Monopods – The smart photographer’s best friend.

No hitchhiker should be without their towel, and no photographer should walk out the door without a monopod. These things are useful!

Let me tell you a secret: Tripods are over-rated. Don’t get me wrong, I own a great tripod. But I the tripod as a specialized tool for very long exposures. It’s bulky, ungainly, heavy, and slow to setup. Not very suitable for a pj shooting an event in low light, without a flash. A monopod is useful for working in light that is not low enough to merit a tripod, but too low to handhold, somewhere between 1/60th of a second down to about 1/4 of a second, depending on your shutter speed. (Remember: the longer your lens, the faster your minimum shutter has to be.)

Let’s say you’re working an event in low light. Let’s say, an easter egg hunt at night. It’s dusk now, the light is dying and things don’t kick off for another half hour. You pull out your camera, check your reading. At 400iso, you can get f/4 at 1/30th of a second. The kids all have flashlights in their hands, so you can’t use your flash (it will overpower theirs) Here’s three things you can do to get away with a monopod, keep the flash in the bag, and still get great pictures:

1) Crank your ISO a stop or two. Which is worse, grain or blur? Blur, every time. 800 or 1600 iso, especially for a night-time image, is absolutely acceptable and printable. Grain is less noticeable in the shadow areas of images, anyway, so crank it up, and put the extra stop or two of light towards your shutter speed.

2) Use a normal or wide-angle lens. Shorter lenses are sharper at lower shutter speeds. This is because they ‘wobble’ less when a camera shakes. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the minimum “acceptable” shutter speed for a lens is 1/x where x is the focal length of the lens. So, for a 200mm lens, that would make the minimum shutter speed for a sharp image is 1/200th of a second. A 20mm lens, though, has a minimum of 1/20th of a second. Big difference! These rules are multiplied for monopod-use, however. You can get sharp images of a still subject, even candid portraits at 1/4th of a second with a 20mm lens on a monopod.

3) Don’t forget to go vertical! You’re using a head on your monopod right? Don’t just attach the camera directly! I like Manfrotto’s trigger head for my monopod. Quick adjustment let me turn my camera sideways for a vertical shot, or at other angles. This is super important, and makes your monopod even more useful, because now you can use it to stabilize the camera in any direction. So, no matter what way the camera is tilted, the monopod can always be pointed down.

The thing to understand is that a monopod is a compromise. Granted, it’s not as stable as a tripod. It’s also much smaller, lighter, and easier to maneuver. Until my available light drops so low that the monopod doesn’t help, I will take that compromise.

So, that takes care of the normal uses for your handy-dandy monopod. In my next post, I’ll talk about getting creative with it.

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