Visible Means of Support.

Sometimes the cameras and lenses don't matter nearly as much as getting them into the right place to make photographs and keeping them steady.  In that regard perhaps the micro four thirds cameras have an advantage since they are lighter and smaller than their bigger acquaintances and therefore easier to secure in weird places.

I recently had a need to position a camera about ten or eleven feet in the air.  I needed to shoot a building while including something in the foreground and if I shot at conventional eye level the foreground feature would have been too prominent.  Sadly, I'll have to admit that in my collection of tripods I don't have anything that will go nearly that high.  I could buy some monster tripod from Gitzo but it doesn't make much economic sense if you can find a way around the problem with tools you already have sitting around your studio.

I have a Werner extendable ladder that is eight feet tall when used in it's "A" configuration.  It's sturdy and solid but when collapsed it fits into my Honda Element and it's easy enough for one person (usually me) to carry around on a location.  All I need was a way to add two more feet of extension and also add a tripod head that would allow me easy movement for exacting composition.

I have a Pelican case under one of my shelving units that's filled with miscellaneous grip equipment that I've accumulated over the past two decades and that was my first stop when looking for stuff that would hold a camera to a ladder ten feet in the air.  One of my over riding goals was to have the camera mounted securely so it wouldn't come crashing down on the heads of the unsuspecting and, of course, I didn't want to see if the camera could survive such a rigorous drop test.

From the grip case I chose four components.  The most important was the Bogen (or Manfrotto) Magic Arm.  This is an articulated arm with a center knob.  Position the studs on the ends where you want them, position the arm exactly where you want it and clamp down with the knob.  Everything becomes as solid as a single bar of hard metal.  I've attached Magic Arms to so many supports I can even begin to remember them all.

At each end of the articulated arm is a 5/8's inch stud on a ball.  This allows for a lot of fine adjustment and, when the knob is tightened the studs and the ball are held solid.

The next step is to outfit either end.  I needed to attach one end to the top steps of the ladder so I chose a Bogen Super Clamp.  It fits on the stud and its jaws clamp on to whatever support you are using to make a super strong connection.  How strong?  I've used two Super Clamps to suspend a hammock in the studio which easily supported a 160 pound model.   Super clamps are a steal and a must for most studios.  I don't think I've ever paid more than $30 for one and they never wear out or go out of fashion.  The Super Clamp makes a secure connection for the Magic Arm at the top of the ladder.  Now I need to figure out the other end.

I attached a Manfrotto bracket to the other end of the Magic Arm and used that to mount a Leitz Ball Head to my contraption.  The ball head is sturdy enough to support a Sony a77 and a Sigma 10-20mm lens but you'll want to use an electronic cable release or the camera's self timer so you don't move the camera too much.  It takes a few seconds for my whole "ladder/tripod" system to settle when you touch the camera...

If I owned a ten foot tall tripod I would still have to bring along a ladder to stand on to look through the camera.  With my Magic Arm / Super Clamp rig I am getting double duty out of my ladder.

Here is an outtake of the final shot....


  1. The picture you show us is really cool!

    I also love my two good old chaps:

    1. A Berlebach, which a good friend of mine lend me for now about seven years (and if I ask him, if he wants it back he always says, not necessary now, because he has three tripods!) He bought it for about 75 ,-- DM - mint condition! - in 1994.

    The Gorillapod

  2. TIP: Mirrorless cameras like the µ4/3's and your Sonys don't have mirrors, so there is no mirror slap, or need to lock up the nonexistent mirror. The PEN's have an "anti-shock" setting that delays the exposure by 2 sec. after the first shutter curtain closes that helps a bit for 1 sec - 1/15 sec exposures.

    I get tack sharp images using an Olympus and self timer with a Benro tripod & head combo that weighs 2.2 lbs. With my Nikon D7000, I need a tripod/head that weighs 4x as much, mirror lock up and remote release to comparable results.

    1. I don't see where I've mentioned mirror slap. My routine of using the self timer or an electronic release is to allow vibration to dissipate from the rig after I've touched the camera. But just because there is no mirror don't be so quick to discount the vibration caused by the first curtain of the mechanical shutter stopping suddenly. For best quality, everything counts.

    2. Oh. I agree with all of that.

  3. I guess I didn't make myself clear. You had already mentioned not touching the camera when releasing the shutter, so I skipped over that. Mirror slap can be a significant source of vibration, and I was just making the point that cameras without flapping mirrors may not require tripods as robust as those that do.

    Yes, the stopping of the first shutter curtain may also introduce vibration. There are probably an infinite number of things that can introduce, or exacerbate vibration, and that is why I run science fair experiments with my cameras, lenses and tripods. I shoot a resolution chart over a range of shutter speeds with combinations of bodies/lenses/tripods/heads that I'm likely to use to see where there are vibration problems.

    I have empirically determined that what would be a crappy tripod for my DSLR, is perfectly adequate for my µ4/3 gear. Everything may count, but not as much in all situations.

  4. Honda Element and a Super Clamp/Magic Arm in one post? I knew you were a good egg, Kirk!

    Honda Element

    Manfrotto Super Clamp and Magic Arm

    I love them both more than inanimate objects should be loved...

  5. We flew the Bogen arms in space. They are great for the crew to secure stuff in orbit!


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