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I need to introduce my lil friend – The C Stand! It means Century stand. This is the most important rigging, grip equipment there is. It can do soooo much. Every pro shooter has about 7-10 of these and on big jobs, we rent even more.
What is a C Stand?
The C Stand has several moving parts and has some weight to it too. The legs can fold up flat so that you can lay it down. Due to the way the legs are separated when open, they can be stacked inside each other when standing, which is usually how I would store them in my studio.
They are used to rig anything and everything you can think of – fill cards, lights, flags, silks, scrims, diffusion panels, you get the idea. They are not commonly used to rig cameras though.
I want to be very clear here. NEVER do I use a C-stand to rig any of my cameras on my jobs. It’s just not what professional photographers do.
C-stands were made for rigging all sorts of other things. Technically yes, you can put a camera on a C-stand, I just want to be totally honest with you here that I never do it.
However, I keep seeing tons of bloggers telling people this is THE way to do an overhead shot and many of them are not using the C-stand properly for their camera. So this post is to show you how to do it properly if you really want to use this method.
I really can’t find any information about where the name came from. I was told by an instructor of mine in school that it was a brand name, Century. But I can’t find any info on that either. There are several brands that make C Stands. I have a wild assortment of these that I’ve collected over 30 years made by all kinds of different companies.
They come in two sizes, a 40 inch stand or a 20 inch stand, also called a Shorty.
The Parts Of A C Stand
1. The Column
First you have the center column part. This center column usually has two risers in it to take the stand up as high as 10 feet.
2. The Grip Head or Knuckle
On top of the stand you have the grip head, also called the knuckle. Some brands have a cork or rubber disc inside this knuckle to make the grip really tight, which is obviously great for rigging heavy stuff.
The knuckle can hold the C Stand arm or you can put other grip equipment in it to hold other things.
The knuckle can also completely come off the stand so you can use the stand for a light stand or grip other things onto the stand.
3. The Arm
The arm can be used in a few ways. You can have a 40 inch arm or a 20 inch arm. The arm also has a grip head on it. You can put a light on the end of the arm and extend it out – though you always have to counterweight this type of rigging.
You can use this arm for your overhead shooting with smaller cameras. Again, you have to counterweigh it when doing so. I highly urge you NOT to rig any of the bigger pro DSLR’s this way. They are just too heavy.
4. The Legs
There are several different kinds of legs. Some are spring loaded, which can be very nice. Others, like the ones pictured above, can slide up the riser column, which can be handy for rigging in precarious situations.
Higher end stands can have the legs come off entirely in one piece. These legs are called a turtle stand when they don’t have the risers in them, then you can get a stand adapter (looks like a thick metal pin), and rig stuff on that.
Setting Up The C Stand
You have to remember this phrase when working with grip equipment: “Righty Tighty; Lefty Loosy”. When you are rigging equipment to hold things, there’s a right way and a very wrong way to do this.
You need to set this up so that any weight pulling down on any parts will be tightening the grip, not loosening it!
You need to make sure when there is a weight on the end of the C Stand arm (like a camera), that you have placed the arm and the knuckle so that the weight of the object weighing down, will actually be tightening the knuckle.
If you are standing behind the stand to set it up, make sure your grip head (knuckle), has the large locking knob on the right side of the stand. The arrow is pointing at this.
Also notice the tallest leg is in the direction of the arm. This will help to ensure that the stand won’t fall over. It only has three legs after all. So you are putting the weight over the largest leg.
I have a sandbag weight that was placed on the arm, towards the center of the stand. This is the counter weight. This sand bag is heavy so if it was on the back end of the stand, it would actually pull the arm up. You move your weight along the arm to find the perfect balance so that there is very little stress on the actual knuckle.
If my camera was heavier, the bag would go more towards the end of the arm behind the stand.
Attaching A Camera
There are 100’s of items that are made that can attach to a C Stand arm. There aren’t a lot of ways to attach a camera, because of what I mentioned above.
The camera bracket below, in particular, can be used for rigging a camera on the end of the arm. The diameter of the arm is a universal size for many of these accessories, being 5/8th of an inch. This is the Manfrotto Camera Bracket.
What’s great about this bracket is that there is a cork (or black rubber depending on the bracket) covering on the plate at the pin that helps to really tighten the camera down onto the bracket so that it won’t move.
Position as much of the camera on top of the cork as you can, then tighten it down. The more surface area that is touching the camera, the better for stability. Just using one of those metal pins without a bracket can get loose very easily.
Now take that little set up and place it on the end of the C Stand arm as shown below, tightening the bracket onto the arm.
Again, this is not ideal and you will have to make sure your bracket is tight enough so that your camera doesn’t start rotating on you.
If your camera has a rotating screen, then you can swing that screen out so that you can easily see what you are doing.
If your camera does not have a rotating screen, it will be difficult for you to see that, so you’ll need an eye piece adapter like this one called a Right Angle Finder made for your camera.
The Canon one is $200 and is what I use. There are cheaper ones like this one below:
This is the a right angle camera viewfinder. It’s only $37 – I have not used it so I have no idea how sharp it is or what the quality is like. Make sure if you choose to buy it, that you can return it if it’s not working for you. If you have one that you like, please let me know in the comments below.
Or you can shoot tethered. Then you can see everything you are shooting just after you shoot it.
Here is the equipment I mentioned above in the article:
40 inch Century Stand with sliding leg, grip head and arm for about $150
Professtyle Sandbag Weight – set of two for $16.50 that can hold 15 lbs. I don’t actually use sand. I use small gravel that you can buy for super cheap from a home repair store.
Manfrotto 143BKT Camera Bracket for about $13
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