George Lepp in Botswana, Africa, working from an open vehicle, switching between a tripod and a monopod with a Canon 500mm ƒ/4L IS lens.
Some African countries, including South Africa and Namibia, require that you work from enclosed vehicles in their national parks. The tripod-and-lens combination must enable you to photograph out a lowered window, which is restrictive to the angle of view. Set up your tripod between you and the window, with two legs on the floor and one shortened leg jammed into the space between the seat back and cushion. This isn’t perfectly steady, but it helps a lot. You won’t have the ability to move from one side of the vehicle to the other. This emphasizes the need for a driver/guide who knows how to get you into position for the best shot. Why bother with a tripod in these circumstances? It’s a big lens, and you have to keep it in position. It’s an expensive lens, and you don’t want it banging against the window frame. A far less effective, but more maneuverable option is a beanbag, and we’ve used that for smaller setups, including an HD video camera focused for a long time on one scene.
Tour vehicles in Tanzania often allow photography from large sunroofs. In this case, the photographer stands on the seat below and spans the sunroof with the articulated tripod. This platform is very stable and covers more than 180 degrees.
This leopard was digitally captured in Botswana, Africa, using a tripod in an open vehicle (500mm ƒ/4L IS lens and Gitzo Explorer tripod).
In Botswana and many other areas of Africa, you’re allowed to work from a completely open vehicle. Many have seats tiered upward from the front to back rows. The back row may have an advantage because of the improved view, but it’s the roughest ride, and it forces you to photograph down on animals near the vehicle. The row immediately behind the driver has the benefit of having no other photographers (and their rigs) in front of you, and you can converse with the driver/guide who often can predict an animal’s behavior. When you have a whole seat to yourself, you can use the tripod setup as in an enclosed vehicle, legs supported by both the floor and the seat. This limits your ability to move around, so for maximum maneuverability, put a quick release on your tripod and your monopod to quickly transfer from one support system to the other.
Come Back With Sharp Images Far afield or close to home, you want the time, energy and money invested in your photography to yield good images. Keeping your camera steady in all kinds of environments requires extra thought and some specialized gear, but it’s worth it when your captures convey more about the subjects and less about the conditions you experienced on the go.