Monopods are an excellent way to get great sports photos without having to lug around a big heavy tripod. You can get nice and steady shots with a monopod even when you are following moving targets such as with sporting events.
Using a monopod for sports photography can be done in several different ways including:
- Out in front
- The human tripod
- The pan
No matter what type of sporting event you are photographing, using a monopod will help you stabilize your shots so you can use a longer lens without worrying about blurred pictures. Depending on your preference and the space you are working in, you can choose any of the following stances with your monopod.
Trying the Out in Front Stance First
Keeping your monopod out in front of you while shooting is typically the first stance you will use. It is the most natural position and is the one that is most often used by sports photographers.
Attach your camera and extend the monopod leg until the viewfinder is level with your eye. In this stance, you can easily change height when needed without moving your monopod by just narrowing or widening your legs.
Having the monopod there to hold the camera in place takes the weight off you and keeps the camera steady no matter how large the lens may be.
How to Use the Archer Stance on Hard and Slippery Ground
Best for concrete and wet situations, this position is done by facing your subjects while keeping one foot in front of the other. After placing the camera on the monopod, place the base of your monopod against the instep of your rear foot to prevent slipping.
Lean your camera forward until the monopod is resting on the inner part of your thigh on the leg in front. This position got its name because it is quite similar to how you stand when you fire an arrow in archery.
Using the Overhead Stance for Crowds
This may be the easiest way to use your monopod and works especially well in a crowd where you cannot get a good shot from your level. To use the overhead stance, attach the camera to the top as usual and extend the monopod as far as you can. Then you can hold it above your head as high as you need to.
You will need to have some type of trigger to shoot the camera since it will not be in your hands. Or you can use the interval setting on your camera with the timer mode. If you can connect it to your phone, you should even be able to use it as a remote screen to see the shot before shooting.
Try the Human Tripod Stance for Stability in Grass
The human tripod stance is like the out in front stance, but with this one, your camera should be a few inches above your eyes. Standing with your feet about two feet apart, extend the monopod equally between each foot about three feet in front of you.
Leaning the monopod toward you until your viewfinder is right at your eye level, this stance will use your two legs as the other two legs of the tripod, giving you an excellent stability on soft ground like grass or turf.
Use the Pan Stance for Racing
For sporting events where the subjects are going to be passing in front of you, panning may be the best stance with your monopod. Attach the camera as usual and twist the monopod by hand to meet the speed of the subject you are photographing.
This stance works well with multiple shots or video as you can get the best motion shots without any blur. Try this stance when shooting races, whether it is:
Adding a Brace for Stability when Possible
Although this is not often possible in sporting photography, it can always help to have a stable object to lean your monopod against. Since your legs are not always stable, especially after standing for long periods of time, having something else to use as a brace is a great idea.
For example, if you are near a fence, lean your monopod against it and use it as a stable contact point for keeping your photo from blurring. A tree or any other stationary item would work well too.
Your Monopod is Also Great for Other Uses
Monopods are not just for keeping your camera still. They also work very well for keeping the weight off your arms to reduce muscle fatigue. Many sporting events can be several hours long. That is a long time to hold a camera steady, especially with those long lenses.
For this, use the lens collar mounting ring, which is typically provided with a long telephoto lens right at the center balancing point. Just tighten it up enough that you can use the monopod as a handy helper to keep the weight off your arms and hands.
The Best Way to Attach Your Camera to the Monopod
There are several different ways to attach your camera to the monopod. Although it really depends on what you are photographing and the type of camera and lenses you are using, any of these attachments work well for different reasons.
- Using the monopod screw: Perhaps the easiest way to attach your camera to the monopod is to just screw your camera onto the monopod screw thread. This works well if you are using a light, small lens.
- Tripod mount ring: When you are using a long telephoto lens that is quite heavy, the tripod mount ring is typically the best choice. Most quality telephoto lenses have one that is already attached at the center of the balancing point.
- Monopod Head: The most common monopod head to use is the ball head. It has the most flexibility and makes it easier to rotate or angle your camera to adjust for any need.
Why Not Just Use a Tripod?
Tripods are usually the number one choice in professional photography. But it is not the best choice for sports photography. For one thing, tripods take up a lot of space. When you are at a crowded sporting event, you do not usually have unlimited space because there are other spectators and photographers as well. The monopod takes up little room and can be used without bothering anyone around you.
Look at the photographers in the crowd at the next sporting event you are watching. You will probably notice that almost all of them are using monopods rather than tripods. A tripod is just too cumbersome and even dangerous in a crowded sporting environment. In fact, many sporting events do not allow tripods to be used.
Even if you are a soccer mom or dad at your child’s game, using a monopod is easier, lighter, and more convenient. Nobody wants to drag a heavy tripod along with the cooler and other items you may need for the game. Monopods can be folded up to fit in a purse or pocket and most are lighter than a cell phone.
Monopods vs Tripods
Monopods are also more versatile than tripods when needing to change positions or follow that specific player on the field. You cannot move your camera fast enough on a tripod to keep up with the speed of most sports. With a monopod, you can grab your camera and run down the sidelines to follow a player too. Don’t try to do that with a tripod!
And if you are taking a video, a tripod is only best if your subject is standing still. You won’t see much of that at any sporting event. With the monopod you can move the camera to follow the action while taking video or picture and you don’t have to worry about the angles or tripping over the tripod legs.
Other Uses for the Monopod
If your sporting event requires a lot of walking around, a monopod can also double as a walking stick. The strap can be useful in this case, giving you a more stable walk, which makes a big difference when you are carrying photography equipment and bags.
