This shot was taken using a bean bag from a vehicle (engine off)
When you’re using tripods or monopods, remember to keep the centre column short. Here are a few other tips. You can put your hand on top of the lens to dampen down vibrations. A heavy bag or other weight can be hung from the bottom of the centre column if it has a hook. This can really help with vibrations. If you’re forced to use very slow shutter speeds, you can use a remote release cable or wireless remote to disconnect yourself from the camera.
A similar effect can be achieved by using the self timer function or Exposure Delay (Nikon only I think) to create a short delay between the shutter button being pressed and the shot being taken. Lastly, if you’re using an SLR, you can use mirror lock-up to create a two stage shutter operation. The first press of the shutter button raises the mirror out of the way and the second press (best done via a remote release) actually fires the shutter. What this does is get all vibrations associated with raising the mirror out of the way before the shot is taken.
If you’re in a hide or a vehicle, tripods and monopods can actually be a nuisance. If you’re not tripping over the legs, or finding that the head plus lens doesn’t fit through the opening, you’re rueing the fixed position that doesn’t allow full movement. Enter: the beanbag.
A beanbag is arguably more stable than a tripod or monopod because it has a very wide base to put your camera or lens on and is only a few centimetres high. That’s obviously no good in outdoor situations where you have to walk around and place the camera somewhere stable (except for ground shots), but a beanbag is a godsend in a hide or car.
Beanbags come in two main flavours: single and double. The double bags are better because they’re bigger and have a natural channel to rest your camera and lens on the top where the two bags meet.
Beanbags are also flexible. They’re often filled with rice and (not surprisingly) beans, but you can fill them full of pretty much anything, including earth. The beauty when travelling by air with them is that you carry them empty and fill them when you arrive. I actually use polystyrene balls to fill mine, which weigh virtually nothing. This is great for general, year round use, although I have to top the bag up every now and again as the balls squash over time. The support isn’t quite as sturdy as with rice either, but the portability of it means that’s my filler of choice most of the year round.
I have heard of a cautionary tale of elephants taking a fancy to the food content of someone’s beanbag, but thankfully I think this is rare!
I’ll get my coat
If you haven’t got a beanbag handy, a coat or fleece will do – folded or scrunched up. They’re not as good as a beanbag, but in those situations where you’ve left yours at home and an opportunity arises, they’re a good option.
Gorillapods are a great invention: they allow you to wrap their three, flexible legs around anything: a branch or fence post for example. You can also use them for low-level shooting. I often have one in my backpack even when I’m carrying one of my usual tripods. A great example would be for squirrel photography. I’ve set a gorillapod up with a camera and wide angle lens and remotely triggered the shutter. This low position gives a great viewpoint.
Ground pods are are a good option if you need to get down really low. These can be bought (or even made out of a frying pan with a screw mount in it!) and they take a tripod head, including a gimbal head. This means you can use even a really big lens very close to the ground and still achieve nice, fluid movements. They have a flat base, which means you can move them around on the ground easily.
Studio lighting stands are a potential option – sort of. They really aren’t flexible and usually come with fixed, fold-out legs that need a very flat surface, but if you have one handy, they can be used in certain circumstances. They’re not much use outdoors, although I have used them when I’ve needed the camera in a fixed position and have already used both my tripods for wireless flashes.
Foot cords are something I’ve never seen anyone use! Indeed I’ve never tried one myself, although I know they exist. They consist of a cord with a screw to attach to the camera base and are obviously very light weight. The principle is that you put your foot on the end of the cord and pull the camera upwards until the cord is tight. In this position, the amount of vertical movement is limited and therefore it cuts down on some vibration.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the article. If I’ve missed anything, or you’d like me to expand on something a little more, drop me an email or leave a comment on the post and I’ll try to include your suggestion.
By the way, the answer to whether you should bring a tripod to the Farnes or leave it at home is that if you bring one, you won’t need it, but if you don’t, you’ll wish you had…