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When you stop and think about it, how much is there to really say about a light stand? I suppose we could discuss height, weight or materials, but once we got our preferences out on the table, it would be a pretty short conversation. As long as it holds what you put on it safely and securely, and you can get it where you need it, the discussion is pretty much over, right? If we were talking about a traditional light stand, maybe. But since we’re talking about the Turf Stand, there’s actually quite a bit more to discuss.
Created by Michigan photographer Mike Drilling, the Turfstand is anything but traditional. Replacing the three legs we’re all used to with five sharp, metal spikes, at first glance the Turf Stand bears more of a resemblance to Poseidon’s trident than it does to a light stand. But a light stand it is. Obviously designed for outdoor photography, the base goes about ten inches into the ground, anchoring it securely into just about any terrain.
There is no question that a lot of thought went into the design and manufacture of the Turfstand. Straight out of the box it appears to be sturdy and well-crafted. While I’ll confess to having one of those, “Why didn’t I think of this?” moments, I also have to admit to being a bit skeptical. After all, a conventional light stand and sand bag have always served me well in the past, so what’s the big deal? Then I remembered how much I hate dragging sand bags around with me, so that became a quick point in the Turfstand’s favor. Then I thought about uneven terrain, odd angles, and some of the other dilemmas that Mother Nature and circumstance sometimes throw in our way. Skepticism slowly gave way to intrigue and I was eager to put the Turfstand through its paces.
Considering the fact that the stand was designed to give you a sturdy base in grass, dirt, mud, sand, clay, etc., I would fully expect the spikes to be sharp. I would, however, also expect there to be a guard of some sort included for when the stand is not in use. First and foremost, you MUST be abundantly aware of how you carry this thing, especially when walking with or moving around your subject. Regardless of which direction I had the spikes pointed, I was a bit nervous- not only for the safety of the people around me, but for my own as well. After all, this was designed for uneven terrain. Tripping while carrying this stand unprotected could have some pretty serious results. Putting it in my light stand bag was not a viable solution, out of fear that the spikes might damage the bag itself, or the umbrellas and softboxes also stored in it. I addressed my concern with some heavy-duty cardboard.
If you’ve been doing this a while, you know that air-cushioned stands lower slowly, regardless of how much weight is mounted on them. Non-air-cushioned stands, on the other hand, will slide down pretty fast as soon as the thumb screws are loosened. While this should not be a factor that prevents you from using this stand, you should be aware of it. As with all light stands and background stands, maintain control of each section as it’s lowered. You’ll not only keep the people around you safe, but you’ll also avoid accidents that could damage your gear.
I do a lot of portrait location work, so I was pretty excited to see how the Turfstand performed. As noted, the spikes are pretty sharp, so driving the base into the ground was pretty easy. I tried it out on grass, hard-packed gravel, wet soil, and our famous Georgia clay. I couldn’t find anything on the Turfstand website regarding water-resistance, so I passed on the idea of trying it out in a running, shallow river nearby, but my guess is it would be fine, as long as the base was not completely submerged.
One area where the Turfstand performed exceptionally well, was when I tried it at odd angles. How many times have you been shooting portraits on location and not been able to get your light stand down low enough? Portraits with subjects sitting on the ground often require an assistant holding the light, or turning a light stand on its side and laying it horizontally on the ground. The Turfstand’s unique design allowed me to stick it securely in the ground at a 45 degree angle, bringing the softbox down to a lower height, without the usual hassles.
Taking odd angles and uneven terrain a few steps further, I decided to see how the stand would fare if stuck into the side of a hill. As you can see from the photo below, it’s pretty adept at putting a light in places you wouldn’t be able to even try with a conventional light stand. Even better, it lets you do so without putting you, or an assistant, in a physically dangerous or precarious position. We all want to get “The Shot” but personal safety should come first (most of the time).
The other big question mark for me was how the Turfstand would perform under windy conditions. Starting with the premise that no light stand is going to stay 100% still in even a light breeze once an umbrella or softbox is mounted on it, my concern was less about movement and more about falling over. By virtue of its three legs, a traditional light stand is going to have a lower center of gravity, resulting in less lateral sway. The down side is that on a windy day your traditional stand will either stay up or get blown over. Up or down. There’s not going to be much in between. An assistant or a sand bag will obviously help, but not everyone has the luxury of a second set of hands on a photo shoot. While I did notice some sway with the Turf Stand–particularly when used at unconventional angles–I was never worried about it being dislodged from the ground.
As with any piece of equipment, you have to use some common sense. In windy conditions, a softbox will fare better than an umbrella, but remember that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In the case of the Turfstand, my weakest point was where my speedlight and softbox were attached. Just because the Turfstand can withstand a heavy wind, don’t assume that your light or modifier can. As the product insert says, “Nothing works in a hurricane.”
For purposes of this test, I used a Nikon SB800 speedlight in a 24″ Glow HexaPop softbox (one of my favorite modifiers for ease of use and quality of light, full review coming soon). The combination of the two was well below the 4.5 pound load limit. As with any light stand, exercise caution against pushing the maximum load limit, or maximum extension.
I review a lot of photography products, and some of the highest praise I can offer is that a product does what it says it’s going to do and does it well. That is certainly the case with the Turfstand. Plant it in the ground and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a unique solution to a problem that any location photographer has faced, and any solution that lets me leave the sand bags at home is a solution well worth considering. You’ll notice below that I’ve given the Turfstand 4 out of 5 stars. If the designers can come up with a guard for the spikes when not in use (something I’d be willing to pay extra for, by the way), and switch to air-cushioned construction, I’d gladly give the 5th star.
As noted, the Turfstand sells for $139.00 (USD) on the Windborne website, but even at its $99.95 Adorama price, I can’t help but think the price is maybe a bit high. Realizing that you can buy two conventional air-cushioned light stands for the cost of just one Turfstand makes you stop and think about whether the added versatility is worth the added cost. As with any gear purchase, only buy it if your answer is “yes.” For me, I don’t see it being a major part of my workflow right now, but it’s nice to know that an option like the Turfstand is available if that changes.