Choosing Light Stands
For light stands I like LumoPro for many of the same reasons I like the LumoPro LP180 speedlight. Their stands are well-built, reasonably priced and guaranteed out the wazoo. LumoPro has good service, too, should you need to replace a broken knob or bolt or whatever.
Honestly, it makes me wonder why other manufacturers don't warranty their grip gear like this. Seems like a no-brainer, if you are making good stuff.
For normal, full-sized stands, I like the 10-foot LumoPro LP608. It is air-cushioned, has a five-year warranty and costs $45. It is a solid value choice and you can certainly spend more but get less.
Most stands are pretty interchangeable. That's not to say that there aren't some cool designs to be had. For a "splurge" light stand I'd consider Manfrotto stackers. They have a unique design that allows them to snap flat together for easy transport and space-saving storage. They are more expensive ($84 for 8-foot version and $115 for the 12-foot) so you'll have to make that call. But they are a great upgrade if you frequently lug around a flock of light stands.
If you don't need all of that functionality, skip the stackers. In fact, many speedlight folks who don't need a lot of stand height prefer to use "compact" 5-section stands. They rise to about 7 feet and collapse to about 21".
For that, my recommendation is easy and clear-cut: get the LumoPro LP605, seen above. It is the best-built of the five-section stands, includes ground spikes for more stability in wind and has LumoPro's outsized warranty.
For $40, it is hard to go wrong here. There are more expensive versions of this, but they are not as well-built, have no ground spikes and you won't get a five-year warranty either. Done deal.
As far as C-stands go (more on what they are, here) they are pretty much all built like tanks. Which is part of their weighty charm. LumoPro C-stands ($100 for the riser and another $35 for the arm—make sure to get both pieces) are a good value choice as they back up the build quality with their five-year warranty.
If you want to get fancy, Kupo C-stands offer a quick-release mechanism for faster setup. But both are all but indestructable.
Buy Some Sand Bags...
While we are on the subject of stands, please do this: Take $23 (for 4) and buy some sand bags. Get the bags from Amazon. Four will do you well for many small shoots.
And the first time a stand fails to blow over because you had it properly (and cheaply) secured, they will have paid for themselves.
But Don't Use Sand.
Skip the sand, as it will probably leak in your car or screw up the zippers. Rather, use "pea gravel," from your local home improvement store. It's super cheap ($3.50 worth will fill three sets of sandbags) and way less messy than sand.
You won't need these cheap insurance policies until a stand comes down in the wind, breaking your flash or your mod or your subject's noggin. Then you will have needed the sand bags retroactively.
Start with four or so. You'll probably end up getting more as you go. Cheapest insurance (and piece of mind) policy you'll ever buy.
NEXT: Soft Modifiers