Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

June 2004

Tip of the Month

Safety - Save your equipment from crashing!

Years ago, at Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, I was talking with a fellow professional photographer leading a group. We chatted for a few minutes by our vehicles, then grabbed our gear to catch up with our participants on the cross dike. My friend had walked two steps when he heard a crash -- his 400 f2.8 lens had slipped off his Arca-Swiss tripod mount and smashed to the ground.
Lesson: Before picking up your gear, make sure your quick release clamp is locked and secure. Sometimes, it is possible to place a camera or lens plate on the mount and close the clamp without realizing that the lens plate itself is canted and only one edge is secured in the clamp. It seems to be nestled but it is not, so as soon as you lift the tripod the lens slides off. Since a big lens effectively hides the clamp, making an eyeball inspection an effort at times, I ALWAYS pick up the rig by lifting the lens itself. If the tripod lifts as well, I know the lock is secure and I can safely sling the camera/lens over my shoulder and let the tripod support the system balanced over my shoulder.

I love my Wimberley Gimbal-style action head, but I almost had a disaster with it recently. The Wimberley uses a quick release clamp, too, and when I went to lift the gear the entire clamp assembly slid up the track and off the head! My tripod crashed to the ground, which wasn't an issue. The clamp slid off because the quick-release platform of the Wimberley is adjustable, allowing you to raise or lower the platform to your tastes. Driving around on bumpy sandy roads all day had vibrated the locking screw of that mechanism lose enough so that the platform could now slide up or down. It was still mounted, and the whole assembly may have stayed connected had I lifted the tripod and slung it over my shoulder. However, it is possible that I may have moved my tripod in a certain way when I was taking it off my shoulder that the whole assembly would have been slanted downward, at a slant, and it would have slipped off the grooved slider it was attached to. I'll check that every time, from now on! One final point on this -- screws will loosen with any system, so don't even remotely suspect that I am critizing the Wimberley head for this. I am not -- it is the best action head out there, and probably the best head of any type available.

When I use my Acratech ballhead or one of my old Arca-Swiss ballheads I always worry that the clamp will loosen or that the ballhead will unscrew itself simply by torque as I carry it about and shift it. Stuff happens, and your camera may simply fall out of the clamp or the ballhead (rarely) could unscrew itself and drop off the tripod. If it does so, your camera or big lens will smash to the ground. But you can prevent this:

I use Optek camera straps that have a snap quick release system. The straps thread into the strap holders on the camera with the little back-packing style snaps (a male end on one, a female on the other) now ready to be attached to the actual neck strap. Sometimes, in a wind, I'll detach the neck strap and simply snap the two short ends together to form a small loop or handle that I can weave my hand into as I carry the camera. However, by using the quick-release style snaps I can detach one end of my neck strap and weave it through my tripod legs before reattaching it to my neck strap. In this way, should the camera slip off the ballhead mount the camera will simply hang from the tripod by the neckstrap. It might bang me in the back but it won't be plopping down onto rocks or into the sea.

For my long lenses, which have permanently attached lens straps that came with the Canon lenses I'm using, I simply tuck them through the legs and, when I grip the legs as I'm carrying the tripod over my shoulder, I hold on to the strap as well.

Finally, whenever I put my tripod down with a long lens attached (and usually for a camera, too, now that we're talking $4000 and $7500 digital cameras!) I always make sure my tripod legs are locked and secure. I use a Gitzo that has a screw-lock thread rather than a snap-lock system, and it is possible that the leg locks aren't screwed completely tight. They may seem to be, but if you put downward pressure on one leg it might retract or collapse. So, when I put the tripod down I'll push downward on each individual leg to make sure there's no give. Further, if I'm on rocks or over water, I'll usually pull the legs out a bit more, making a broader base for the system. I just had to correct my friend's tripod at a rocky jetty when he left his tripod upright but with the legs quite close together and off their center of gravity. A strong wind could have toppled his 400mm f2.8 lens.

Besides a strong wind, be careful around people or animals. A friend of our's lost a 500mm when a PELICAN flew up and landed on his lens at a rookery. Wasn't a good perch. Other folks have lost gear when they left it for a moment only to have someone back or bump into the system, toppling it.

I had a cold shiver race up my spine when my Wimberley clamp slipped off and I was left holding my big lens (and camera) in my hand. We had worked around salt water all day and would be doing so again, later. I was shooting a 600 f4 ($7000 or so) and a Mark 2 camera ($4500 or so) and a 1.4X converter ($300) -- almost $12,000 worth of gear. I think taking the time to be careful and secure is worth it, don't you?

Our Past Photo Tips of the Month:


  DIGITAL- Digital Birding

 DIGITAL -Shoot for the Future

DIGITAL-Shoot for the Future, Part II

 DIGITAL Photographing scenes with extreme exposure values

 NPN- Nature Photography Network - a digital forum for nature photography

 Digital Pro Image Management Software

 Watch Your Backgrounds
The potential of composites or shooting in RAW format

 A Great Website for Information - the Singapore Nature Photography Society

 Protecting your long lens from SAND, the pleasures of beach photography

 How do we protect our gear from dust, and carry our gear when on safari

 The Ultimate Flash Bracket
Padding Your Wimberley
Tripod Head

  Specular highlights and the flashing frog
 Using TTL flash with Hummingbirds  Testing your Flash's Aim
Maximum Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance - they're not the same thing!  If you see it, it's too late -- a lesson in anticipation  How do you shoot the Moon?
  Low level tripod work  A great depth of field guide  Wimberley 400 and 600mm IS plate

 Sigma's 120-300mm F2.8 APO HSM zoom lens

 Using The Wimberley Gimbal head with a camera body

 Sigma's 120-300 f2.8 APO
zoom telephoto lens

 Custom Function 4-1 for Nikon and Canon shooters

 Sighting in a very, very long lens
 The Nature Photography Network - a super website for images and information
  Take a Workshop First   Luck, what is it?  Don't take in baby wild animals

  Airline Carry-On Luggage -Let your concerns be heard!

 Disconnect -- travel precautions

Photograph America Newsletter
 Wildlife Portraiture

 Obey the Rules
The Ti Chi Stalk
Photographing Critically Endangered Sites Bushnell Night Vision Optics  Adobe Photoshop 7 for $300

 The Sibley Bird Guides

 Removing Cactus Spines

 Drying out boots with newspaper

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