Learning Wildlife Photography

03) Choosing a good tripod or a monopod.

Every photographer will need to purchase a tripod at some point in their career. Unfortunately, many individuals make the mistake of buying the cheapest one they can find, only to have it break after a year or two, causing more damage to their pictures than good. I made this error about 20 years ago when I bought one of those inexpensive SLIK tripods. After that, a photographer may opt to purchase a "real" tripod, one that will last them for the rest of their lives, and it is during this second search that many individuals stumble across the best tripods. In this article, I'll offer my two decades of experience with a variety of tools.

If you're serious about capturing shots outside, get rid of the inexpensive tripod you got at the department store. A long lens coupled to a heavy camera cannot be supported by flimsy plastic legs. You should choose one constructed of aluminum or carbon fibre to ensure that your equipment is stable and safe.

When putting up your tripod on uneven ground, you'll need a tripod with multi-angle legs. After adjusting the legs, lock them to ensure that they stay in place no matter how they're positioned. Check that the bubble in your spirit level (the green circle or cylinder normally found on the tripod head) stays in the middle to ensure that the angle of your camera is straight.

The tripod head is another key factor to consider. There are a variety of options, but the ball head and the gimbal head are the two most popular among wildlife photographers. If you’re shooting with a medium telephoto that’s not too heavy, you can use a ball head because it rolls smoothly, and it's relatively easy to adjust. For longer, bigger telephotos, use a gimbal head to keep the lens balanced while you’re holding the camera.

Longer lenses can be held in the hand and used to photograph birds in flight, but that's about it. Early in the morning or late in the evening, when light levels demand you to use a very slow shutter speed, many of the best wildlife photography opportunities arise. When you consider the enhanced shaking effect of larger focal lengths, a tripod becomes a must-have accessory.

With lens lengths in the 400-600mm range, I frequently shoot well under 1/200 second. Without a tripod, even a 5-stop image stabilizer won't help you produce consistent results in that area. Another reason to invest in a tripod is to avoid weariness. Many hours can be spent observing and waiting on a shooting day. You should conserve your energy.

Choosing a tripod might be the subject of an entire essay in and of itself, but I'll give you some pointers and tell you about some of my favorites below. The two most common mistakes I see people make when purchasing a tripod are purchasing one that is too inexpensive and purchasing one that is too short. Both of these blunders have been made by me! When the tripod is fully extended, pay particular attention to the height.

The most common blunder is purchasing one that appears to perfectly position their camera at eye level. The difficulty is that it is based on level ground! When was the last time you saw level ground outside? In actuality, you'll want to be able to have at least one downhill.

Another blunder I made was purchasing a low-cost tripod and then having to deal with issues and breakages on a regular basis. It's all too tempting to think of a tripod as a place where you can save money at first. It's certainly possible to take good shots with a cheap tripod up until it breaks, at which point you're stuck! Please do not get the cheapest tripod that will "do the job." You'll come to regret it. Have faith in me.

You'll only have to replace it in the end, so you might as well have begun with a decent one to begin with. A well-kept, high-quality tripod can endure ten years or longer. Yes, my tripod is a costly purchase, and I'm not advocating that you pay premium rates, but I take great pride in its sturdiness and the knowledge that it will accompany me on many journeys to come.

If your budget doesn't allow for premium pricing, I'd recommend Induro's carbon tripods or the ever-present Manfrotto 055. I've had a Mefoto tripod for many years and it's fantastic. Is the extra cost of carbon worth it? It is, in my opinion. Superior vibration dampening, significant weight reductions, and considerably improved strength are all benefits. You'll appreciate the weight savings on a long day when you're already hauling a big lens and camera equipment. Gitzo tripods, especially the 2- and 3-series legs, are also worth considering. They cost around 80% more than the usual tripods, but their capacity-to-weight ratio isn't quite as good. I use a Benro C4780TN Carbon Fibre tripod and is excellent value for money even though it touches the premium price category.

grey and black camera tripod
grey and black camera tripod
black and blue tripod on brown wooden table
black and blue tripod on brown wooden table