Tuesday, October 01, 2013

DIY backdrop support for under $10

If you need a way to hang a photographic studio backdrop, don't have an official backdrop support system but do have a couple of lightweight lighting stands spare, here's a way you can do it for under ten bucks. This will handle a roll of seamless (five feet or nine) or a sheet of muslin like I'm using.

And see the last section for an even less expensive ($5), though less portable, option.

What you need

Head over to your nearest IKEA and pick up,

  • two Betydlig curtain rod hangers
  • one Hugad black curtain rod, 210-385 cm (six to twelve feet)

From a hardware store you will need,

  • two 1/4-20 nuts
  • two 1/4" flat washers

You'll also need a small rat-tail steel file, and a way to clamp the curtain rod hangers. I recommend a bench vise. (You won't be able to just hold them in your hands while you file, unless you have a grip of steel.)

The mod

Using the file, you must file a one quarter inch "keyhole" into the slot in one side of both the Betydlig curtain rod hangers, to fit them over the one quarter inch threaded bolt on top of the light stands. I recommend doing this to the shorter slot closest to the corner, which you can see to the right, with the curtain rod support in place. Expect to spend about 5 minutes filing each hole -- it's kinda tedious.

By the way, the 1/4" bolt (stud) on the top your light stands may be hidden inside a black plastic knob that you unscrew to reveal.

Assembly

After you have enlarged the holes at the end of the existing slots and verified that they fit over the light stand studs, assemble the Betydlig curtain rod hangers as you see in the picture above. Be sure to stick the thinnest rubber grip (included with the hangers) into the curved hanger bracket.

Using the 1/4" nuts and washers, attach the brackets on top of two light stands, as shown to the right. If you substitute wing-nuts for the hex nuts you'll be able to add and remove this from your stands more easily by hand.

In use

Set your light stands with shiny new backdrop hangers an appropriate distance apart, eg 6 feet for 5-foot seamless or 10 feet for 9-foot seamless. Raise both stands to about head height. Thread the roll or muslin through the curtain rod and extend the rod a little longer than the distance between the stands. Lift it up and settle it into the hangers.

Now you can lift first one side, then the other up to the ceiling or the maximum height of your stands. You might need an assistant to help you in raising a heavy roll of seamless.

You should use the tallest stands you have available to avoid having the top of the backdrop be visible in your shots, especially full-length standing shots. 8-foot would be great.

Be careful to make the stands as stable as possible. Orient their legs so the longest one is under the weight of the backdrop material and pointing forward into the room. This will avoid the stands falling when you roll out the seamless or tug on fabric. You may want to sandbag the stands for additional stability.

Results

Now shoot away. You should end up with something like this nice picture of Gandalf, my Russian Blue.

Hint

You can still use the stands for holding some lights by clamping grip gear to the vertical posts. For instance in my cat portrait I attached a bare flash as a kicker/hair-light using a Lowel Tota-Clamp and an umbrella mount on the left backdrop stand.

Even cheaper: under $5

Thanks to a suggestion I received from Lumigraphics on Model Mayhem, you can do it for under $5 with a piece of ten foot EMT thin wall conduit and two HDX 2-inch clamps from Home Depot. Sit the clamps on top of the stands pointing up and drop the conduit into their jaws. This isn't portable, but it's sure cheap.

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