The humble light stand is an often-overlooked photographic tool, but it's a vital support when using photography lighting kits, or even an off-camera flashgun. If you've ever seen a professional photo studio, light stands will be everywhere, supporting not just lights, but also reflectors, flash diffusers and backdrops. But it's not just pro studios where light stands play a major part - even a small home studio will need at least one light stand for optimal light positioning. A studio stand is also useful for supporting a ring light when vlogging, or can provide a more suitable support for a 360 camera than a tripod.
A light stand is a simple device similar in design to a regular camera tripod, but with smaller legs to reduce the overall footprint of the stand and therefore reduce the risk of tripping over the stand in a busy studio environment. To compensate for the smaller legs, the centre column of a light stand is much taller than that of a typical tripod, enabling a light stand to reach up to 3 metres tall, and sometimes even higher. This kind of height combined with relatively short legs means stability can be compromised, so light stands are best used with special weighted saddle bags filled with sand, hung over at least one leg to reduce the chance of the stand toppling over if it's supporting a heavier studio light.
Unlike most camera tripods, a light stand will usually have a 5/8" spigot on the top, which a studio light can clamp on to, though many stands can also come supplied with 3/8" and 1/4"-20 adaptors for mounting flashguns or other studio lighting equipment. Yes, it's not just lights which can be supported by a light stand! - attach a horizontal boom arm to a light stand and you can hang reflectors, diffusers or small background panels. Combine two light stands and large background roll can be hung between each stand to form a backdrop for a small group shot.
Light stands typically come in three base designs: the standard, tripod-leg set-up is most common, but there are also wheeled stands which make repositioning easier, but tend to be heavier. Finally, there's the C-stand, which uses an angled leg design for greater rigidity and load capacity, again at the expense of portability.
In this guide we've include stands to suit all budgets and usage scenarios, so if you're just starting out with studio lighting, or want up upgrade your existing lighting set-up, there should be something here for you.
The best light stands in 2021
Unless you're going for especially moody/contrasty lighting, chances are you'll be using at least two lights for a typical portraiture shoot, which means you'll need two light stands. Thankfully, this pair of stands costs way less than most individual supports from more established brands, yet they'll still reach a versatile 6.7' at max stretch and will each support up to 7lb/3.2kg of gear - not too shabby. Don't expect advanced features like air-cushioning, but if you're just after a simple but effective pair of stands, you can't loose at this price. It's also possible to buy these stands individually, though the twin pack will usually work out better value in most regions.
Want a simple but effective and versatile light stand which doesn't break the bank? This 9.5-foot Impact stand is ideal. It'll support a hefty 22 lb max load, and as the name suggests, it'll reach a towering 9.5 feet at max stretch, opening up plenty of high-angle lighting possibilities. A 52-inch-wide footprint ensures decent stability even with the stand fully extended, while air cushioning means the vertical stand sections lower gently to protect your gear and your fingers! Up top is a standard 5/8" removable spigot which has 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 threads for maximum compatibility.
When you need to frequently reposition studio lighting, mounting your lights on wheels can be a huge time-saver. This premium stand from respected stand manufacturer Impact features three individually lockable casters mounted on legs which can fold up in seconds to streamline the stand for easy portability. Max lighting load is a whopping 26.46 lb, at with a height range of between 42" and 8.5', you'll have no[ trouble getting the lighting angle you're after. At 12.45kg, this stand is on the heavy side, so is better suited as a studio stand rather than location work.
The trouble with regular light stands is they're not ideal if you want to cast light downward onto your subject for things like product photography or a flat-lay. This Manfrotto stand solves that problem by converting from a regular vertical stand into a boom arm with just a flick of a lever. Of course, with this kind of set-up you do increase the risk of overbalancing the stand when using a heavy light, but Manfrotto has though of this and includes a sandbag counterweight with the stand to keep everything stable. what's more, if you stack the boom arm vertically on top of the stand base, you get a conventional vertical light stand that can reach an incredible 12.8' high!
A C-stand or 'turtle-base' stand can be a more heavy-duty lighting support than a typical light stand, while also allowing for extra extended height. The horizontal leg span also makes it easier to hang counterbalancing sand bags to increase stability. The downside is, while the legs will rotate to nest flat for storage, you can't get the same cylindrical folded form as a regular light stand. This premium Matthews offering is a great example of a C-stand, with its maximum 10.5-foot height making it extra-versatile. It also includes a grip head which allows the top section to be used as a boom arm - great for top-down lighting, or for hanging reflector panels.
See also: Best boom arms for microphones and lighting
Most light stands are designed for studio work, and while often strong and dependable, they can be heavy and bulky as a result. But Manfrotto's Nano stand stands out by being an ultra-portable design which can accompany you even on remote location shoots. With a max extended height of 6.2', it can go tall enough for most lighting set-ups, yet its party piece is that it'll pack down to just 19", thanks to its 5-section design. Lightweight aluminium construction helps keep overall weight down to a mere 2.2lb (1kg). Max load capacity is only a modest 3.31lb (1.5kg), but if you're already travelling light, this needn't be a deal-breaker.
Picture the scene: you want to use a backdrop behind your portrait sitter, and need to light it accordingly, but the last thing you want is to see a big conventional light stand and flash head in the back of shot. That's where a backlight stand comes in, as it allows you to position a light far closer to the ground than a normal light stand would, so it can be hidden behind furniture or simply low enough to be out of frame. Backlight stands are simple devices, but this particular stand is from a respected brand and is designed for top-notch stability, while also giving you just enough room to set your desired light angle. It folds flat for compact stowage and weighs a mere 2.1lb / 1kg, yet can support up to 15kg.
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