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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brace Yourself

A travel photographer’s view of stabilizing options for DSLR motion shooters

If your camera has an articulating LCD screen, a variation I like to use creates an even more stable platform than having the camera up on my chest. I pull down on my camera strap until it gets taut, usually just above my waist level, then I extend the tripod legs and brace it against my admittedly overample midsection.

With the camera low and taut like this, I flip the LCD up so I can look down into it, and bingo, I have a very stable shooting platform, thanks to the tension on the strap and the bracing of the tripod against my midsection. This is possibly my favorite way to shoot handheld, especially with wider glass.

One Foot, Three Feet. I was never a great fan of monopods in my still shooting days, but they come in handy in video shooting, especially the designs that have a small tripod built into the base of the monopod. In many ways, this is the best of both worlds: You have the convenience of a monopod, with at least some of the stability of a three-legged tripod. Of course, not all monopods with little tripod bases are created equally. Right now, my favorite is one with a fluid head atop the little tripod, which is offered on a few Manfrotto monopods (561BHDV-1 and 560B-1).

The beauty of this arrangement is that with the fluid head in the monopod's mini-tripod base, you either can swing it around to do fairly fluid pans and Dutch-angle shots, but then you can set the monopod upright, find the point where the head kind of "clicks" in and have the monopod stand straight up without the need to touch it.

There are several "tripod foot on a monopod" designs out there, but without the fluid head in the tripod base, you're relegated to using them in the straight upright position, and you can't do any of the fancy pans, push-ins and so-called Dutch-angle moves you can do with the "fluid head in a tripod foot" design.

Now there are a couple of caveats using these monopods. First, they're not going to support really big cameras in the freestanding mode without a lot of wavering and swinging back and forth until they come to rest. Never leave your camera unattended this way at the risk of watching it tip over. I find that they work best with small to medium-sized cameras.

The second is that sometimes there's a hitch in the fluid panning base that will rear its ugly head. It's a known issue, and it comes and goes. Hopefully, this will be corrected in the future.


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