Wednesday, February 20, 2013

3-in-1 Photography Backdrop Stand Tutorial

An Adjustable Newborn, Child & Adult Backdrop Stand

Wow! I am still in shock at how many hits our last few posts have received from Pinterest. In response to the many requests for my backdrop stand design, I put together this step-by-step tutorial to share with you! Each image is sized at 4x6 so you are welcome to right-click save the images from this post and print them out for your own personal use. You are also welcome to pin or post a link to this tutorial, (just don't republish the tutorial, please!)

I've been using a PVC backdrop stand for over two years now and I've gone through many different configurations and designs. If you haven't played with PVC before, it's just like large-scale k'nex. The possibilities are endless! This past year or so I've seen so many PVC tutorials popping up, but all of them that I've seen have a major issue with the base. The only connection from the vertical pieces to the base support is at the floor level. That's not a huge issue when you're only a foot or two off the ground, but take it up five feet and add a backdrop and you're not going to be terribly stable. Add some supports, even just a foot or two off the ground and your stability will be multiplied. Safety is such a huge concern, especially when you are working with babies and children. Mom & Dad aren't going to be too happy if a backdrop collapses on Jr. during his cake smash session! That being said, this has been the design that has worked the best for me and my business, please use all equipment responsibly and make sure all pieces are secure before using in a session!

This is our (mine and my dad's... he's a genius builder) unique design that can be easily changed from a Newborn seamless blanket stand, to a child-sized stand, and then to an adult-sized stand. It works perfectly with our backdrops listed in our Etsy shop (here) with both bottom and top pole pocket casings to keep them as wrinkle-free and easy to manage as possible. If you like our tutorial, be sure to check out our shop for more photography goodies like chalkboard props, newborn wraps, newborn baskets, and unique client gift packaging.

Now, for the tutorial...

You will need:
*6 lengths of 3/4" PVC (they come in 10' lengths- buy extra if you have multiple backdrops to store and space to store them rolled up)
*The fittings listed below (regular slip style, not threaded. Also be sure you are grabbing the correct, 3/4" size. Sometimes the bins get mixed up. It might be cheaper to buy them in a bag, even if there are more in there than you need!)
*PVC cutters or a hack saw (I honestly prefer the hack saw- I had to get the hubs to cut with the PVC cutters, but I could work the hack saw just fine!)

The first step is to purchase your materials and cut the listed PVC lengths. You may be able to have the store cut your PVC to fit into your car if you don't have a truck. Have them cut each piece in half (5' lenghths) or do some of your handy-work in the parking lot and then you can make the rest of the cuts at home. Use a measuring tape and sharpie to mark before cutting.

*Update 2/26/13*
I adjusted the width to be 5 feet instead of 6 feet, like originally published. It is more sturdy and economical to use 5 foot lengths. Some of our backdrops are exactly 5 feet wide, so they won't fit on a 5 foot pole with fittings on the end, but if you use the "cheating" technique I explain after step #6, then it isn't an issue. :)

Now when I'm doing a newborn shoot, I will start with the seamless backdrop/blanket poses, then move to the baskets where I want an actual floor showing, then finish with the shots of mom & dad holding their new bundle of joy. I just find that to be the most efficient workflow. Obviously, if you were just doing a child session, you'd modify these first few steps.


You probably noticed that there is only one side support in the design. I've found that that is all I really need. I pose the baby (on my bean bag topped with a Boppy) to be almost parallel to the long, 6-foot crossbar with her head to the left and feet to the right. I'll get the back & side-lying poses that way, then when they're really sleepy, go for the folded arms/chin in hands poses. I rarely need the other side of the blanket held up because I do not find the "up the nose" angle flattering, but occasionally I do get the feet. If that is the case I have mom hold up the left side of the blanket for a few seconds while I get the shot.

The side support could easily be flipped and used on the left side of the stand.

As shown above, any time you are removing a 6-foot cross bar, I suggest pulling upwards, keeping the elbow joint and cross bar in tact. This will keep your base pieces more stable than pulling sideways on the cross bar and possibly loosening the joints below. Also when you're disassembling and storing your stand, I find it quicker and more convenient to leave some of the fittings attached. This serves multiple purposes: less time taken to remove each piece, helps to not loose joint pieces, and speeds up the process when you do set it back up again.


The cross bar in #5 is important and adds stability to your structure. Once again, attach the joints first before placing it on your stand.

