Thursday, 20 February 2014

Bird Photography Tips - Using Monopods, Tripods and other types of supports

Bird photography more often than not involves very long focal length lenses which by their very nature are very heavy. And this is where the use of various accessories for stabilizing the camera comes into play.

bird photography accessories
Photo by: Pedro Szekely

Before we proceed any further let me make it clear that shooting handheld is the best technique to capture birds (especially in flight). But there are situations when you could use accessories like monopods, bean bags, tripods etc to get better pictures. As a general rule these accessories come in handy when photographing birds that are stationary (like a perched bird).

Bean Bags

tips for photographing birds
Photo by: Valerie

Bean bags are especially useful if you shoot from your vehicle (using your car as a mobile hide) simply attaching the bean bag on the door will give a solid surface to rest your lens (remember to turn off the engine, else chances are the vibration from the engine will spoil your shots). One other situation when they come in handy is when you are shooting birds lying flat on the ground (to get shots of birds on the ground from the bird’s eye level).


bird photography
Photo by: Umang Dutt

Many of us would not be physically able to wield the heavy, long focal length lenses needed to capture the birds for long periods. If that’s the case with you, a viable alternative is to choose a strategic viewpoint and photograph them from a relatively static position.

Tripods are the most difficult accessories to set up; it takes time and effort to properly set up the tripod for shooting birds. And this significantly decreases your chances of getting the shot at all, but if you manage to get them then there is no comparing the image quality, especially so in low light conditions. Tripods are simply the most stable platforms for your camera. However you will find yourselves in trouble if the bird suddenly shifts positions. To make the most out of tripods get a Gimbal Head which will let overcome the difficulties of shooting with a tripod to a great extent.

how to photograph birds
Photo by: Vishal Patel

Tripods could even be used when you are shooting from a vehicle (it requires placing your tripod legs in some funny angles though. They could be very helpful if you need to watch the bird for a really long time to capture action/behavior/expression etc. (simple set your focus right and wait for the bird to strike an interesting pose). One other situation when tripods could be used is when you know in advance where the bird is going to be, for example when you know that the bird is going to come to a perch using a tripod will give you stunning shots as the bird flies in and then takes off.

Using tripod for bird photography
Using tripod for bird photography

Tripod is also essential if you intend to set up remote cameras, triggers, flash units etc and capture the birds to get really stunning (staged) images.


Monopods are much easier to carry around and use than tripods, but they are not that stable, however they could be help you support the weight of your equipment when you need to hold the bird in focus for a long duration. One significant disadvantage of monopod is that they force your camera to move in arcs that does not match either the birds flight pattern or the natural body movements of humans.

bird photography tips
Photo by: Koshy koshy

The choice whether to shoot handheld or use any support is totally dependent upon the conditions and the photographer.

camera stabilization techniques for bird photography
camera stabilization techniques for bird photography

Sometimes simple techniques like leaning against a wall or a post will help stabilize the shot, or you can use any element already present in the vicinity as support.

Happy Shooting