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How a Step Ladder is Useful for your Photography


The invaluable photography assistant

Normally assistants play a key role on commercial shoots. They are integral to the team effort that is required to ensure a photo shoot goes as planned. They do a lot of the donkey work; moving lighting gear from one position to another; lugging camera gear around in general, and much more. The work of an assistant is unglamorous, tedious, and the hours are long.

Assistants salaries will vary according to their level of skill, experience and employer, and they generally work freelance.

When you are starting out in your photography career/hobby, a lot of time you are working solo trying build a nice portfolio, be it portraits, stock, etc. You don’t need to hire an assistant but an extra pair of hands is always welcome.

I’ll paint a scenario. You have enlisted a family member or friend to volunteer for some portrait shots outdoors. You’ve also got another friend to help out as you need that extra pair of hands to hold a reflector. This is great way to keep costs down.

However, such is life, your friend can’t make it on the day planned for the shoot. He/she has been struck down with a tummy bug! Blast, now what do you do? I’ve yet to work out how to hold a reflector and press the shutter button at the same time.

Here are some of your options:

  1. You can still go ahead and work solo – you may not get the required lighting on your subject but you are getting the shooting practice which is always a good thing.
  2. Use your cell phone to call yet another friend.
  3. Ask a blank stranger who happens to be walking by.

The first option is probably the safest. The other two require potentially losing a friend and trusting a blank stranger is risky.

Let me introduce you to the 5-step aluminium ladder. This is by no means a replacement for an actual pair of hands. But I have found it quite useful, and anything that helps is better than nothing at all.


This 5-step aluminium ladder is very versatile and extremely lightweight.

 5 tips for using a step ladder in photography

  1. Portability – This particular ladder that I have weighs only 4.2kg/9.2Ibs. It can fit into my Volkswagon Golf car on the inside. If you have a roof rack, this is a better option, as it is so light to put it up and take it down. It is extremely easy to move it around with one hand.
  2. Point of view – Getting that extra height for an overhead shot by standing on the fourth step and resting your knee on the top platform gives you more stability. A small child could sit on the top shelf and you could get a nice shot from underneath with a blue sky as the background.
  3. Reflector holder – I find using reflectors for taking portrait shots indispensable, especially outdoors. For my reflector, I cut three self-adhesive velcro strips and attached them to the reflector and to the corresponding areas on the ladder. Once in place, you can then direct your subject from behind the camera on how far or near they stand next to the reflector. I tried it out on a really windy day. The day was overcast and I chose a spot under a tree to really test out the reflector. The reflector was securely attached using the velcro strips but as the ladder is so light, it was inclined to take off in the wind. I placed my camera bag on the top rung of the ladder which acted like a sandbag to stabilize it. Although crude, it did work.
  4. Helps eliminate camera shake – Hand holding your camera and resting your elbows on the top platform helps to reduce camera shake and provides added stability when holding your camera.
  5. As a make-shift light stand – You want to use one of your flashes off-camera but you have forgotten your light stand. Light stands can topple over if there is a gust of wind. Although, you could use sand bags arranged around the base of the stand to make it more stable. But, that is assuming you have such an item(s) or thought to bring them in the first place! This is where the extra pair of hands is great to hold the light stand.

The top rung of this ladder is quite narrow, so there is only room for a small child.


Velcro self-adhesive strips on the reflector and on one of the ladder legs.


The reflector is attached to the ladder on left of the subject.


The reflector is attached to the ladder using three self-adhesive velcro strips.

The design of this ladder is very stable considering how light weight it is.

I really love this Joby tripod where you pop on your flash and wrap it around the top part of the ladder. It is then easy to move the head of the flash in the direction you want.


Flash attached to the ladder using a Joby tripod.

This type of ladder can be found in most people’s garages. Even if you don’t use it for your photography, it is still a very useful item to have. At this time of year, if you buy fir trees to decorate with baubles, tinsel and fairy lights, a step ladder is handy to put that star or whatever on top. In a few weeks time, you’ll need that step-up to take it down.

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Sarah Hipwell
Sarah Hipwell

is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at SarahHipwell.com or at 500px.