Tom rounds up the best portable supports for outdoor photography
Having a solid support for your photography is essential in many situations, to ensure sharp images and maximise your ability to be creative. Usually we photographers rely on our tripods, our trusty three legged friends that keep our cameras solidly supported.
Sometimes, however, they’re not the perfect solution for the given situation. Below are six other options you might want to think about to help support your photographic ambitions.
1. Monopod / video monopod
Sometimes one leg is better than three. As a support, monopods are fantastic for fast paced action or sports. Often you will see Olympic photographers using a monopod, as it will help take the weight of their long lens while still giving them the ability to move freely, follow the action and take up minimal space. In most cases, monopods work best with lenses that have their own foot mount for better weight distribution and handling.
One down side is the fact that a monopod isn’t free-standing, meaning you always have to keep a hand or two on it, but in most cases this won’t be a problem.
If you shoot video, don’t overlook the monopod. Video monopods with a ball-jointed foot provide the ability to level the camera and smoothly pan and even slide from side to side, helping to add camera movement for the more professional look.
Superclamps can fix to a huge array of objects and are perfect for all kinds of applications
I think all photographers should probably have at least one of these in their bag. Due to the superclamp’s low price, flexibility and strength as a support, there really isn’t a reason not to own one.
A simple clamping device, the superclamp allows you to grip onto pretty much anything, providing a secure way to attach a camera.
With a payload of 15kg, they can hold a large amount of weight. The mounting spigots allow for the addition of a tripod head, meaning they are a great for putting a camera in awkward positions, be it on railings at sporting events, on the limb of a tree or attached to a steel joist in an old warehouse!
3. Magic arm
Magic arms are perfect for mounting remote cameras
If the super clamp doesn’t provide enough variation for camera positing, combining it with a magic arm is a great way to have a totally flexible and positionable support. Working alongside the clamp they add an extra two feet or so of flexible movable arm that locks tight once you have it in position. This makes it possible to mount a camera practically anywhere and once you have one, you’ll wonder why you didn’t sooner. I love using mine for positioning cameras in trees for remote work or for mounting additional accessories off my tripod.
The magic arm combination is also a great solution for those who are working from a wheelchair or other movement aid. They can be attached to the metal of the side and provide a solid, positionable support for those who may find carrying a tripod difficult.
4. Suction cup
In some situations you may need to attach your camera to a pane of glass, sheet metal or side of a car, and for these jobs a suction cup is what you need!
Strong suction cups are readily available these days, especially following the emergence and success of GoPro and action cameras. If motorsport photography is your bag, having a POV cam on the side of a rally or track car is an awesome way to get some new angles, and a suction cup is a great way to do it. Additionally if you like your road trip photos, suction cups can be a great way of mounting a camera for an on board time-lapse to help share those long journeys with your friends and family.
5. Ground pod
Getting eye level with your subjects is really important if you want to add impact to your images. If you work with wildlife, plants or macro subjects, you’ll often find they will be low down on the ground.
With some tripods working at low levels they can be a viable option, but due to their cumbersome size and difficulty to move, a ground pod can be a better alternative. Coming in a range of designs ground pods are basically low level supports with a thread for a tripod head. Some are shaped like a round pan, which allows the user to slide them around on the ground, perfect for edging towards subjects when following wildlife.
These when used alongside a gimbal or other fast panning head are great for wildlife photography. Other styles like the Kirk ground pod are square, with small feet that provide more rigidity. These used together with a solid ball head provide a cracking support for the macro photographer, giving a low-angle support with plenty of scope for framing up in a variety of compositions. Small and compact, a ground pod may be just what you have been looking for!
6. Bean bag
Beanbags are great for supporting long lenses out in the field
If the above supports haven’t ticked all the boxes, maybe a heavy dead weight to carry might be what you are after. Bean bags can be a perfect camera support especially for use with long lenses. Excellent to use from cars, fences or wooden hides they provide a solid way of keeping the camera steady and your images sharp.
What you fill your bean bag with is of course important. If it’s too light (some people use polystyrene – a material I hate) you will find the bag almost bounces with an amount of elasticity, resulting in increased vibrations. Instead, you’ll want something heavy that moulds to the camera. Rice, lentils or bird seed are great choices, but of course remember a big bean bag full of these starts to get weighty! Another choice is small plastic beads, which are solid and won’t bounce. They’re waterproof too, meaning they won’t get mouldy, and they have the additionally benefit of being a shade lighter too.
If you are travelling and want to take a bean bag, take it unfilled and once on location head out and buy some local rice or beans or something similar. This will reduce your carry-on weight and make packing far simpler. The beans can be given away locally once finished with for a sustainable approach.
So there you have it, 6 options for mounting your camera in practically any situation whether you are a portrait, wildlife or sports photographer, showing you don’t always need to tote along your three legged friend!
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