If you have been thinking about using a flash that originates from somewhere other than your camera, you might be thinking that now you have to go out and buy an expensive light stand. But, the truth might be a lot simpler. You likely already own a tripod to steady your camera, so can a tripod be used as a light stand?
A tripod can be used as a light stand with a few modifications. Tripods are more portable and more comfortable to adjust. Tripods are also better at standing on uneven ground and dealing with the wind. However, tripods are often much shorter than a light stand.
If you have a spare tripod just sitting in the back of your closet and do not want to go out shopping for a heavy, expensive light stand, try using the tripod instead. A tripod might work as a fair light stand, depending on where you are shooting, how many light sources you need, and whether there is any chance of wind in the area.
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Can a Tripod Be Used as a Light Stand?
A tripod with no modifications might not make a very good light stand because of the tripod’s top. Tripods often have interchangeable heads, but they hold your camera flat, which means they have a broad, flat head. There is nowhere on that wide, flat head to screw on your flash to stop it from toppling off the tripod as soon as you let go of it.
If you can find a light made to sit on tripods instead of light stands, you are doing well, but for most people, they will need some kind of attachment to the head of the tripod to secure the light. To modify your tripod, you will need to take the swivel head off the top to attach your light.
You will likely need a thread adapter at some point. The most common thread size on a tripod is one-fourth of an inch, but many lights need a three-eighths of an inch thread. The thread adapter screws on over your existing thread and gives you size options so that your light will fit perfectly on your tripod.
Unscrewing the top of the tripod is often easy enough. How you attach the light to the top will depend heavily on the type of light. However, that is just the basics. If you are looking for some other modifications for your tripod-turned-light stand, there are plenty of ways to transform your equipment into something that meets your needs exactly.
Most tripods give you a fair amount of adjustability when setting the height of the legs, but cheaper tripods may only give you a few settings to choose from. What happens when the gap between the first and second settings is large enough to affect your lighting? Like Goldilocks, you need a way to find a setting that is just right.
The answer is more straightforward than you would think: just drill some holes. Measure how far you would like the legs to adjust, and then use a drill. Most tripods have thin metal casings or hollow legs, so it is not hard to drill through them. You can use a thin, metal rod to insert through the hole and situate the leg on the setting you created.
These holes can also allow you to put stakes through them if you plan on setting up your light stand in an incredibly windy area or on uneven terrain. Average metal tent pegs can easily fit in your tripod legs and hold it firmly in place so you will not have to worry that your light source is swaying in the breeze.
These holes might add some independence to the legs if they usually have to be in the same setting. Drilling holes can let you set the legs to different heights to accommodate rocky or uneven ground or just to let you shine the light at a different angle. It also adapts the tripod for use on a staircase.
Not everyone is willing to be trigger happy with the drill on their tripod, but that does not mean that you can’t add a little bit of security with a bungee cord. You will also need a carabiner strap to secure the cable, but using a rope can help stop things from blowing away if the wind picks up suddenly.
For some people, the cords also act as an eye-catcher to show people the edges of your photoshoot and warn them not to come any closer. If you plan to do so, you will want to look for cords with neon or other bright colors to stand out and attract attention. The last thing you want is for someone to walk into the rope and yank your tripod over.
If you still have your drill handy from the first modification, you may want to turn to some spare tennis balls. Your tripod will look absurd with these as shoes, but it will stop the ends from dirtying up or scratching lovely floors. After all, you might need your tripod somewhere other than the great outdoors.
As a note of caution, if you plan on photographing animals, tennis balls may not be the way to go. Plenty of stores sell alternative ‘shoes’ for tripods to avoid scratching floors, and the tennis ball might seem a bit too interesting for your client Shep to pass up.
For people who want to have plenty of options, using a bolt to hold certain accessories on your tripod in addition to the light is a must. For example, you could use the bolt to keep your phone and give you a view of where your light is pointing. If your phone is hooked to your camera, you can snap a shot from the tripod and see it immediately on your phone.
That way, you will know if and how you need to adjust the light to line everything up for your perfect shot.
Is a Tripod Better Than a Light Stand?
Some people have argued that tripods are better for outdoor lighting than traditional light stands because of their structure. A light stand is a long pole with small feet at the bottom. Fine for inside a portrait studio, but not as good if you want it to sit on rougher terrain or not blow over during a light breeze and damage your equipment.
On the other hand, a tripod has a much better ratio of leg length to pole length and therefore keeps your light sitting exactly where you left it. It is not likely to topple over, even if you have a large spotlight attached to the top or if the wind picks up a bit. Additionally, tripods are often more portable and do not weigh as much as light stands.
Again, light stands were designed for studios. They were not designed to be out and about in the world in the same way that tripods are. On the other hand, tripods are not usually as tall as light stands, so some of the utility depends on how you use your light in photography. Depending on your goals, a tripod might not give you the look you want.
Another reason why many photographers prefer regular light stands is the lack of legs. When you only need a single light, a tripod may work well, but in some cases, when you have three or more light sources around a model, all of the legs can get in the shot and force you to accommodate them.
Tripods are an excellent substitute for a light stand if you plan to shoot outside or over uneven terrain. Unless you purchase a tripod with universal fittings and are able to fit your light no problem, you will need to modify your tripod to accommodate the light.
But it is straightforward, and tripods are often relatively cheaper than professional light stands.