Sunday, May 10, 2015

DIY Light Stand Extension

I usually keep a Manfrotto 501B Compact Light Stand with an umbrella clamp and a Zumbrella in the trunk of my car. According to the catalog specifications, the 501B extends to a maximum height of 74" and collapses to under 20". They are extremely popular among Strobist fans, since they allow photographers to utilize off-camera flash without employing the aid of a voice actuated light stand (friend who can take directions).

While I like the light stands portability, I have often wished that I could get a little more height from the unit. If memory serves, there was a light stand, sold through Midwest Photo Exchange, that included a built-in boom extension that could conceivably be intended vertically to add some height. Alas, like the CIA, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of said stand. But the idea has some merit.

Update: June 4, 2015: Click here to see the SP Studio Systems SPBLS32 Combo Boom/Light Stand.

Confluence of Ideas: Photographer Zack Arias, in a blog describing  his portable equipment options, mentions his use of a 1-foot length of 1/2 copper pipe as an extension when using a shoot-through umbrella. He writes:

"...The 1/2″ copper pipe with a swivel adapter is basically a handheld solution to hold a light in one hand and a camera with the other. We’re talking no light stands! And questions from TSA as to why there’s a pipe in your bag. So far so good..." 

 After reading this, it seemed to me that a  piece of copper pipe could also be used to to extend an existing light stand. I had just modified an Impact Umbrella Bracket to accept larger 1/4 x 20 thumbscrews, and remembered that the there were two spigot holes, one horizontal and one vertical, at each end. I reasoned that if I turned the bracket sideways, there would be two vertical holes.

 Well, it worked. You can see the umbrella bracket with one end clamped to the top of a standard light stand and the other clamped to a length of copper tubing. (I removed the thumbscrew and put the clamp handle on the underside to make setup easier to see). This would give me a little extra reach for any 5/8" light stand, or a short handle for an umbrella - speedlight combination, if needed. Notice that I rotated the umbrella clamp to get the stand and the extension as close together as possible. This would minimize any additional torque this slight offset might introduce.

Technical Stuff: Copper tubing is measured by its inside diameter. This threw me at first: Why would Zack use 1/2 tubing? Because when you add in the wall thickness, you get a 5/8 cylinder, which is exactly what you want. When you buy your tubing, be sure to check the outside diameter, just to be sure. 
Find it here.
In my photographs, you'll see that my tube looks more black than copper. To give my kluged light stand extension a more professional look, I applied several coats of Birchwood Casey's Brass Black to the surface, and wound up with a black that was both deep and rich. I used some #0000 steel wool to brighten up the surface, followed by a quick cleaning with denatured alcohol. The procedure was pretty simple: Apply Brass Black with a paper towel to the tube, wait one minute for the oxidation to occur, rinse the tube with water, dry it, and repeat. It took me about six or seven applications (I lost count), but made for a nice finish. I have to keep reminding myself that the tube will get scratched, and that I shouldn't get too attached to the finish.

Some Cautionary Notes: This is not a terribly stable modification, as it adds additional weight to light stand that isn't that strong. In a pinch, the extension could be in clamped horizontally to make short boom arm, but that would be pushing it. But is and when I do, I promise to use my camera bag as a makeshift sandbag. But if used indoors and with extreme care, this extension should work out reasonably well.