Studio Lighting – Home Made Cheap DIY Backdrop Stand
In The following article, Brian will demonstrate how to build a DIY backdrop stand. The stand, along with matching backdrop will help to create a controlled environment, with good subject/background separation. The cost is very low, just some PVC pipes, muslin and two really good hands. Oh, and a wife to agree to place this in the leaving room.
Backdrop Stand Instructions
Design sketch for a possible backdrop stand using 1-1/2″ PVC pipe sliding inside 2″ PVC pipes to allow adjustable width plus height, or the option to hang the top pieces from the ceiling or garage door tracks.
Another shot with the flash-lit diffusion panel setup with reflector and homemade backdrop as shown in the diagram in the Backdrop Stand folder. I like this one.
Design sketch for a possible backdrop stand using 1-1/2″ PVC pipe sliding inside 2″ PVC pipes to allow adjustable width plus height, or the option to hang the top pieces from the ceiling or garage door tracks (mine are 9′-3″ apart). Dimensions are to fit a 9 x 12′ canvas dropcloth, which is presumed to be rolled up on the 8-1/2′ long (or 9′?) 2″ PVC pipe. This pipe could be joined from two pieces for portability, however I would think it best to keep the canvas rolled rather than folded. I expect the friction between pipes would keep the canvas from unrolling, or else a pin could be used at one end similar to the manner in which the vertical supports use pins for height adjustment. Also note that the adjustable width would allow the cavas to be seamed along both sides for use in a wider horizontal orientation for a group photo. Better yet, create seamed loops on all 4 sides to allow a smaller tube to hang at the bottom to help keep the material straight. I would glue only at the 4 spots marked “G”, leaving the option to remove two feet in the rear if propping against a wall is desired due to lack of space. Since I have not built this yet, I cannot vouch for whether this design provides enough rigidity to avoid wrinkles in a fully outstretched cavas of this size, but some strategically placed spring V-clamps could probably take care of that if necessary. Another option would be to put a couple of grommet holes near the top of each side of the canvas and use a bungee cord around the vertical post to stretch it out (would probably require pins through each end of the top horizontal pipes to prevent telescoping inward). Bungee cords may be a good idea anyway at all 4 corners.
Other options can be added if you use T-connectors at the top instead of 90° Elbows. Option 1 shows how tubing can be added for multiple rolls (although it wouldn’t be too difficult to slide one roll off and put another one on). Option 2 shows how an additional T piece could serve as a tilting canopy support over which to drape a backdrop or perhaps other opaque or translucent fabric (white sheet, rip stop nylon, etc) to create your own shade outdoors on a sunny day.
Backdrop stand with 9 x 12 canvas (7 x 11 finished size with seams) purchased at Sherwin Williams paint store for $20 (Home Depot had 9 x 12 canvas for $3 less but it had a seam down the middle and the material had a coarser weave). The cavas hangs from an 8 ft long 2″ PVC pipe that can be temporarily fixed to the 1-1/2″ PVC pipe inside by a thumbscrew which can be loosened to adjust the width. The thumbscrew screws snugly into a hole drilled into the 2″ pipe, but loosely into a larger hole in the 1-1/2″ pipe, just to prevent the pipes from sliding laterally when tension is placed on the canvas or stand. The canvas backdrop has not been painted yet – that’s another ongoing project. Note: I don’t recommend cans of spray paint at all for this (maybe for highlights), due to poor coverage and lack of penetration for a deep color (and a real mess of a garage) – at this point I cannot say what works best, only that I know it isn’t spray paint.My guess is that a brushed-on or sponged-on (diluted?) water-based paint or else dye might be best.
Update: I may have found just the right thing for coloring cavas… Minwax brand water-based wood stain – brushed on. I am testing the “Verdigris” color (with an extra 8 parts of yellow to offset the slightly bluish tint to give a deep green color) which gives a very dark forest green color (diluting lightens the color a bit).This seems to be the perfect solution to getting a deep penetrating color without having to mess with soaking in hot dye solution or the potential problem with paint cracking or making the canvas too stiff. The stain has a completely flat appearance with no sheen at all, which is good. I am able to brush it on while the canvas is hanging, if I am careful not to load too much on the brush to avoid drips. I may use lighter shades of spray paint on top of this dark base color to add highlights or give a mottled pattern. Another potential advantage of this method is that if you don’t brush it on too heavily, it does not soak all the way through, and so there may be the option of using the reverse side for a different color scheme.
Vertical pieces were cut to 4-1/2′ long, which still allows them to telescope out to a height of about 8 ft.
A cotterless hitchpin fits snugly through holes drilled in the PVC pipes. Pin has a spring ball bearing in the tip which helps to keep it from sliding out. Ring on pin makes it easy to pull the pin out for height adjustment.
Details of canvas stitching. Approximately one foot in length was lost from each end to make the looped seams. A piece cut from the corner was doubled over in a triangle and used to reinforce the corner where a 1″ aluminum grommet was installed (see next photo).
