In praise of the monopod at

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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...

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Old October 8th, 2012, 12:53 AM   #1
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 1,148
In praise of the monopod

My favourite weapon. Trying to draw up a list of ways to use monopods (excluding things like "door stop", "to squash bugs on the ceiling", "as a toothpick for a giant", etc). Here's what I've got so far:

1. Quasi-tripod. I don't think anyone outright prefers the swaying-in-the-wind monopod look to a steady tripod, so I guess it only gets used because, for one reason or another, a tripod is impractical. Main advantages here are speed of setup, portability, size. You can use it when trying to hide in a corner and not distract guests at ceremonies. You can use it at Middle-Eastern receptions when there are crowds of people around you. You can use it when you've got 5 minutes to get establishing shots before the bride walks in the church, and you're running around shooting at different heights. You can even try to use it inside a car.

Tuck the pan arm under your armpit and hold camera with two hands for extra stability -- meaning four points of contact together with eye to viewfinder. Preferably add IS lens.

2. Locked off camera. Find the sticking point if you want it not to wobble. Easier the lower it is to the ground. Walk away from it at your own risk. In practice, I only do this when I'm absolutely desperate; I don't cover speeches or ceremony with a monopod if I can help it.

3. Dutch tilt. If you want to roll the camera to a 45 degree angle and hold it there, it's not always that easy with a tripod. Depends on the range of movement on the head. But very easily accomplished with monopod. Particularly useful for dance footage, or to make otherwise boring image a little more dynamic (eg couple posing or walking).

4. Inverted. Still Motion seem to be fond of this one for car shots -- you stick it out the window and hold it inverted against the side of the car as you drive along, getting low angles of tyres and road. Never been game to try this myself...

5. Lean in. Easiest way to do it is to focus on an object, then lean back until you've lost focus, then get the editor to reverse the movement in post. Not sure what this sort of camera movement means; I suppose the effect is a little like pushing in with a dolly. If you're feeling brave, try it the opposite direction, landing at the exact point for the subject to be in focus, so that you don't need a reverse speed.

6. Poor man's steadicam. I normally do this placing one hand on the pan arm, and the other hand underneath the fluid head. The two tricks then are: (1) don't hold the weight of the monopod -- allow gravity to let it rest on your hand; (2) as you move around, try to keep your arms a separate system from your legs, so they're less affected by bumpy footwork. It's much better than pure handheld, and if you're doing a faster movement it tends to be a bit steadier.

7. Poor man's slider. Basically, a variation of the steadicam technique. You know those reveal shots that everyone does, coming around a corner to display a bride getting ready? This is the quick and nasty way of achieving that effect. If you're careful, you can even pull focus or zoom at the same time (eg, coming around a mailbox -- zoom out to reveal establishing shot of house).

8. Poor man's jib. Again a steadicam variation. In practice, pretty difficult to do. But if you can combine a crane movement with a pull focus, it looks rather spectacular. Eg: have a candle in the foreground and wedding cake detail in the background. Pull focus from one to the other while lowering the camera at the same time.

9. High angle. Extend the sections, lift the monopod up high, point it in the general direction of your subject of interest, brace yourself against a wall if possible, hold your breath, and hope for the best. Useful for dancing.

10. Candid camera. Thought I might as well include this one. Often I'll just be chatting to the mother of the bride, etc, and have the camera next to me rolling, while pretending I'm just sort of leaning on it. Unlike a tripod, one has to hold a monopod, so that gives you an excuse to be armed. Don't know if this sort of technique is as easy to do with a Steadicam, say.

11. Rotation. Takes quite a few takes to get anything usable, but it is actually possible to start with the camera inverted, and rotate the entire monopod onto a subject (like a dress). Why would you want to do something like this? Well, why not? Bob Nicolas uses a similar move quite often, though I imagine it's with a proper remote-controlled jib head, etc.
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