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.
Completed ground pod. You can see I'm using a ball head to mound my camera to the frying pan.
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:
- A cheap frying pan – approx 10-12” diameter. You can chose whatever diameter frying pan suits you, but a wider pan will offer more support, especially for bulky telephoto lenses. It is a good idea for the pan to be approx 1-1.5” deep – any deeper makes adjusting your tripod head more awkward, any shallower offers less protection from water splashes, mud or sand.
- A 3/8” socket head bolt, approx ½” in length. A ‘round’ headed or ‘truss’ headed bolt is preferable. If the pan is thick enough, a counter sunk head would be ideal, however cheap pans are normally too thin to make this practical. Imperial sized bolts are difficult to come by in UK hardware stores, so this might involve some internet searching.
- A tripod head. This is technically optional, but preferable and I am writing this post with the use of a tripod head in mind. A cheap ball head can be found on eBay, and will be a good compromise between size and flexibility. You don’t want anything too tall (defeats the point of trying to get so low) or anything with levers that are too wide (may be an awkward fit inside the pan). If you don’t have a tripod head to use, you could try using a couple of blocks of wood to act as a riser to ensure the lens clears the edge of the pan)
- A power drill to make a hole large enough for the 3/8” bolt.
- A hex key/Allen key of the same size as the socket in the hex bolt.
- A wing nut to screw onto the bolt when the pan is not in use so you do not lost the bolt. Any kind of nut would work, but a wind nut is large enough to be difficult to lose, and easy to use with cold hands!
Left: Frying pan with handle removed, showing the riveted bracket. Left: A 3/8" hex bolt.
The construction of the ground pod is very simple:
- First of all, remove the handle from the frying pan. It should be easily unscrewed from the pan, and removing it will make the pan a less awkward shape to store. You may well be left with a small, riveted bracket that the handle was screwed to, however this makes a convenient little place to hook the frying pan onto your camera bag using a carabiner, to save you having to carry it by hand.
- Turn the pan upside down, and use the power drill to make a hole in the centre of the pan. Don’t apply too much downward force when drilling; otherwise you will end up deforming the centre of the pan, meaning your tripod head will not fit flush to the pan base.
- Once the hole is drilled, turn the pan back around, and use the hex key to screw the bolt through the pan and into your tripod head.
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)