Facebook Pixel How to Make a DIY Ground Pod (for Low-Angle Wildlife Photos)

How to Make a DIY Ground Pod (for Low-Angle Wildlife Photos)

How to create a DIY ground pod

To capture stunning wildlife photos, you must adjust your angle until you’re shooting at the animal’s eye level. (Yes, there are a few exceptions – such as when you’re capturing environmental scenes that include wildlife – but generally speaking, eye-level photos are best.)

When an animal is close to the ground, however, shooting at eye level can be tricky. If you’ve ever gotten down low to photograph a bird or small mammal from the dirt, you’ll know what I mean: It’s awkward to support yourself, your camera, and your telephoto lens – while also trying to keep your gear from getting dirty or wet.

One solution is to use a tripod. Most tripods allow you to get quite low by opening the legs out as wide as possible, and some actually open out fully so that the tripod sits flush to the ground. But while this setup will get the job done, it can be pretty awkward to handle, especially if you’re trying to pan with your subject or if you have to follow your subject around.

That’s where a ground pod comes in. It’s flexible, it’s effective, and it’s easy to make at home. Sure, you can purchase dedicated ground pods from camera manufacturers, but there’s not any real need; I use a DIY ground pod that I created using household materials, and it cost me far less than I would pay for a ground pod from B&H.

In this article, I share my step-by-step process for creating a DIY ground pod – so that with a few dollars and a little bit of effort, you can capture low-angle wildlife photography without worrying about your gear.

What is a ground pod?

A ground pod is a plate/tray with upturned edges that keeps your camera both stable and mobile when you’re shooting in the dirt, mud, or sand.

You can attach your camera to the center of the pod, or – for more flexibility – you can screw your tripod head onto the ground pod, then attach your camera to the head. It’ll support your camera just a few inches from the ground, thus offering some protection from water splashes or sand/mud while also allowing easy movement in all directions.

A completed DIY ground pod
My completed ground pod. I’ve used a tripod ball head to mound my camera to the frying pan. That way, my lens is at the eye level of the birds, and I can easily move the pod along the beach without worrying so much about sand getting in the camera or lens components.

Now, the benefit of a ground pod is that it lets you capture low-angle photos of wildlife without getting the bottom of your camera or lens covered in grime. But as the photographer, you’ll still get plenty dirty! The pod won’t protect you from the muck, only your camera setup; that’s part of the fun of wildlife photography!

Black skimmers in the sand
This is the kind of image that’s far easier to create with a ground pod – you can get that beautiful low-angle perspective without getting your camera or lens all sandy.
(Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash)

Creating a DIY ground pod: my process

I wanted a ground pod that would allow me to capture low-angle wildlife shots, but when I looked for commercially available options, I was disappointed to see that they cost around $100 USD. Therefore, I decided to make my own!

I’m certainly not the first person to do this, but I wanted to share how it is done to illustrate how easy it is to make your own low-level camera support.

The materials

As I said above, materials for a DIY ground pod shouldn’t cost you much at all. You will need:

  1. A cheap frying pan, approx 10-12 inches in diameter. You can choose whatever diameter frying pan suits you, but a wider pan will offer more support, especially if you use a bulkier telephoto lens. The pan should be approximately 1-1.5 inches deep – any deeper will make adjusting your tripod head more awkward, but any shallower will offer less protection from water splashes, mud, and sand.
  2. A 3/8” socket head bolt, approx 0.5 inches in length. A round-headed or truss-headed bolt is preferable. If the pan is thick enough, a countersunk head is ideal; however cheap pans are normally too thin to make this practical. Note: Imperial-sized bolts are difficult to come by in some international hardware stores, so if you’re located outside the US, this might involve some internet searching.
  3. A tripod head. This is technically optional. You can attach your camera directly to the ground pod, but it’ll limit your shooting motions, and you may also run into issues when trying to ensure your lens clears the pad lip. Therefore, I like to use a tripod head (and I’m writing this article with the use of a tripod head in mind). If you don’t already have a tripod head, 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 (it’ll defeat the point of trying to get so low), and you also don’t want anything with ultra-wide levers (it’ll be an awkward fit inside the pan). If you don’t have a tripod head to use and you don’t want to buy one, 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). I’ll also point out that the price for commercially available ball heads that I mentioned above (around $100) does not include a tripod head, so even if you choose to go the non-DIY route, you’ll still need to source a head.
  4. A power drill to make a hole large enough for the 3/8” bolt.
  5. A hex key/Allen key of the same size as the socket in the hex bolt.
  6. A wing nut to screw onto the bolt when the pan is not in use so you do not lose the bolt.  Any kind of nut will work, but a wing nut is large enough to be difficult to lose and easy to use with cold hands!

Making the ground pod

Ground pod image 1
Left: My frying pan with the handle removed, showing the riveted bracket. Right: A 3/8″ hex bolt.

The construction of the pod is very simple:

  1. First, remove the handle from the frying pan. It should be easy to unscrew 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 (see my image above!); however, this is a convenient little place to hook the frying pan onto your camera bag using a carabiner so you don’t have to carry it around by hand.
  2. Next, turn the pan upside down, and use the power drill to make a hole in the pan’s center.  Don’t apply too much downward force when drilling; otherwise, you’ll end up deforming the center of the pan, meaning your tripod head will not fit flush to the pan base.
  3. 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.

Just make sure 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, but test your camera with all your wildlife photography lenses to be safe.

Capture some low-angle wildlife photos!

Low-angle sanderling
Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

Well, there you have it! When on a beach, in a field, or shooting in snow, you will find that using a ground pod for support makes getting down low a lot easier, and it’ll let you worry less about your camera gear remaining free from sand, mud, and water.

The pan is also far lighter than most tripods – 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 it’s 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!)

If you have any tips for creating a ground pod, or any advice for using one successfully, share them in the comments below!

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Elliot Hook
Elliot Hook

is a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Hertfordshire, UK. Elliot loves being outdoors with his camera, and is always looking to improve his own photography and share what he has learnt with others.

Elliot also can be found at his website, on Twitter, Flickr and 500px.

I need help with...

Some Older Comments