One of the most important parts of starting a photography business is getting equipped with the best camera gear. Depending on the type of photography you specialize in, camera lighting may be something to invest in. I never use anything but natural lighting for concert photography. However, food photography lighting is a key feature that sets apart professional food photographers from amateurs. My food photography gear has gone through several changes as I experimented with different modifiers and accessories. But a stalwart of my kit has always been sturdy light stands to hold my strobes and modifiers in place. In this post, I’ll highlight some of the best photography light stands in addition to key features to look for.
Like most camera equipment, light stands come in a variety of flavors to support a wide range of products and budgets. The key factors you’ll want to evaluate your light stands on are:
- capacity – what is its max load, or how much weight can it hold?
- height – how high does it extend?
- weight – how much bulk it will add to your photography gear?
- price – does it fit into your budget?
Generally speaking, you’ll find that there will be a compromise between portability and strength, and budget and quality. Ultra portable light stands won’t be terribly strong and heavy duty light stands are difficult to travel with. Price-wise, you tend to get what you pay for, meaning cheap light stands won’t necessary last the longest or be the most reliable. However, photography gear is definitely getting competitive in price, so this doesn’t necessarily hold true anymore. Just read the reviews before you purchase!
It’s also important to note the while light stands are similar but not the same as a photography backdrop stand or tripod. However, a tripod can actually be turned into a light stand by replacing the ball head with a threaded adapter and umbrella lighting adapter. I use the MeFOTO aluminum Roadtrip tripod which is pictured below (umbrella adapter is sold separately).
My Food Photography Lighting Kit
As a food and event photographer who generally must make a studio space out of very small places, portability is key when it comes to all of my camera gear. I shoot exclusively with one Canon 580 EXII Speedlight flash, two Canon 430 EXIII flashes and Westcott Rapid Box softboxes, all of which are very compact and easy to travel with. This is my basic on-the-go kit for food photography lighting, and step-and-repeat photo booths at events.
Budget tip: Speedlight flashes are pricey if you buy them directly from the manufacturer. Yongnuo flashes are considerably cheaper options that are rumored to be exceptionally good. I use Yongnuo flash triggers all the time and have found them to be extremely reliable. I would bet their flash units are just as good. Also, if Westcott Rapid Boxes are too pricey, a lighting umbrella is a cheap yet highly effective lighting modifier.
Types of Light Stands to Choose From
Strobist categorizes light stands into three main types: regular, super compact, and heavy duty.
Best Super Compact Portable Light Stand
Since my strobes and modifiers are lightweight, I use several Manfrotto Nano light stands. Extremely lightweight yet very sturdy, these light stands are also relatively affordable. The light stands and Speedlight flashes also pack very nicely into my Pelican 1510 rolling case that I use as my light stand bag.
- Minimum height: 19.3 inches
- Folded height: 18.9 inches
- Maximum height: 74.8 inches (6 feet, 2 inches)
- Weight: 2.2 lbs
- Max load: 3.31 lbs
- Price: $57.99
Best Regular Light Stand
On the rare occasion that I turn my second bedroom into a home photography studio, I opt for sturdier and taller regular light stands.Classifying these stands as regular simply means they don’t travel exceptionally well, but they can if you have the extra space to accommodate. Regular light stands are heavier and larger than the super compact option, but it has a higher max load and extends much taller.
Light stand manufacturers are so prolific that there is a wide array of options to choose from, and they are all very competitively priced. At the moment, Neewer is offering among the better deals: 2 light stands for under $40, which is a steal.
- Minimum (and folded) height: 36-inches (3 feet)
- Maximum height: 117.6 inches (9.8 feet)
- Weight: 5.75 lbs
- Max load: 4.4 lbs
- Made from aluminum alloy
- 1/4″ screw tip on each stem
- Price: $37.99
Best Heavy Duty Light Stand
When you’re in need of a strong, durable light stand, a C-stand (aka century stand) is your best bet. While these beasts can look cumbersome and a little too big, C-stands are incredibly handy for supporting heavier strobes and modifiers. They also offer tons of flexibility in terms of positioning your light in ways that regular light stands can’t. What makes a C-stand different from a regular light stand? First off, the C-stand base has three legs that flow out horizontally to provide an ultra sturdy base for supporting a lot of weight. Finally, a C-stand also has an extension arm that allows for a lighting modifier to be positioned directly in front of a photo subject.
What makes a C-stand different from a regular light stand? First off, the C-stand base has three legs that flow out horizontally to provide an ultra sturdy base for supporting a lot of weight. Finally, a C-stand also has an extension arm that allows for a lighting modifier to be positioned directly in front of a photo subject.
Looking at the technical details below, it’s apparent that the main disadvantages to C-stands are in budget and portability. The sheer size and extra moving parts of these stands make them difficult to transport (yet not impossible), and even the budget options are well over $100.
- Minimum (and closed) height: 53 inches
- Maximum height: 10.5′ inches (stand); 40 inches (arm)
- Weight: 17 lbs
- Max load: 22 lbs
- Unique staggered leg design
- 2-1/2″ gripheads with 16mm pins included
- Price: $158.95
Light Stand Accessories: The Sand Bag
The most important accessory for your photography lighting kit is a pair of heavy duty sand bags. These relatively cheap weights come in very handy for helping balance and secure the weight of your lighting setup so it doesn’t fall over.
Light stands are a fundamental accessory for your photography kit, and there are many choices out there. When shopping for a stand, start by meeting your bare essential needs, and build from there.