The strap on the monopod also makes the perfect grip to help stabilize your camera by pulling it into the ground. This works especially well on soft ground like dirt or grass. While holding the monopod, have the strap attached to the same hand you are using to push the monopod into the ground for stability.
Top Three Monopods for Sports Photography
There are many types of monopods in different lengths and materials to choose from. Most have between three and five height settings for versatility. However, it depends on what you are looking for. Here are our top three choices:
- Avella C325 Carbon Fiber 58-Inch Professional Camera Monopod Compatible with DSLR Cameras
This monopod gets top billing for its functionality as well as price. For under $70, you get a carbon fiber pole that works as a walking stick as well as a monopod with a wrist strap and a rubber foot to prevent slipping. It also has a reversible 1/4-inch (20) and 3/8-inch (16) mounting screw. And with five heights from 16.4 inches to 58.9 inches, you get many choices.
- Manfrotto XPRO Aluminum 5-Section Monopod (MPMXPROA5US)
For less than $100, you can get this Manfrotto XPRO with quick power lock for easier and faster setup. This one also has a wrist strap and doubles as a walking stick. Small and light enough to fit into a pocket or backpack, you can take it anywhere. It is also compatible with the Manfrotto Fluidtech base for an even sturdier solution in windy or unstable conditions.
- Dolica WT-1003 67-Inch Lightweight Monopod
If you are on a tight budget, try this lightweight monopod for just over $20. It supports up to 6.7 pounds and has four sections that range from 15 inches to 67 inches. The non-skid rubber foot is sturdy and with the strap, you can make it even more stable. However, it may not be the best choice if you are looking for one that can be a walking stick. This monopod also comes with a carrying bag, but it fits into a pocket or backpack as well.
Make Sure You Have the Right Camera and Lenses
Almost every sports photographer, whether they are novice or professional, uses a DSLR camera. A DSLR is a digital single lens reflex camera. The camera works by reflecting the light coming from the lens with a mirror into a viewfinder with a prism or more mirrors.
The best lenses to use depends on what type of sporting events you will be photographing and whether you will be shooting from up close or from a distance. For distance shooting, a telephoto lens or zoom lens would work best. From closer, a wide-angle lens is better. However, it is best to have several lenses with you just in case.
Other items you may need for sports photography include:
- Lens filters
- Extra lighting
- Camera straps
- Extra batteries and chargers
Lens Filters: Yes or No?
The main reasons for using lens filters in sports photography is for overcast or extremely sunny conditions. Filters can also help when you are shooting in a dusty or dirty area. Of course, with many sporting events, all of these are possible, and you never really know what the weather will do.
The best thing for you to do is to bring whatever filters you have, just in case. The best choices are UV or protective filters. The UV filter can prevent the loss of contrast and sharpness by filtering out the haze and UV rays. It will also protect your camera lens from direct sunlight or dirty conditions.
Extra Lighting is a Necessity
When you are shooting indoors such as with a basketball or volleyball game, you may need extra lighting. However, you will not see the typical sports photographer using the on-camera flash. Most professional photographers do not even bother with the flash on their cameras. They are just not high-quality enough to give you the light you need.
Speed lights are what most sports photographers use for indoor sports. Especially if you are in a gym or auditorium with a lot of windows. The SB 800 is the most commonly used speed light for any type of indoor sport with a lot of movement like volleyball or basketball. You can use the speed light attached to your camera or trigger it remotely, depending on what you are shooting.
Camera Straps are for More than Just Comfort
For some people, using a camera strap is just natural but others think they get in the way. Believe it or not, the main reason for using a strap is not comfort, it is protection. When you are using a camera that costs thousands of dollars, you do not want to take the chance of dropping it. That strap is like an insurance policy for your camera.
Having your hands free when doing other things like setting up your monopod or looking for other lenses can be a lifesaver. But comfort is a very good reason to have a strap too. Cameras with super long telephoto lenses on them can be heavy. A good camera strap that distributes the weight evenly can make a long sporting event much easier.
Extra Batteries Can Save the Day
You should always have extra batteries and battery chargers when you are going to photograph any type of sports. In fact, these should be part of your go-bag that you take with you no matter what you are shooting. There is only one thing worse than getting everything set up for an important shoot when your battery goes dead. That is if you do not have any extra charged batteries with you.
What About Camera Settings?
Even more important than your camera or camera equipment, the camera settings can make or ruin even the best shot. Most sports photographers use high-speed continuous shooting such as ISO 400+ with a fast shutter speed.
Choose the (S) shutter priority mode when shooting sports because it lets you choose the shutter speeds. This helps you freeze moving subjects. Continuous servo mode or AF-C gives your camera the power to compensate for any changes in distance from the subject when the shutter release button is pressed halfway down. In this mode, your camera follows the subject to keep them in focus.
Even using manual mode, you can get some fantastic sports shots. Sometimes continuous mode just cannot get the best focus. Pre-focusing on the area where you know the subject is going can work great. But you have to know where the subject is headed beforehand. In this case, the slower your aperture, the more area you can get into focus.
Choose What Works Best for You
Ultimately, the choice is up to you on how you use your monopod when shooting sporting events. It is typically a comfort issue but can also change with various situations like types of sporting events and the space you have to work with.
The main thing you want to remember when using a monopod is to be prepared. You may want to have an extra monopod as backup or even bring along a tripod in case you happen to need one for some reason such as taking championship photos for the top athletes after the games.
Also, remember that quality beats quantity. You may have several cheap monopods with you at an important sports shoot, and all of them fail to do what is needed. In the same situation, one quality monopod that costs a little more could have saved you more money in the long run.
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