily turn 2 light stands into background supports by getting some really cheap PVC pipe at Home Depot or Lowes and drilling holes in the end so they slide over the stud on the light stand. Sometimes if you want that draped window look you can put your make-shift background stand in front of your existing one and add an extra layer of texture and color to the backdrop that way.

November 09, 2010 12:33 PM  
Blogger Sharna said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Your stuff just amazes me. I hope you keep doing this for a very long time. I've learned so much over the last few weeks and I haven't even read everything or done everything and I'm better at lighting than I ever was. Thanks again!

November 09, 2010 3:36 PM  
Blogger Addison Geary Photography said...

In John Harrington's book "Best Practices for Photographers," he suggests always carrying a full roll of seamless for when your simple headshots turn into an impromptu group shot! Bill accordingly.

November 09, 2010 4:10 PM  
Blogger Michael Warth said...

Great post David.

Try this, buy two and use a white sheet to make a cover when shooting outside. Similar to your white sheet, shoot through version only diffused sunlight.

November 09, 2010 4:27 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

A large silver umbrella placed (virtually touching) behind a white sheet / silk / rip-stop nylon is the poor man's octabank. I've used that several times. Place everything directly behind the photographer it can give a quality similar to ring flash when used as a fill or main light. I use a Calumet 60" silver umbrella (dual-purpose).

I've often thought it would be cool in a makeshift studio to try out three silver 60" umbrellas in the form of a triangle behind a white silver sheet (fill light), all to be placed directly behind the photographer. Each umbrella would have a speedlite. I'd then use my ABs for the key and kicker lights. This solution would be far easier to transport compared to an octabank and you'd save more than a few pennies. Sadly I'm currently lacking another two 60" silver umbrellas to try out this theory. Maybe I should spray silver paint on the interiors of two old golfing umbrellas?

Another cheap studio based alternative is to spray silver (or cover with silver reflective paper/card) two 8ft x 4ft foam boards. Place the boards in a "V" formation behind the white sheet and then stack the two flash heads with silver reflectors at roughly 3ft and 6ft, fire them into the V flap so the light reflects back through the white sheet.

All of the above can also be used as a background.


November 10, 2010 9:29 AM  
Blogger Pete Tsai said...

Nice Post David, just an fyi if you're using the 53" rolls, I find HP plotter paper a lot cheaper depending on whats in stock at the time. They come in 60" rolls so you get a little extra width, which I find useful yet still transportable, and for about the same price as a 10 yard roll you get 100ft or more.

I blogged about it here earlier in the year...




November 10, 2010 10:56 AM  
Blogger Puggle said...

I've used mine to hang some wet laundry.

My wife stopped complaining about me leaving the light stands up.


November 10, 2010 11:38 AM  
Blogger MasterOfGoingFaster said...

Another trick: Setup four stands in a "square" arrangement. Place four horizontal poles across the tops, forming a box frame. Drape white sheets on the sides and top. Add background (or not). Creates a giant softbox with the people inside. Makes for sweet light, and you can include the landscape as background. This works pretty well at the beach, studio or on location.

November 10, 2010 12:39 PM  
Blogger Doug Sundseth said...

Kevin or David:

I like the quality of the Lumopro products I've so far purchased, so I'm inclined toward BG stand kit that David linked.

That said, the specs on the product page say that the Max Capacity is 10 lbs. IME, a full-width new roll of seamless paper is around 15 lbs. How conservative is that capacity?

November 10, 2010 12:39 PM  
Blogger Sheri said...

I love the ideas you shared, especially the shoot thru sheet, will be trying that ASAP.

November 10, 2010 5:35 PM  
Blogger renophoto said...

To expand on this, for shooting shiny new cars, what I do is create a giant softbox by unrolling plain bond drafting paper horizontally between two background stands (manfroto monopoles are the sturdiest) and park several strobes behind it. I use 36" wide rolls ($15 at most drafting supply shops) and make a wall about three bands high and anywhere from 10-15 feet wide. This way you get a nice seamless glow around the edges of the car and not a bunch of annoying highlights.

November 10, 2010 10:50 PM  
Blogger John Van Boxtel said...

@David - I don't understand how in your post about the Orbis you stated:
"I do not feel comfortable having this site serve as a springboard for companies who engage in that kind of behavior, so I have chosen not to moderate into publication those comments which talk about and point to knockoff products.

My thinking is that if we reward the unscrupulous companies that bypass the R&D process merely to rip off someone else's design, we contribute to the decreasing viability of making cool new products in the first place."

Yet, in this post you recommend people shop at WalMart which commonly purchases products that are from China and imitations of other companies products. Maybe not to the same degree as the Rayflash knock offs, but then WalMart has other "unscrupulous" behaviors to consider as well.

November 12, 2010 7:07 PM  
Blogger David said...


I do not really understand the comment, other than to assume you are trying to ethically corner me.

May as well add this one into the mix: Sometimes I eat veal.

November 12, 2010 8:08 PM  
Blogger Brent Schneeman said...

I'm late to the party, however, my studi-o-matic is at http://www.flickr.com/photos/schneeman/3728457402/

I use closet organizer (can be purchased at Big Box stores) - the hanger rod hold the BG paper, and I put a shelf on the top for related storage. Not mobile, but useful.

November 13, 2010 2:42 PM  
Blogger madebiru said...

This is something I find useful in transporting and protecting backgrounds.

November 13, 2010 5:12 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

Another way to shoot through a sheet is to tac it up on the ceiling about 1 foot away from the wall, put a flash on the floor pointing upward and boom! You got people shots on a white isolated background


November 16, 2010 11:37 PM  
Blogger kleeks said...

I hang my x-bars from the open rafters in my studio/shed/garage. I use bird hooks purchased at the local bird store. The hooks come in a few inches to a couple of feet with deep hooks. I purchased the x-bars for approximately $25 each and have half a dozen pre-threaded through my basic colors of seamless paper. No stands, more room!!! Hook up the roll, roll it out and start shooting!!

November 18, 2010 3:01 AM  
Blogger lotty said...


I've been reading this up and have watched it in Youtube as well. This information is a great package. I want to use and apply this because I bought muslin backdrops in our upcoming project at school. This info. is a great help. Thanks :)

October 08, 2012 9:44 PM  

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