Recently we’ve been talking about wrangling in your off-camera flash.  We’ve gone a little more advanced, and the responses have been quite positive, so if you’ve got some ideas for other advanced topics to cover, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments.  As you may recall, we started with attaching the umbrella correctly to your light stand.  This was followed by a demonstration of what happens to light as you slide the umbrella closer to and further away from your flash.  Then, most recently, we looked at how to really fill out your shoot through with that strobe flash.

Quite a bit already, and we’re almost done, so I’d like t round things out with a little bit of stabilizing.  You see, while light stands are great for moving your flash off-camera, they’re not the most stable things around.  Certainly not like a tripod for your camera!  Why is that?  The answer is in the physics – a light stand is typically a single pole that is extended into the air, whereas a tripod is three poles that converge at a point (your ball head or camera mount).  Whereas the former has each other to lean on and stabilize things, your light stand doesn’t have this benefit.  But, you can minimize the wiggle!  Here’s how…

Most light stands will have a three-legged base which collapses down to help with portability and to compact the size.  I’ve seen people take light stands out, and the first thing they extend all the way are those three legs.  Don’t!  When you take the three legs to their maximum height, yes, you are getting more height, but you are losing leverage and stability!  Don’t!  Instead, do this:

Good versus bad leg positions

See how in the first example the legs are high, narrow and only have three points touching the floor – this invites a top-heavy rig, which is always more likely to topple over.  If you sacrifice those 3″ at the bottom, look what you can gain!  A wider stand base = more stability, a lower light stand = additional stability, and then the addition of the center point for even more stability!  The one on the left is how it’s supposed to be done.

For an added corollary, you can also bring sand or water bags to your shoot and fill them when you get there…then place the bags inside that little “pocket” that is formed for even more of a weighted base that will further reduce toppling risks!  (Consider it a Light Stand Tip 4A!)

The final tip of lighting do’s and don’ts when using light stands and shoot-throughs is coming soon so stay tuned!  I hope you’ve enjoyed these as much as I enjoyed writing them (it’s always fun to do a series like this, because it has a beginning, middle and end – which makes for nice writing projects!)

2 thoughts on “5 Tips for Shooting Off-Camera Flash, Pt. 4

  1. Jason,
    As aways an interesting and informative topic this week but I do disagree with your 4 points of contact for two reasons;
    1st 3 feet will always be more stable than 4 because it can never wobble due to slight imperfections on the ground.
    2nd this method does not give the maximum spread for the legs. To get the maximum spread you need to have the cross pieces parallel to the ground, this gives the legs the largest surface area and is the most stable.

    Looking forward to tomorrows piece.


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