So, you have booked your safari, the cameras are clean and packed and ready to snap their first African animal or scene. You’ve got lenses for every situation, the wide angle for those dramatic sunrises and the big telephoto or zoom for those detailed shots of the leopard you hope to see lazing in a tree. One thing you perhaps haven’t taken into account is your arms. You see, as you may know, arms get tired when they hold heavy things for a while and on safari I can guarantee, you will be holding that heavy lens up to your face a lot. Maybe its to late for you to hit the gym in order to bulk those arms up and for that reason I have decided to put this article together for you. Let’s take the strain off those arms and help you get the shots you have dreamt of!
The humble bean bag
Let’s start with the classic. In your photographic journey you have probably seen these in the wild already but if you haven’t, let me explain. This is exactly what it sounds like, a bean bag. However, these are large beans bags that are shaped in such way so as to droop over the hand rail/roll bar of the vehicle. Once it is drooped over this bar you can then rest your large camera setup directly on it. This not only helps take the strain off of your arms, but it also helps dramatically in terms on getting a steady and clear shot even when the shutter speeds get right down low. I have found bean bags to be a great choice as they are cheap, functional and incredibly easy to use. What I also like about them is that your camera is not permanently attached to anything, so if you need to you can immediately pick your camera up for a hand held shot as that eagle flies right over you. Most safari lodges will have several beans bags ready for their guests to use, so please ask if you would like to try one out
The raised circular bean bag
This type of bean bag is a little different to the above-mentioned style, in that they make use of two parts. The first part is a clamp that is tightened to the hand rail of the vehicle. The second part of this contraption is a circular raised bean bag that tightens into the clamp. This is a great feature as it makes the humble bean bag a little more accessible in that it is at a more usable height than a standard bean bag. Other than that they perform exactly the same as a regular bean bag and still allow you to quickly pick the camera up when needs be. The only drawback I have encountered with this setup is that you can’t adjust the height of the bean bag. Many safari lodges also keep these items and so once again all you need to do is ask!
The clamp and ball head
This setup if a little more in depth than the previous two. However, it also works in two parts. Starting with the clamp, just like the one used for the raised bean bag, which attaches to the hand rail of the vehicle. Attached to the clamp is what we call a “Ball Head” in the biz. You are probably familiar with a ball head but essentially what it does is allow you to attach the camera, on a semi-permanent basis, through the use of an Arca-Swiss plate attached to your camera. From here you can now turn your camera all the way around and up and down to get the angle you are looking for you while maintaining a steady shot and relieving your arms. What makes these contraptions fantastic is that they have a built in spirit level generally, which will help greatly in making your sure you get a balanced shot. However, there is a small limitation in that you can’t remove the camera from the ball head very quickly in order to get some hand-held shots. You will need to loosen the Arca-Swiss plate first. I own one of these personally and I am more than happy to lend it out if you are on a photographic safari with me, so if you would like to use it you only need to but ask. I will happily sit with you and explain how to get the most out of it as well if you would like.
Monopods are a tried, tested and proven method for stabilisation and fatigue assistance. They pack away brilliantly for travel as well. As the name suggests this is a single and expandable leg that has a Arca-Swiss plate and locking system attached, making it very easy for you to attach your camera too. Monopods are also very comfortable to use as they take up very little space in the back of a safari vehicle and they also make it very easy to reposition your camera to get the shot you need. What I love about them is that they are also useful when you are off the vehicle, allowing you to get a great stable shot of the sunset while enjoying your gin and tonic at the sundowner stop.
This is the only option here that I can’t readily recommend. I have seen them in use before on the back of a safari vehicle, but they are big and take up way too much space. Of course, they give you the best stabilisation and support you could ever ask for, but they really aren’t made for use on a safari vehicle where leg room is already a factor. However, if astrophotography or long exposure shots are your thing then you really do need one of these. If this style of photography is what you are looking for then please by all means bring your tripod along with you and we will find time for you to get the shots you need…While off the vehicle.
There are many other options that one can make use of, from full safari vehicle arm mounts to something that you may have designed and put together yourself. If you would like to discuss these other options or if you have an idea you would like to chat with me about then please do get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Until next time, happy snapping.