Quality lighting can make or break a video production. It sets the mood, draws the viewer’s eye, and brings out the colors and textures of the scene. But placing lights exactly where you want them on a video shoot isn’t always easy. That’s where lighting booms and arms come in handy. These adjustable poles allow you to mount lights and precisely position them above or around your subject.
In this post, we’ll be spotlighting the top 5 lighting booms and arms that provide versatility, mobility, stability and reach for professional video shoots and indie productions alike. We’ll cover the key features and tradeoffs of each option so you can determine which is best suited for your lighting needs.
An Overview of Lighting Booms and Arms
First, what exactly are lighting booms and arms? As the name suggests, they are poles or arms used to boom, or position, lights on a video set. They allow lights to be mounted overhead or out of frame and adjusted to get the perfect angle on the subject.
Lighting booms have a heavy weighted base, vertical stand, horizontal arm, and movable joints. Sandbags or other weights are often added to the base for stability. The arm can be manually extended, raised or rotated to place the mounted light where desired. This adjustability makes lighting booms incredibly useful for crafting professional lighting setups.
Alternatively, lighting arms are connected to a grip head or stand via a fixed or flexible joint. They are often modular, allowing multiple extendable arms to be combined to extend the lighting even farther. Arms tend to be lighter weight than traditional booms, but less stable.
Having the right lighting boom or arm for the shoot allows cinematographers and photographers to move lights off-camera and craft lighting that looks great but doesn’t interfere with the action. Now let’s spotlight the top options available!
#1: C-Stand with Boom Arm – The Traditional Stalwart
The traditional c-stand paired with a high-quality boom arm remains one of the most popular lighting boom setups for video productions. This combo has been used for decades to provide flexible, stable overhead lighting. Here’s an overview:
The C-Stand – The “C” shape heavy-duty stand has a ponderous weight at the bottom and 3 splayed legs with wheels, allowing easy positioning, rolling, and weighting down. The vertical arm has a rotating head to angle the boom precisely.
The Boom Arm – Attaches to the stand via a horizontal pivot joint. This lets it rotate 360 degrees. The arm can telescope out several feet, with additional extensions possible. A high-quality boom will be sturdy even when fully extended.
- Extremely sturdy and stable even with heavy lights
- Weight capacity up to 100 lbs depending on stand and arm quality
- Precision positioning with stand head and boom pivots
- Folds down reasonably small for transport
- Heavier than many other options, not highly portable
- Can be cumbersome to repeatedly reposition
- Doesn’t extend as far horizontally as specialized booms
If you need overhead lighting that can stay locked in position with heavy-duty lights, the classic c-stand with boom arm is hard to beat. It may not be as sleek and portable as other options, but it gets the job done.
#2: Telescoping Lighting Boom Pole – Extending the Reach
For productions where lights need to be extended really far horizontally, a telescoping lighting boom pole is ideal. These poles are specialized to provide maximum overhead reach from a lightweight design.
Telescoping Lighting Boom Design – The pole is segmented into multiple hollow aluminum or carbon fiber sections that slide into each other. These segments telescope outward, with the thickest segments at the base. Fully extended, the pole can reach from 16 to over 20 feet horizontally.
- Can extend lighting extremely far – over 20 feet for the largest booms
- Surprisingly light and portable design
- Single operator can position the pole using attached handles
- Lower cost than c-stands and arms
- Much less sturdy than c-stand setups
- Typically only supports lighter weight lights up to 20 lbs
- Difficult to lock in precise positions
- Can have stability and shake issues when fully extended
For indie productions on a budget, a telescoping lighting boom is great for run-and-gun shooting needing to extend lighting far. The length comes at the cost of stability however, so they aren’t suitable for heavier lights or sets requiring rigidity.
#3: Rolling Lighting Stand with Boom Arm – Mobility Focus
Having lighting that can be easily repositioned during a video shoot to follow the action can be invaluable. That’s where a rolling lighting stand with boom arm shines. The wheeled base allows the entire rig to be moved around quickly.
Rolling Lighting Stand – The base has large wheels and handles for maneuvering. The vertical stand telescopes up and down. A rotating mounting head provides flexibility.
Boom Arm – Attaches to the stand via a multi-jointed system. This allows the arm to be positioned in almost any orientation. The arm extends horizontally to suspend lights overhead.
- Highly mobile, can be rolled around set or location
- Adjustable boom arm offers great positioning flexibility
- Stand can telescope fairly tall for overhead lighting
- Quick to reposition to light different shots
- Base not as stable as weighted c-stands, can be prone to tipping
- Wheels can cause issues on uneven ground
- Usually lower weight capacity than c-stands
For studio productions with smooth surfaces, the rolling base provides awesome convenience. But the wheels compromise overall stability, so it’s not ideal for locations with uneven terrain.
#4: Low Angle Lighting Boom Arm – Down Low Lighting
Getting lighting positioned at a low angle can be difficult with traditional booms focused overhead. That’s where a specialized low angle lighting boom arm comes in. This positions lights down low to the ground.
Low Angle Boom Arm – Attaches to a light stand via a ball head or flexible joint. Two articulated segments allow the arm to extend outward and downward.
- Allows lighting subjects from creative low positions
- Can mount lights very close to the ground
- Much more stable than holding lights low manually
- Naturally limited in terms of height
- Typically only accommodates smaller lights
- Requires a stands, gobos, or sandbags for support
The ability to safely boom lights from such low angles expands the artistic possibilities enormously. Just don’t expect to get them high in the air.
