This image of a Mule deer doe at sunrise was taken on a chilly winter day on an old road between Kamloops and Sun Peaks. I had only a few seconds to record the scene and was in such a hurry that I left my tripod behind and used a fence post to brace my camera and lens.
This moment of improvisation really helped in making a good photo. Lens support is the key that every nature photographer should know about and put into practice. Stabilizating your lens and supporting your camera can be done with a tripod, a monopod, a window mount, a bean bag or—you guessed it—an old fence post.
Back in the 35mm film days, I experimented with all kinds of tripods and often purchased cheap plastic models until I realized the importance of investing in quality. A good quality tripod will improve your images, but it may take you some time to get into the habit of lugging one around, especially, if you’re the type of outdoor photographer that enjoys long hikes into the backcountry and owns a ton of gear. A monopod is a good alternative to the tripod if you want to try something a little lighter and you might be able to find one that doubles as a trekking pole, but a good rock solid tripod can’t be beat for serious image making.
If wildlife can be found along the roads in your area or you enjoy travelling to the mountain parks, a vehicle window mount or bean bag also does a great job of stabilizing your shots. My homemade bean bag is one of my favourite supports. I rest it on my car door with the window rolled down and it works like a charm. You can custom make your own with a little material, a Velcro enclosure and a couple pounds of beans.
Lens support will give you the most out of your expensive camera. It’ll allow creativity with long exposures, increase the sharpness of images and give you the time to slow down and focus on good composition and proper exposure techniques. Perhaps you’ll want to lock up your camera’s mirror and use a remote control during macro photography for even more detail. If this sounds like something you’d like to try you’ll definitely need a tripod.
Camera support is truly essential to good nature photography and the options are varied. Consider the kind of gear you own, the style of photography you enjoy and research the options available to you.
Good luck and good shooting!