Traveling in nature and being out in the wilderness is a life changing experience for most. But, for photographers, it can be the experience of a lifetime, especially if they’re in the middle of untamed territory or shooting wildlife on a safari. Photographic subjects are plentiful – as are the vistas and landscapes that fill each view. Wild animals, which many people have only seen on wildlife documentaries, walk past mere meters from you, often stopping to stare back at you, providing an image, and a memory, that many would turn green for. The same goes for fast moving objects in a city you’re trying to capture.
One of the most challenging things for photographers is to keep the camera steady in order to produce a crystal clear shot. There is nothing more frustrating, or heartbreaking, than composing the perfect shot, with the perfect light, only for it to come out blurred because of camera shake.
Luckily there are a few great pieces of gear available that will greatly decrease the frustration and heartbreak of a shaky shot.
The Sturdy Monopod
The monopod fits somewhere in between the versatile beanbag and the steady tripod. Using a monopod (which is quite literally an adjustable arm that attaches to the camera or lens as a tripod would) allows you to steady your shot on the ground or floor of the vehicle, while still giving you the freedom and room to move with the animals as they move.
Using a ball head mounted to the foot of your telephoto lens will give you that much more freedom to move around. Monopods are easy to transport and very quick to set up, positioning it as a great alternative to a heavy tripod when looking for a steady shot.
Pros of the monopod: Lighter than a tripod, quicker to set up in a hurry and easy to transport
Cons of the monopod: Not as sturdy as a tripod for those more intricate shots, can be difficult on a game vehicle to position if there are lots of fellow guests aboard. The monopod is lighter than a tripod and easier to carry around
Quick Tip: Mounting your monopod to the foot on your lens, and then positioning the ball head on the side of the monopod will allow plenty of flexibility to take portrait and landscape shots in quick succession with minimal fuss or adjustments.
The Numble Bean Bag
This is probably my favourite piece of gear when it comes to stabilizing my camera on the vehicle, purely because of its versatility. The beanbag is, quite literally, a material bag filled with beans. It can be quite heavy to lug around, but comes into its own when in a precarious position on the vehicle when trying to capture nature as it happens.
Perch the beanbag on the seat in front of you for great eye-level shots, or simply place it on your lap, or knees for an interesting angle that you may not get when shooting hand-held. A beanbag is also really handy when you have jumped off the vehicle for a sundowner, where you can rest the bag on the bonnet of the game vehicle to capture one of the incredible landscapes or sunsets.
The bean bag can be shaped into the best position for getting the shot you desire
Pros of the beanbag: It’s versatile, easy to transport and store, and a quick solution that will really guarantee shake-free shots.
The easy to use bean bag is also light to carry with you and on your vehicle
Cons of the beanbag: It can be heavy to travel with and will never be able to take the place of a tripod when you really need that height, or don’t have something to rest the bag on.
Quick tip: If you haven’t got access to a beanbag, make your own by filling a Ziploc bag with pistachio nuts. The beanbag will work well to stabilize your camera, and the nuts will take the form of a healthy snack. Pistachios work best, as the bag will remain full of shells even after all the nuts are gone. Once all your shooting is done, simply throw the Ziploc bag away, and continue on your travels.
The Trusty Tripod
The tripod is probably the first piece of gear photographers think of when wanting a clear shot. They come in all shapes and sizes, and definitely hold their place when it comes to stabilizing a camera with a lens on the larger side.
For me, the tripod comes into its own when I want to make 100% sure that the shot I am about to take is set up correctly. There is something about using a tripod that slows you down, and makes you consider the shot, composition and lighting more deliberately. There is also no substitute for the tripod when you want to get a little bit more creative with your shots, whether it be capturing a star-trail, emphasising the flow of water by leaving your exposure open or capturing a dramatic bushveld storm – lighting and all.
A tripod allows you to think more carefully about the composition of your shot
Using a tripod is imperative for capturing night scenes and stars like this. Photograph: Rich Laburn
Pros of the Tripod: The ultimate steadying tool, it allows you to create the perfect shot, both in composition and in creative flare by taking full control of the body and lens, leaving just the light for you to control.
Cons of the Tripod: Impractical when you need to move with the rhythm of nature, can be bulky and heavy to transport
A handy tip: hang a bag onto your tripod to give it more weight to counterbalance a bigger lens
Quick Tip: If your tripod is on the lighter side, hang a bag filled with equipment (or stones) from the tripod to give it more weight to counterbalance a bigger lens.
Written and Photographed by: Amanda Ritchie