Deal 9: Hacking Photography mega-deal
I’ve written previously about the importance of getting down to eye level when photographing wildlife. When eye-level means ground level, it can be awkward to support your camera whilst also supporting yourself and trying to keep your gear clean.
Most tripods allow you to get quite low by opening the legs out as wide as possible, many actually opening out fully so that the tripod sits flush to the ground. Whilst this is very functional, it can be pretty awkward to handle, especially if trying to pan with your subject or if you have to move to follow your subject around.
One option to overcome this is what is known as a ground pod. It is a plate/tray with upturned edges, that you attach your camera to, or for more flexibility, screw your tripod head to. It supports your camera just a few inches from the ground, thus offering some protection from water splashes or sand/mud, whilst allowing easy movement in all directions.
The commercially available options are pretty expensive (approx £80/$100 US) so I decided to try and make my own. I in no way claim to be the first person to do this, but thought I would share how it is done to illustrate how easy it is to make your own low-level camera support.
You will need:
The construction of the ground pod is very simple:
And that is it! Simple.
You will want to ensure that the pan actually supports your camera and lens without toppling over before putting it to use. If you chose a wide enough pan, this should not be a problem.
When out on a beach or in a field you will find that using a ground pod for support makes getting down low a lot easier whilst having some confidence that your camera gear will remain free from sand, mud and water. The pan is a good deal lighter than most tripods too, meaning you can carry less weight when out on your next wildlife shoot.
If you already own a suitable tripod head, this project shouldn’t cost much more than the price of a cheap frying pan and is a great way of supporting your camera at ground level for those powerful and intimate wildlife portraits.
(Thanks to Rob Cain for taking the picture of my gear on the completed ground pod, above)
February 17, 2013 01:28 am
You're totally right Toby, the fun is in doing it just for the fun of doing it and I enjoy it too.
And I have to agree that this frying MacGyver would provide a very stable support on the sand and snow in a great way.
But I insist on there're simpler alternatives: just placing the mini tripod on the frying pan without having to do anything else... the best of both worlds, you could keep using the pan for what it is meanwhile wife wouldn't get mad either, LOL... but in that case anything else may be useful too: a cookie pan, a small table, even a thick newspaper... and... a good mini tripod!, of course, LOL!
I just couldn't believe this gadget was already in the market, but there are so many unusual products for people how don't know how to use their bucks...
Apart: If it's for birding, what I do recommend you Toby, is a wireless remote shutter for leaving the camera near a bird feeder for shooting at, without scarring them: great bird shots! (I got mine from tmart for only $21).
February 16, 2013 08:13 pm
aaanouel - who thought up your handle - ho ho. You are of course absolutely right - will this ever get used? Surely the joy is in the making rather than the doing? Actually, I put mine out in the snow the other day hoping for a bird or two to investigate - no joy so far but at least I am trying.
February 16, 2013 12:44 pm
You could leave the handle attached to make it easier to "pan" your shots. (pun intended :)
February 8, 2013 01:35 pm
It's just that I can't imagine myself walking and sounding as a scrap dealer while carrying empty cans of beer or coca-cola, snack plastic bags and a frying pan hanging from nowhere because of being bigger than my camera and my gear bag on my shoulders and neck... just for avoiding to use, if not a good mini tripod on a rock which works quite well, an unextended leg decent tripod on the sand or mud. And what about a big wave carrying your camera away on the frying pan as if being a destroyer ship?, LOL, very unpractical, indeed!
I wonder, after making one of this big floating saucers, how many times is anybody going to really use it, not even taking it with them for going out hunting... but only as an alternative for what it really is: for frying fishes in the wild... the wife smashing heads with it because she hates going outdoors, or any of the uses already described above, LOL!.
January 25, 2013 10:36 am
I think you are a bit of a spoilsport! Just look at the photograph again. The great beauty of the frying pan is it is able to sit in wet sand or on a soft surface and provide us with a stable platform. Add a piece of string and a shutter remote and who knows what supplications become as possibility! Do that with a mini-tripod? No, I think not.
A cool and fun idea and an ideal way to make use of that burned out old frying pan just waiting for a new job.
January 25, 2013 05:10 am
I was too antsy to even wait for a drill and fry pan solution.
I used my old Christmas tree stand with felt stick on covers on the edge of the screws.
See it on my website:
January 21, 2013 01:25 am
Hehe, that's naive... by definition a tripod is the most trustable way to get a stable support on irregular surfaces so if wanting to shoot just a few inches from the ground, a good and sturdy mini-tripod is the simplest, cheapest and most practical solution.
A pan plain bottom won't provide a sturdy support on any irregular surface, even though naive, carrying this pan with us may serve us well for protecting our heads from the sun rays or bird poo bombing, as a defense weapon if a mad animal attacks us and for smacking mosquitos or even for playing Frisbee, LOL!
Leave McGyvers to McGyver please.
January 20, 2013 05:49 am
To overcome the awkward bolt head on the bottom side, you can typically find stick-on rubber feet at places like Lowe's, Home Depot, Ace etc.
January 19, 2013 09:26 am
What a great idea, another use for a frying pan, definitely the healthier option ;)
January 19, 2013 01:34 am
Thanks Elliot, always been curious if anyone uses teleconverters but never really seen someone using one to ask.