I have over two dozen fabric backdrops and I store them rolled up, each on a piece of PVC. Most of the time I even "cheat" when attaching my backdrops. If I plan on changing backdrops during a session (which I almost always do) I don't ever insert the fabric into the cross bar. Instead, I simply use the PVC pole that the backdrop is stored on, and toss it over the crossbar. The weight of it holds the drop up just fine, but I usually use clamps to secure it to be sure.

Our fabric backdrops come with two pole pockets, on the bottom and the top. I use a piece of PVC in the bottom of my drops for a few reasons: It provides weight and tension on the fabric, it makes for a quicker transition when I roll up my backdrop from the bottom instead of the top by keeping a little tension as I roll, and that same tension helps keep the backdrop straight when rolling, resisting wrinkles.

You should be able to find spring clamps in any hardware store, but I've found the best value is at Harbor Freight. I use them ALL THE TIME so pick up 8-10 of the little guys. Sometimes the print won't be exactly straight, or it just needs a little more tension on one side... Use the spring clamps to roll it up a bit and get it just right. I also angle them backwards so that the fabric is hanging on the front side of the bar, and that way you don't get a little dimple where the support cross bar is either. 

I clamp on either end of the baseboard and fabric to keep the board upright and to create more tension. You can find baseboards at any home improvement store. Some already have a white base coat and you can have them cut it for you (I'd suggest 5' for use with our backdrops.)

With both children and newborn sessions I include at least one shot with the parents (I don't think moms especially are in enough pictures with their kids!) so lastly I will raise up my stand for the group shots. Now, I don't have a large studio space. It's actually just a spare bedroom in my house. When you're working in client's homes you probably won't have a ton of available space either. So I only plan on getting back far enough for a upper torso/ head shot, which is what this last configuration is designed for. This would also work great for a wedding or party photo booth stand! 

Like I mentioned, I keep a piece of PVC in the bottom pole pocket. I do not attach it to anything, but just let it hang and keep the background taught with the weight of it. I also "cheat"with this one too. It doesn't look quite as nice, but to save on time I will  use additional T-joint fittings instead of the straight fittings and leave the child-sized crossbar in tact, then just add the two-foot pieces and top crossbar. Once again, I don't insert the crossbar into the fabric, I just use the pole it's stored on and drape it over the back. You may need to stand on a chair to set up this last one. Be careful!

In the next few posts I'll talk about affordable flooring solutions, as well as my awesome backdrop storage system!

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. If you use it, I would love to hear your feedback and find out what you think! And to see more of our backdrops (and this stand) in use, check out my photography site:

Con cariño,

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Successful Little Photography Business

I have had a small portrait photography business that I started just over two years ago. It started from humble beginnings, building my portfolio and equipment a little at a time. I like where my business is at now, shooting 3-8 sessions a month depending on the season. It keeps me busy but still allows me to be home with my children much of the time. 


Now, something that a lot of new photographers don't think about is having a solid business plan. If you want to be successful you need to know your market, be smart with your finances, deal with legal issues, communicate with your clients, manage your time, market and promote your work (to name a few)... All on top of the creative/artistic part you fell in love with before you decided to go into business. 

So much of what I've learned has come from applying basic economic and business sense to my photography practice. I'm happy where I am now and have come a long way since I started, both artistically and entrepreneurially (I don't think that's a word...), but I'm always thinking of ways to improve. I believe that that is part of success in this world of photography- being willing to change and adapt. My approach may be somewhat nontraditional, but with photography I believe that the end product (the final images) are what clients value the most. 

So while my studio space may be (very) small, much of my equipment off-brand, and no assistant to help me much of the time, I think my clients understand as long as I deliver great images of them and their children. If they do value large studios and name-brand equipment, they have plenty of other options available. As to the overall quality, they know I am always giving my best and putting in the time to make their sessions enjoyable and their final images something they want to share and display.

 I love to create things. I love vintage. I love home-made. The shop Serendipitous Sisters was started because I wanted to make my own props & supplies for my photography business, and if I was making one, why not make a whole bunch of them to share? 

The first of many little prop projects...

My mom and sister joined in with some of their crafts, I got my dad to contribute his handy-man skills for a lot of my "projects," and then the shop transformed into what it is now. A bit later my mom opened another shop, River Road Rustics for wedding, event & decor items. Those two shops have been both of my parents' full-time jobs for over a year and a half now. 

The previous post on this blog has gone viral on Pinterest and received tens of thousands of hits over the past few weeks and multiple inquiries about my backdrop stand. I have come up with a lot of affordable photography solutions these past few years, stands included, and I am really excited to share them with you! In the mean time, check out the shop, Serendipitous Sisters for some fun photography backdrops, props & packaging supplies!

Thanks for reading.

Con cariño,