This Could Be My Favorite DIY Photo Background System Yet

Over the last three years, I have built out four new photography studios, and each time, I find better and better ways to streamline my spaces. In this video, I want to share with you one of the coolest ways to mount your seamless paper or Gravity backdrops.

One of the best decisions I've ever made in designing the last few studio spaces is hanging my backdrops from the ceiling or wall. This removes all the clunky light stands and poles that become trip hazards or just take up a ton of room. Obviously, if you are just renting a space, then you might not be able to permanently drill into your ceilings, and if that is the case, definitely check out the video below where I show you how we temporarily mounted our paper rolls in our last rental space. 

Although permanently mounting paper and canvas backdrops to the ceiling is great for saving space and quickly changing out your backgrounds, it still isn't perfect by any means. Once your support system is screwed into the little paper J hooks, you aren't able to easily adjust the placement of the backdrop once you roll it down.

In designing my new, tiny two-car garage studio space, I started thinking "how can I creatively mount some of my Gravity backdrops to the ceiling to allow me to move them around to create tighter and wider shooting spaces?" The idea of having rotating backdrops seemed simple enough, but what I quickly found out is no major photography company makes any type of grip or background stand that is modular. If I wanted to create a system to make my backdrops as flexible as possible, I was going to have to make it myself.

I'm not going to outline the entire process in this written article because I think the video above does a great job of showcasing some challenges and concerns I had building this single backdrop holder. However, if you don't have time to watch the video or just want to quickly reference the individual items I used, I've listed them below with a quick overview of what I used each piece for.

Main Components of My Articulating Background Stand

1) Gravity Backdrop: These things are beautiful and hold up so well. I kind of wish all my backdrops were canvas. I wonder if a solid color canvas backdrop with some touch-up paint would be a thing... might have to look into that as well.

2) Fotoconic 10 ft Background Bar for Backdrops: These are great for mounting your canvas backdrops or even adding reinforcement to your rolls of Savage Paper Backdrops. I cut mine down to different sizes so they match my specific usage but they break down into 3 small 3' pieces for easy travel and transport.

3) Neewer Single Roller System" Tons of companies make these roller systems, but for my rotating system, you are definitely going to need at least one roller and also one of the smaller J hooks to mount on the rotating side of the system.

4) Impact Three Hook Background System: Similar to the Neewer version above, this gives you the ability to mount three rolls of paper, or in this case, I cut off the longer hooks to use on the opposite side of my rotating support. If you cut off the longer hook like I did, you can also mount the two remaining hooks more traditionally, which is what I plan to do soon so I can hide all the chains and make a completely invisible wall system. 

5) Kupo Paper Drive Baby Stand: This piece is used to create the adjustment pole that lets me move my paper background to the different positions without the use of a ladder. If you ever need to set up a portable background system that you transport to client's homes or remote locations, having a set of these on hand is always a smart move.

6) Manfrotto Metal Chain: I didn't specifically mention this in the video, but I like to change out all my plastic chains that come with the background kits above to these more robust metal chains. They look better, feel sturdier, and are way more robust. They aren't needed, but I definitely prefer the metal chains over the plastic ones.

7) Step Up Drill Bit: If you ever need to drill through steel or aluminum, these little pyramid shaped drill bits are amazing. Because the tip is small, it makes it easy to start your hole without it jumping all over the place. And because it's tapered, you don't have to figure out the exact size bit you need for your hole; instead, you can easily increase the hole diameter precisely without ever changing the bit.

8) Lag Screws and Lag Shields: Hopefully, you can just use the hardware that comes with the mounting brackets above, but if you really want to reinforce your hangers or have to mount them to concrete, definitely pick up some sort of expanding lag screw system. 

and finally...

9) The Punching Bag Mount: This is the best solution I found for mounting the paper roller while still allowing it to rotate and tilt down for easy adjustments. The one I'm recommending holds 600 lbs, which should be plenty of weight if mounted correctly, and because it is made to allow a huge punching bag and allow 360 degree rotation, it is more than smooth enough for an occasional swinging of your backdrop. 

Improvements?

So, that's my do-it-yourself rotating background stand. I'm curious to hear what you guys think and if you can suggest anything that might make this stronger, more versatile, or practical. Obviously, a big piece of this is hanging a second large Gravity Backdrop in front of the paper rolls that will allow all the chains to be hidden and make my "room" orientation look more structured with a hard or semi-hard corner. 

If you enjoy these photography studio hack videos, I've made a playlist on YouTube that will feature many more little tips to make your studio space more practical, cleaner, and more organized. 

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10 Comments
Chris Rogers's picture

Hey that's pretty swift. Nice work.

Darren Whitley's picture

I use a trapeze style background holder made from galvanized fence tubing and a couple pulleys. A portrait photographer in northwest Missouri taught me about those. He used sailboat cams to quickly secure the two ropes, but I've just gone to tying off on a wall plate.

I believe a Wisconsin-based PPA photographer who does a lot of senior photos uses carpet display racks like you'd find at a furniture store which rotate for backdrops. He was a regular guest on the PhotoVision DVDs.

Patrick Hall's picture

I'm not sure I can picture how these work. The bar looks like a trapeze handle with ropes but does the backdrop ever roll up on the pole?

Chris Rogers's picture

"uses carpet display racks like you'd find at a furniture store which rotate for backdrops"

man I work at a furniture store. how did i never put this together D:

Patrick Hall's picture

Any idea how much those cost? I'd assume one that is big enough for an 8x10 rug/backdrop would be $$$ and a pain in the ass to transport to your studio. Maybe they break down but that seems pretty clunky compared to just rolling it down on a 10 pound system of rollers. Also, if you want to lower the canvas as a sweep or pull it up to just barely touch the floor, I don't think you could easily do it with the carpet hanger system.

Chris Rogers's picture

Oh yeah it's a massive pain in the keister to setup. The one we have is huge for those mega big rugs. I remember helping set it up. I never want to do it again. We had to have a team of 4 people just to move one of the legs. It's actually very dangerous just setting the whole rack up because it's so heavy. One slip of the hand and some one is getting crushed. I don't know the exact cost of a rack like that but I can't imagine that it would be in the realm of practical affordability for a photographer. Plus the bars are squared and not rounded either so that wouldn't work all that well for rolling paper back drops. This post has me thinking about different ways to hang a back drop now. I think there is definitely room for innovation with this type of equipment. Thanks for this post good sir.

E S's picture

You can probably use a tall c-stand with wheels, maybe even locking wheels, and that adapter you used to move the background for infinite angles as needed. Weigh the c-stand down for more stability as needed. Just a thought....

Patrick Hall's picture

Oh no doubt you could do that. I just want zero foot print on my floor and zero liability that someone will trip on it. The way I did it, yes you have to use an extension arm to move the roller, but I have no footprint, no heavy sandbagged lightstand to then move, and no chance that this will fall or get in the way.

Think of this too, if you do use the c Stand method, and you then don't want to use the background that day, you have to roll it up, pull it down, store the backdrop vertically somewhere, and also break down the C stand to get it out of the way. That's a lot more work than just rolling up the backdrop and it's done for the day.

E S's picture

Use the C-Stand method when needing another angle as need dictates. I doesn't need to be a dedicated stand, just something 'just in case'.

your setup is still pretty cool tho.