January 19, 2013 01:28 am
Kelly - that's an Olympus E-3, with the 50-200 mm SWD lens and an EC-14 1.4x teleconverter. Equates to about 560 mm effective focal length.
January 18, 2013 07:41 pm
Great idea! I enjoy innovative ideas like these. I was just wondering that if you don't want to flip it over all the time for different surfaces, maybe one can glue a piece of the thin hiking matrass underneath, trim it and make a hole where the bolt goes through. It'll sit nice and flat and be water resistant, well pretty much everything-resistant, and won't scratch any indoor-type surface. And you can get it in different colours to add some style :). Just a thought!
January 18, 2013 07:36 am
Love this idea, Can you tell me what sort of lense set up you have going on there?
January 18, 2013 05:01 am
Great idea, and can be used rim down or rim up (I've used it both ways). I made one a year or so ago and got laughed at by some photographer buddies of mine. Who's laughing now guys!!! I'm a big believer in improvisation and saving money for the real important stuff like Lens.
Great DIY. Thanks for sharing
January 17, 2013 03:04 pm
wok did you say? ;)
January 14, 2013 01:03 pm
Good suggestion. But you can also get an OUTEX housing at www.Outex.com. It's lightweight and maintains all camera functions & access. It's affordable compare to cases - and much easier for transport, travel, etc. I use it with tripods for a similar result - and I can use it in any condition, mud, dirt, wet, even in water. Thought you'd like to know.
January 12, 2013 05:01 am
Instead of the wifes frying pan. Steal your dogs frisbee.
January 9, 2013 02:33 pm
This is a great idea, especially because I have been looking at a new tripod and was looking for something to get lower with...this just allowed me to make that a less important criteria. My one comment, if you are going to be using this on sand or near water, it might be a good idea to use a rubber washer on the bottom, and maybe top as well, to help prevent anything leaking in through the drilled hole.
Great DIY. Can't wait to try it out.
January 7, 2013 08:57 am
What a fun project! I'm thinking of adding a mirror mounted at an angle behind the ballhead so I can look down and see how the shot is framed on my T2i. Might even make a foam flotation pad so the pan can be used on calm water too. Thanks for the inspiration! I knew there was a reason I kept that old 12" pan my wife was tossing. :-)
January 7, 2013 07:36 am
A great idea...with room for enhancements. I'm just a newbie with a T2i and kit lenses, but I think this will be a fun project. I'm thinking of mounting a small mirror at an adjustable angle behind the ball head so I can look down to get a better idea if I've framed the shot ok. I realize the image will be reversed, but it should still be helpful. I prefer the pan idea over a wooden base for cleanup ease when set on sand or snow. In fact, it should be pretty easy to add a floating foam cushion so the whole thing can be used on a calm water surface too. For table top use, I'm thinking of using a base ring from a lazy-susan or a microwave plate roller for some mobility.
I'm a diehard packrat, so all that stuff is on hand just waiting to be re-purposed. So it's off to the basement to break the monotony of a dull and dreary winter day in NE Ohio!
January 6, 2013 10:12 am
Just flip the pan over so the rim is down when you want to use it on a table! Or use it the same if the surface is a little slick as the rim can dig in more than the bottom can.
January 6, 2013 12:12 am
fantastic! :) thank you
January 6, 2013 12:03 am
Instead of calling it a ground pod, I think it's a frypod!
January 5, 2013 11:33 pm
If I even touch my wife's frying pan she will pound me in the ground. By the way you can find really good deals on ground pods that don't break the bank. In case you have a wife like mine. :)
January 5, 2013 04:12 pm
Mike, I was thinking you could just flip the pan. It would adjust for hex bolt, rocks, etc. But I guess the bubble adjusts for everything ;)
January 5, 2013 10:16 am
Or you could turn the frying pan around and use the rim as base
January 5, 2013 09:30 am
Jason, I would imagine the head of the hex bolt would create a non-flat surface on the bottom, which wouldn't be a problem for outdoor use, but would make it awkward to use on a hard flat surface, such as a table. If you wanted it for that purpose, just use the same principle but use a piece of wood (or other material) instead of the frying pan and drill an additional inset hole to sink the head.
January 5, 2013 07:39 am
Seems like it would be a bit more stable, and easier to use on a hard surface, if the pan was used upside down. Now you don't have to reach into the pan to make adjustments to the ball head and it will sit nice and flat on a tabletop or other hard surface.
Great idea and use for those old scratched up Teflon coated pans though!
January 5, 2013 07:25 am
I recently made a DSLR silder for making panning timelapse videos and finding the bolt to attach my tripod head was one of the hardest parts to source (I'm in the UK).
With a little research I found it to be 3/8"-16 UNC bolt but couldn't find it in the right length so I just ended up cutting it with a hacksaw which was easy enough! But just after I had bought it, some appeared on eBay UK in lengths from 1" to 3" which would have been perfect. Seems like the perfect solution! Just make sure the bolts you buy are 3/8-16 UNC because you don't want to damage the thread of an expensive tripod head!
January 5, 2013 04:56 am
Oh man, this is great! I'm definitely going to try it. Thanks for sharing! This would also be good for a tripod substitute when you just want to set the camera on a table other flat surface.
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