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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Keeping Your Camera Steady

When you have to work fast to frame and focus, keeping your camera steady can be a challenge. Try these tips to keep the shots sharp.

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Aerial composite panorama of Morro Bay, Calif., taken with a 28-135mm IS lens and a Kenyon Laboratories gyro. The vibrations of the helicopter were minimized by the gyro and the image stabilization.
A Leg To Stand On
Tripods have three legs and are bulky and need a lot of space. Your fellow passengers on a vehicle safari might resent your taking up an entire seat with your tripod legs splayed out in every direction. Further, people trip over them in crowds, and they can’t be moved out of the way fast enough to avoid a careening athlete. One answer (pun intended) is a monopod, which takes up less space in transport and in use and allows the photographer to maintain a steady base for the camera/lens combination. It eliminates any vertical movement, serves as a pivot point and keeps the camera in position without you having to bear the weight. Use it in vehicles off the floor to be at the ready for an extended period of time. In boats, the monopod’s pivot point counteracts movements caused by swells and wind and, compared to a tripod, transmits fewer vibrations from the engine. In a canoe or kayak, along with the pivoting advantage, a monopod can be set at its minimum height to support the camera at optimum position for a long period of time.

A group of white pelicans photographed with 540mm (Canon 400mm ƒ/4L DO w/1.4x) at 1⁄500 sec. and ƒ/11.
A situation in which a monopod can be extremely valuable is photographing in Antarctica, where typically you’ll do a lot of your photography from a cruise ship. The photographer, with a camera and an image-stabilized telephoto zoom lens supported by a monopod, can stand on the upper deck for a long period of time, shooting from side to side as opportunities present themselves. The support and ease of positioning the camera is a definite advantage over handholding. Maximizing the advantages of a monopod does require a special accessory, a lightweight one-axis head (Bogen 234). It’s a simple tilt head that offers a forward or backward tilt without angling the monopod.

Tripods On The Move
There’s still a place for tripods! These techniques work from moving vehicles when you have a lot of room to yourself. You can use your heaviest rig because the vehicle has to carry the freight. The problems are to minimize motion and vibration and, if you’re photographing wildlife with long, heavy lenses, to support and manipulate your camera/lens combination in sometimes constricted spaces.

You eliminate the vibration (and maximize the safety) by never shooting from a moving vehicle with a tripod. The vehicle is just your platform, and you use it to move into position. Then you shut it down. (As a side note, the most skilled guides for photographic expeditions in Africa are especially adept at positioning their Rovers optimally for photography, considering the angle of light, anticipating the movement of animal subjects and quickly maneuvering to the photographer’s advantage. Check out www.journeysunforgettable.com for a group that really pays attention to digital photographers’ needs.) We’ll use vehicles often encountered on African photo safaris as examples here, since they typically pose the most challenging conditions, but these techniques can guide you equally well in your own vehicle in refuges such as Bosque del Apache, in a snow coach in Yellowstone or on a bus in Denali National Park.

In every case, you need a tripod with good articulation so that you can accommodate it to various seat configurations and floor heights. I have both a Gitzo GT2530EX (with three-segmented legs) and a GT2540EX (with four segments), and both offer an infinite variety of positions.

steady steady
A photographer in a kayak using proper technique for handholding the camera/lens: elbows in and braced by a knee, camera tight to the face, left hand under the lens and right hand smoothly firing the camera shutter. A violet-breasted roller in Tanzania, Africa, surveys its territory from an acacia bush while being captured with a Canon 500mm ƒ/4L IS and a 1.4x tele-extender (700mm). The tripod on the top of the vehicle kept the extreme focal length steady for a sharp capture.


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