Grommet in corner of canvas allows tension to be placed on the canvas using a bungee cord to help keep wrinkles out of the material. Note S-hook installed at the top to allow the top piece to be removed and hung from the ceiliing. A T-joint was used instead of a 90° elbow, so that additional pieces may be attached in the future for other uses (e.g, boom to hold a hair light, or other ideas shown in the sketch).
Backdrop stand setup in living room, with soft light diffusion panel (slave flash) to right, silver auto windshield reflector on left, halogen hair light on top of backdrop stand and halogen spot light behind subject to light backdrop (see next image for diagram of the lighting setup).
Diagram of lighting setup. CORRECTION: Angle of light above subject is more like 30°, not 60°.
I used “Simba” for my first practice session with this Flash lighting setup to play with finding a good lighting balance (distances, angles, aperture, etc). I ended up using the flash diffuser directly on the flash, for two layers of rip stop nylon between flash and subject, due to relatively weak background lighting. Backdrop is canvas dropcloth from Sherwin Williams, stained with Minwax water-based wood stain. (Note: catchlights were already painted on the stuffed animal’s eyes, which had a mainly flat, not convex, surface. 1/125 sec @ F2.8, 250mm, ISO 50).
As for the staining procedure, it’s a long story, but here’s what I did…After going through a half dozen cans of spray paint and then realizing it was just not going to cover it efficiently or soak in enough (canvas material’s original color was still showing through), so I gave up on that idea, but already had the cavas sprayed all over with some dark green and gray.I then got a quart of the Minwax brand of water-based wood stain, Verdigris color, with 8 additional parts of yellow added in. Here are the other colors available… http://www.minwax.com/produse/water/puwbws3.htm I diluted the stain with 5 oz of water per pint (poured half of the quart can into a large coffee can and added 5 oz of water), then mixed and brushed it on as thinly as possible (to make it go farther) using a cheap short bristle brush. I had enough to cover the whole canas twice – a bit less on the second coat which was applied more heavily around the edges. I cannot say for sure whether the initial spray painting contributed to some of the mottling pattern in the final results (doesn’t have much pattern though), but probably not much, because the stain was so much darker – it soaked in much more. I painted it while it was hanging on the frame, and didn’t have any problems with running, as long as I didn’t load the brush up. That’s why I used a very thin, short 3″ wide brush (cheapest one I could find).
A rack added to the top of the stand to hold lights.
Note middle light is angled to the inside for aiming back towards the subject for hair light. I have some aluminum flashing material that I may fashion into a tube for use as a snoot.
120W Halogen spot light used to illuminate the background (hope you can read French ;)
View from above.
Closeup view of the vertical support shown at right in previous photo. It was necessary to add a nylon tether to support the weight added to the front by the rack of lights. To provide a place to connect the S-hook on the nylon cord, a T-fitting was cut in half and fit over the 2″ vertical base to allow the 1-1/2″ pipe to still slide inside.
The other end of the nylon cord is attached to the bottom leg through a hole and knotted on the inside.
Light fixtures are made from PVC pipe parts and socket designed for flood lights that can swivel and tilt. Fixture can slide along the horizontal pipe and is held in place at a slightly elevated angle by a cotterless hitch pin that passes through holes drilled in the pipes.
Light socket is mounted on a PVC end cap and wired to the electrical cord with wire nuts and electrical tape before fitting the pipe pieces together.
Homemade outlet box with 4 outlets, 3 controlled by dimmer switches to adjust light intesity.
Outlet/Dimmer box with panels and knobs removed, showing dimensions and other construction notes. A better design, but requiring larger dimensions, would be to install each set of outlets or switches inside of an approved junction box, in order to minimize the exposure of wiring connections to combustible materials (wood).
Top & bottom cover panels and knobs removed from outlet box.
Outlet/Dimmer box with panels and knobs removed, viewed from underneath, showing wiring details. For added safety, I recommend using a 3-prong plug with ground wire, plus GFCI type outlets.
WARNING: This device was not designed for outdoor use or wet locations, and may not even meet local electical/safety codes as shown. Sorry, but while I have confidence that my design works for my own purposes, I cannot accept responsibility for anyone else’s faulty wiring. Therefore, use this information at your own risk, and please consult your local electrical code requirements or an electrician if you are unfamiliar with household wiring.
First test with real subject using slave flash/diffusion panel lighting with reflector and the new backdrop/stand. I’m not happy with the hair lighting (maybe should have moved it off to one side more), and I didn’t fix his shirt, plus he needs a haircut, but the lighting isn’t bad overall I think. I probably need to lower my main light a bit for better lighting of the eyes. (1/125 sec @ F3.2, 200mm, ISO 50) I plan to use only flash for main lighting of portraits and save the halogen worklight just for inanimate objects.
© 2002 Brian L. Zimmerman, BLZphotos.com
Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.