The Best Piece of Gear You'll Ever Have... and it Won't Fit in Your Bag.

The Best Piece of Gear You'll Ever Have... and it Won't Fit in Your Bag.

We've all had that moment. You're out shooting on location, the shots are looking great, the weather's perfect, and then CRASH... a rogue gust of wind tears through your set and blows over your light stand. Bummer, but there's one piece of gear you can take on a shoot to prevent this kind of catastrophe, and it's not a sandbag.

The Human Light Stand is one of the most useful tools in photography. Gone are the days of setting up a stand, checking what the light is doing on screen, and walking back out to the stand to move it. With the Human Light Stand, all you need to do is tell it where to go!

Ok, lets be serious, even if only for a second. Human Light Stands, friends, whatever you want to call them, are the best thing you can possibly show up to a shoot with. Personally, I try to shoot with a Human Light Stand whenever possible. I've had my share of bad experiences shooting alone where wind has knocked over my lights (even with sandbags). Thankfully it's never actually broken a strobe, but I'm done taking chances. I now almost always have someone holding on to my light stands, or even just hand-holding my strobes. Human Light Stands differ from Photo Assistants in that a Human Light Stand doesn't really need any photo experience. I've drafted everyone into Human Light Stand service, from my friends who don't know or care to know anything about photography to my fiancé, who attempts an interest in what I do even if it means light stand duty, (thanks Nicole). A Human Light Stand is often available for far less than a Photo Assistant also. You can usually find a friend who's willing to help just because they're cool like that, or an inexperienced shooter who's looking for a little experience. Buying a Human Light Stand lunch or dinner after a shoot is recommended if you want them to be a repeat helper. Tip: if you're shooting cars, the car's owner is usually more than happy to help out.

Aside from the obvious, a light is not going to tip over while someone is holding on to it at all times, Human Light Stands provide one key element: Speed.

In most of my work, speed is an absolute necessity. Human Light Stands are worth their weight in Taco Bell tacos in these situations, and it's important to keep them well fed, an uprising from your photo gear can really wreck a shoot.

Having someone hand holding a strobe for you will save you TONS of time on location. This is especially useful when you're shooting without a permit and need to be in and out of your location quickly. In NYC for example, a $300 permit is needed if you have gear other than a tripod that touches the ground... see why a Human Light Stand is so useful? No light stand = no permit. Let's make that our little secret.

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Just ask Douglas Sonders who shot this whole Honda ad in NYC without a permit thanks to his Human Light Stands.

In editorial work it saves me huge headaches when we're lighting 8 - 10 cars for a big composite for a cover. Having the lights move while I stay at the camera allows me to focus on the shot and make sure every piece that I need lit gets lit. In a huge 40 - 50 image composite, one missed step can be a disaster, and it's incredibly easy to make that mistake and skip a step while you're running from the light to the camera and back every few seconds.

I've seen plenty of wedding photographers using Human Light Stands as well. Any situation where you're going to need to be quick on your feet will benefit from one.

Many of my good friends, who are also some of my favorite automotive photographers have adopted the Human Light Stand into their work,

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Easton Chang uses Human Light Stands.

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Chris Benny also uses Human Light Stands.

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There's Webb Bland's Human Lightstands, Karissa Hosek and Gabriel Milori.

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Clint Davis puts Kyle McManus to work as a Human Light Stand.

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Nate Hassler doesn't leave home without Human Light Stand, Nick Schultz.

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Josh Mackey and Armin Ausejo take turns being Human Light Stands for each other.

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Dale Martin's Human Light Stand, Brandon Lajoie protects him when he's shooting in abandoned alleys.
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14 Comments

See Joe McNally. He's used VAL (voice activated light stand) for years. Just sayin it's not a new invention.

Clint Davis's picture

Neither are dish washing machines, but I use one about every day! :D

Andrew Link's picture

I never claimed it was new... Just that it was a great thing to bring to a shoot.

I've once had Clint Davis as my human light stand. 5 stars! Also have been a human lightstand for Webb Bland.

To the others: Available for lightstand rental. Provide beer? Will lightstandify.

Sometime's my VAL's have VAL battles....

I love it when I have VAL's :D

Well technically, this could fit in a bag, but I wouldn't recommend it. It doesn't travel as well and can quickly reduce the longterm usability of the VAL or even damage it.

I want to know who makes the adapter/mount to hold the white globe modifier in the pic of Webb bland's assistants! Please tell all. :)

Andrew Link's picture

Thats a Profoto Globe on a Profoto D1 head. They make their own mount.

That's quite an obvious idea! :)

Another great article!

Good tips, not a secret but a good reminder. I was wondering about the permit in NYC, if $300 is going to break the budget it may be time to rethink the business side. To be honest the $300 permit is just the tip of the iceberg at least in LA. There will be charges for processing the permit, reviewing the permit by the Fire Marshall, processing and filing the permit, hiring the police for ITC so by the end, the $300 permit is $1200. So $300 is a misleading figure.
I look at some of these behind the scenes shots and videos and see alot of open sharing of techniques (whether that's wise, is not for me to say) but not much in the business side. I followed a link to a photographer on this forum who shoots cars and charges $500 for a shoot. Including final files...Not sure if that is a viable business plan. Does he charge for usage? I hope so, but don't think so. The work is pretty solid but I think there is a lack of understanding byf many photographers about the value they are gving away to the clients at $500 per job...someting is wrong with the photographer making only 2x the assistant fee. Who are the clients? If it is private owners, and they have $50,00 - $300,00 + to spend on their hobby they can certainly afford to pay a real rate for photography, if it's a business, then there is even more reason to charge real world rates.
If you are charging $500 for a complete shoot, in reality it's a free shoot. It may be a $50 profit or loss but not really worth it. Look into CDB calculators. See how much you are really worth to a client....
So much for my first post :^)

Agree with everything Micky Bill just said. I will add another thing. while it is fine to get your buddies to hold light stands, help on shoots, etc when you're shooting for yourself, it you have a real job, you should hire real assistants (or pay your buddies a fare wage). It's not a good ideal to have clients get used to free help, or free anything for that matter, or they will start questioning the expenses when you really need it.