One day early on in my career I assisted a photographer who was making portraits of marathon runners for a national sports magazine. We stalked the finish line for interesting-looking athletes and asked their permission to shoot immediately after they’d crossed. The exhausted runners posed with sweat still glistening on their bodies which made for some gritty, striking portraits.
The photographer wanted to avoid a distracting background. As the assistant, willing to do whatever was needed, this meant I became an instant backdrop stand. With my arms outstretched to their maximum, holding up a black double bed sheet behind the runners, and fighting a breeze while trying to keep the sheet flat, I felt like a ridiculous scarecrow. The photographer quickly made the portraits.
It didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, and although some of the photos ran in the magazine, a backdrop stand would have allowed for more consistent results. It also would have freed me up for other tasks, such as holding a reflector for better lighting on the subjects. That day I learned the importance of not only choosing the correct photo backdrop, but also why a solid backdrop support system is a necessity.
Photo by Ryan Walsh
Backdrop Support Systems
The reasons for investing in a quality backdrop stand can become painfully obvious when working without one. Why buy a set of muslin backdrops or seamless paper or any other type of photo background if you can’t arrange them easily behind your subject? A good background stand makes it possible to realize the creative potential in your photography backdrops.
The question is which stand will work best for your application. While there are a variety of makes and models out there to choose from, I’ll discuss a few of Savage Universal’s products.
What Are Your Options?
On that day when I was struggling to prop up a sheet in the wind, I would have been overjoyed to have one of Savage’s Port-A-Stands. This portable, lightweight stand (weighing only 12 pounds) goes just about anywhere. It folds up easily and fits into a 44” long carrying case for easy transport to your location shoots.
The Port-A-Stand is a generous 10’ 6” wide and 8’ 10” high, meaning it can accommodate seamless paper or fabric backgrounds up to 107” wide. Even though the stand is light for easy toting, it’s strong enough to handle paper rolls and even 5’ x 12’ vinyl backdrops. You can also use the two individual stands as light stands when needed. With an unobtrusive matte black finish, the Port-A-Stand is the perfect solution for shooting on location.
An excellent choice for budget-minded photographers or anyone looking for an economical support is Savage’s Economy Stand. This lightweight stand also works well as a backup for your main unit. No tools are required to assemble so setup time is minimal.
The Economy Stand is designed to be used with either seamless paper, muslin, or other lightweight photo backgrounds. The stand is adjustable up to 9’6” wide and 7’9” high, big enough for shooting full-length portraits without taking up a large amount of room.
Multiple Polevault Stand
For the utmost versatility, Savage offers a Multiple Polevault Stand which can hold up to three rolls of 107” wide paper (or one roll of 140” paper). It will adjust from 5’3” to 9’7” high and from 60” to 152” wide. It’s a very strong stand – strong enough for a variety of backdrops – yet only weighs 15 pounds.
The Multiple Polevault Stand is perfect for photographers who want the ease of having three different colors of seamless paper immediately available. Don’t like the way that white background looks with your subject? Simply roll up the white and pull down the red, or whatever color you have on hand, to try a different look. It doesn’t get any easier than that!
Once you’ve enjoyed the creativity that photo backgrounds can bring to a shoot, you’ll definitely want a reliable background stand. Don’t get caught without one lest you find yourself compromising your images when your assistant holds up a bed sheet on a windy day.