Monday, December 14, 2009

My Tripod is Verboten! What do I do?

Eiffel Tower, ParisIt’s happening more and more to travelers across the world. Regardless of the reason, use of tripods in some locations is forbidden.

You can’t use a tripod on top of the Arc de Triomphe, on the third level observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, or the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

At the Chichen Itza archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I’m hearing reports tripods are now banned.

Many cities don’t permit tripod use on busy sidewalks.
Photographers desire to use tripods at these sites and elsewhere in order to make their photo when:
  • Light levels are low,
  • For “night photography,”
  • To support long lenses on DSLRs and SLRs,
  • For panorama photography,
  • For camera/lens support

    • while panning for subjects such as birds and other wildlife,
    • for landscapes with near to far focusing,
    • for long exposures for motion and other effects.
There are numerous potential tripod substitutes which include:
  • Clamps and clamp-like products,
  • Mini-tripods,
  • Beanbags,
  • Monopods,
  • Great hand-holding technique with or without image stabilization or vibration reduction,
  • Raise your ISO or ASA for the camera.
Clamps and clamp-like products which are light weight enough to travel with can hold Point and Shoot cameras, and DSLRs with short lenses well, but generally not SLRs or DSLRs with long lenses (300mm and beyond).

Hama ClampThe Hama Clamp is an example of a clamp tripod substitute which can handle consumer level DSLRs with short lenses. This clamp holds beautifully on square surfaces such as the back of a park bench or some fences, however on round surfaces such as pipes, especially smallish pipes, it often slips.

The Joby Gorillapod can also act as a clamp-like device. You can bend each of the legs to surround projections like fence posts or pipes to hold your camera. On a vertical post you do need to somehow ensure that it doesn’t slip down.

Joby GorillapodMost mini-tripods, while useful in many situations with Point & Shoot cameras, are rarely strong enough to handle DSLRs or SLRs. An exception I’ve found is the Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom, specifically designed for them. It will work with lens up to about 200mm.

Photography beanbags while principally the same as the ones you might have played with as a kid in the “beanbag toss” game, are actually very different. Photography beanbags, like the Visual Departures’ Steadybag come in a variety of sizes meant for different types of cameras, and are manufactured with waterproof bags and custom-milled polypropylene beads instead of dried beans, shredded foam pieces, or dried corn kernels.

SteadybagThe beanbags work by conforming to uneven surfaces on which they sit, and having a flexible surface to fully seat the camera to hold it rock steady. For decades, wildlife photographers on safari have used beanbags on the roof of their 4–wheel drive vehicles to steady their camera/lens, even cameras with very long lenses.

To me, monopods have an important place in action photography, but aren’t a reasonable substitute for a tripod. They still require the photographer to be the final support for the camera. Long exposures are not the strong suit of the monopod/photographer combination. Monopods aren’t designed for that. (I’ve found that most locations which don’t permit tripods, forbid monopods too.)

Great hand-holding technique alone, even if for camera/lens combos which have image stabilization or vibration reduction will not suffice for an exposure of a second or two, or for shorter night exposures, but it is possible to augment that, if you can brace yourself against a fence, wall, column, etc. When you can brace yourself, remember, it still won’t work every time, so take multiple shots to get at least one good one.

Increasing your ISO setting (sensor sensitivity) in your digital camera, or using film with a faster ASA rating (film sensitivity) will enable you to use a faster shutter speed, permitting you to hand hold your camera, but that does come with a cost; noise or grain.

My DSLR can be easily pushed to an ISO of 400 with little noticeable degradation of its images. Newer Pro DSLR’s can be pushed higher, but most Point and Shoot digital cameras even can’t make it past an ISO of 200–300 without noticeable noise hurting the final photograph. There are add-ons to Photoshop such as Neat Image or Noise Ninja which do a great job in reducing noise. Nevertheless, I rather keep my ISO as low as possible and not have any noise to deal with.

Which tripod substitute solution is best, depends on the particular configuration for each location. Weather permitting, I’ll be taking night photos from the observation deck of the Empire State Building later this month. I’ll be using a Steadybag on the top of the wall there, and shoot through the fence.

Important tip: Use a remote shutter release to activate the shutter. That will eliminate camera/lens movement due to you physically pressing the shutter release.


nintendo dsi r4 said...

This little tripod look very nice and beautiful.This tripod can easily can take in travelling and it look so Compaq also.You provide very useful information on this little tripod I am very glad after I saw this one it is really a very nice and cool one.

Ralph said...

Great shot of the Eiffel Tower and great article Ned.

I just ordered a Steadybag.


Steph said...

Ned, according to your experience with the Gorillapod, just how well does it hold on to things?

Ned S. Levi said...

Steph, the rings on the Gorillapod legs have a rubberized band to help them hold on to smooth round surfaces. Nevertheless, as one would expect, if it's trying to hold on to a vertical pipe, there is a real limit to its effectiveness. Plus the heavier the camera/lens, the less effective it is.

Fortunately, there is usually something on the post to stop the fall, so you can devise a good grip.

The same problem occurs on a perfectly smooth horizontal pipe (pipes are the toughest object to get a grip on, except for clamps specifically meant for that purpose.

The Gorillapod is worth its cost though (I do have one myself) as it's extremely versatile, and it's the most effective mini-tripod I've run into for DSLRs.

Another clamp that one can carry, for round sticks and pipes, and similar objects is something like the Impact Super Clamp with Standard Stud. I have a few of these I use generally indoors for holding lighting equipment, but it works great for this too.

The problem is how many things are you going to carry on a trip. The equipment list can grow and grow quickly.

For unknown situations, I take the Steadybag more than anything else, and for situations I can't use it, and can't use my travel tripod, use a combination of bracing, and bump the ISO up.

Anonymous said...

You can also use a chain or strap attached to a bolt that screws into the tripod socket. Stand on the end of the chain and pull up on the camera. The tension helps steady the camera. You can usually handhold the camera and get good shots at an extra 1 to 2 clicks of the shutter speed dial.

There are commercial versions sold at camera stores or you can make your own from a thumbscrew, a keychain ring and some window chain.

amit said...

viewed all the stunning images of Paris..but the Eiffel tower image is not there on the list..wish to view the large size of the image...thank you

Ned S. Levi said...

You're right. At the time of the post, the image was not among my public posts.

Take a look at:

To look at all my Eiffel Tower photos from my recent trip to Paris go to:

Thanks for your comment.

Best regards,


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