#5: Overhead Lighting Boom Arm – Specialized for Top Down
When overhead top-down lighting is paramount, a dedicated overhead lighting boom arm gives ultimate control. The specialized counterweighted design keeps the arm extended directly horizontal.
Overhead Boom Arm – Attaches to a swiveling stand via a horizontal pivot. A long horizontal arm has adjustable counterweights to prevent tilting and sagging when extended.
- Positions lights directly overhead even when extended
- Counterweighting prevents sagging or angling
- Lighting remains locked in position overhead
- Very specific purpose, limits lighting angles
- Counterweights increase complexity of adjustments
- More expensive than standard boom arms
This specialty boom arm really only does one thing – top down lighting. But when that’s needed, its precision can’t be matched by standard booms. Just be prepared to pay more for such specific functionality.
Choosing the Right Boom/Arm for Your Lighting Needs
With the top options covered, how do you choose which is best for your production? Here are some key factors to consider:
- Light Size/Weight – Select a boom or arm rated to support the heaviest lights you expect to use. Exceeding weight capacities risks damage or injury.
- Reach Required – Consider the maximum height and horizontal reach needed. Telescoping booms extend lighting farthest.
- Mobility Needs – If you need to reposition lighting frequently, wheeled bases help tremendously.
- Location Terrain – On outdoor shoots, wheeled bases can struggle on uneven ground. C-stands are more surefooted.
- Ease of Setup – Complicated counterweighted or jointed arms take more time to setup properly.
- Budget – Telescoping poles and basic boom arms are most affordable. Rolling stands and c-stands have higher costs.
- Testing First – If possible, try out each lighting support in person before purchasing to assess stability and ease of adjustment.
Considering these factors will help you select the optimal boom or arm for the shoot. Having the wrong lighting supports can sabotage an otherwise great production.
Frequently Asked Questions About Lighting Booms and Arms
Let’s shed some more light on choosing the right lighting boom/arm by answering some common questions videographers have:
What are the different types of joints and how do they affect adjustability?
The joints between the stand, boom arm, and extension segments greatly affect the range of adjustment possible. Some key joint types include:
- Slip Joints – Tighten via a screw collar to fix segments in place. Allow pretty good flexibility.
- Gobo Heads – Articulated joints with multiple locking pivot points for precision movements.
- Flash Brackets – Basic U-shaped brackets that hold boom arm segments. Limited adjustment.
Ball Heads – Provide a ball joint for adjusting angle through a wide range in all directions.
In general, gobo heads provide the most flexible adjustment range, with ball heads close behind. Flash brackets trade off adjustability for lower cost. Consider which joint movements are most important for the desired lighting position.
What is the maximum weight capacity I should look for?
The weight rating depends on the size lights you need to mount:
- For smaller LED lights up to 20 lbs, look for up to 40 lb capacity.
- For midsize lights like Kino Flos, 100 lb capacity is ideal.
- For large heavylights, crank stands, or multiple lights, up to 150 lb capacity or more is advisable.
Exceeding the recommended load risks equipment damage and injury. Leave a buffer if possible.
Are lighting booms and arms easy to travel with?
They break down into fairly portable components, but some are definitely more travel friendly than others:
- Telescoping poles pack down into bags and cases nicely.
- Modular boom arms disassemble into packs.
- C-stands fold up reasonably small but remain heavy.
- Rolling stands are bulky and awkward for air travel when folded.
For travel, choose options that pack down into lightweight components rather than fixed bulky stands. Soft case protection is also a must during transport.
Should I buy aluminum or steel booms/arms?
This comes down to a weight vs. strength tradeoff:
- Much lighter than steel options
- Still provides decent strength
- More expensive
- Very strong but also very heavy
- More affordable than aluminum
- Can rust over time
For travel and extended use, aluminum provides the best combination of strength, weight and longevity. But steel works for more budget-conscious productions.
How can I prevent boom wobble when fully extended?
When booms are extended to their maximum reach, stability decreases and wobble can occur. Some tips to reduce shake:
- Add weights or sandbags to the base for stability
- Keep any mounted accessories like reflectors as light as possible
- Tighten locking screws on extension joints
- Have a grip or second person help stabilize the base
- Avoid extending too far beyond rated horizontal reach
With careful setup and use, even budget booms and arms can deliver professional results. Proper stabilization is key to getting steady overhead lighting.
Shine On by Choosing the Right Lighting Boom or Arm
We’ve covered a lot of ground on lighting booms and arms. To recap, the five best options for professional productions are:
- C-Stand with Boom Arm – Ultimate stability for heavier lights
- Telescoping Lighting Boom – Lightweight extension for distance
- Rolling Lighting Stand – Mobility to easily reposition
- Low Angle Boom – Creative lighting from below
- Overhead Boom – Precision top-down lighting
Consider your own needs in terms of load capacity, extension, mobility, setup time and budget. Testing options in person first is highly recommended to assess stability.
With the right lighting boom or arm for the shoot, you can position lights exactly where you need them with rock solid support. This expands the creative lighting possibilities dramatically and allows composing truly professional shots. Just be sure to choose wisely based on the lighting gear you plan to use and the scenarios you expect to encounter on set and location.
Then you can extend, position and lock the lighting in place to achieve perfect illumination every time. Have any other questions about selecting the ideal lighting boom or arms? Let us know in the comments!