Camera shake is a problem that affects all photographers and there will be times, such as indoors, shady areas or poor light, when it is not possible to achieve adequate shutter speeds to ensure sharp hand held images even with the lens set wide open and the ISO set to maximum. In these situations the only option is to use some kind of support during the exposure.
Arguably, the most commonly used support is the tripod, however there may be times when using a tripod isn’t feasible. In some locations, such as galleries, churches or museums the use of a tripod may be forbidden. Some locations may be so small that there isn’t the room to set up a tripod. Some forms of photography, such as sports and action, requires the photographer to be mobile and able to quickly move the camera around and a tripod will hamper this. Some forms of photography, such as candid shots, require the photographer to have quick reactions and take pictures quickly and the set up time of a tripod will hamper this. In order to overcome the issues detailed above the next best support is the monopod, which is a great tool to support a camera to stop blurry photographs.
A monopod is simply an aluminium or carbon fibre telescopic pole with a screw at one end that is screwed in to the camera body or a lens tripod collar. A monopod will typically consist of three or four (being the maximum) sections allowing it to be set at various heights. The number of sections is small to make the monopod stable. More sections would allow more flexibility regarding the height the camera can be set, however the more sections the more weak points and the less stable it is likely to be so there is a trade off.
Being telescopic the multiple sections of the monopod fold in to each other. A typical monopod is around 45cm when fully collapsed but will extend to 175cm plus when fully extended, making it light, portable and ideal for carrying. It also makes the monopod versatile and suitable for photographers of all shapes and sizes. The collapsible feature of the monopod, and the fact it is so small once folded up makes it ideal for roving photographers and those that walk around during shoots, although it also makes an ideal trekking pole when not in use. A monopod takes a matter of seconds to set up, and if it is left attached to the camera simply pulling on the clips will extend it to the required length. The short time it takes to set up the monopod makes it ideal when photographing moving subjects, such as insects, birds, and other wildlife as well as motorsports.
To make a monopod even more versatile and user friendly it is possible to attach a whole variety of tripod heads including tilt, tilt and pan and ball head designs. The usefulness of these types of tripod head will depend upon the photographers personal preference as well as the situation in which it is being used, however a separate tripod head in not actually needed. To adjust the angle of the camera simply pull the camera towards you (to shoot upwards) or push the camera away from you (to shoot downwards). A great feature of monopods is the ability to use the panning technique, which makes it such a hit with sports and action photographers. To pan with a monopod simply twist the camera to the left or to the right, obviously depending on the required direction
As you would expect, monopods are very cheap compared to tripods. Because of the great strength to weight ratio carbon fibre monopods are considered to be superior to aluminium monopods making them much more expensive. In reality, carbon fibre monopods don’t seem to perform any better than the cheaper aluminium varieties, therefore it is worth bearing this in mind before forking out the additional cash for a carbon fibre model.
Monopods are simple to use and it is possible to get one out of the box and start using it immediately without reading any instructions. That said, in order to get super sharp shots with long and heavy telephoto lenses a specific technique should be used. When using a monopod the best way to ensure stability is to rest the monopod against either right or left leg, depending on which one is the most comfortable. If shooting right handed, i.e. pressing the shutter button with the right hand, the camera body should be held with the right hand whilst applying some downwards pressure. It is important not to apply too much downwards pressure as this is likely to increase camera shake. Instead of using the left hand to support the underneath of the lens, to ensure maximum stability the left hand should be placed on top of the lens as close to the end as possible. Once again, downward pressure should be applied. As well as using the correct technique to achieve sharp shots it is also possible to leave the image stabilisation feature on your lens or camera body (if you have it) on whilst the camera is mounted on the monopod, as the feature will work which is not the same as if the camera was mounted on a tripod.
The monopod is a piece of photographic equipment that all photographers should have access to. A monopod is not as stable as a tripod but what a monopod lacks in stability it more than makes up for in versatility. In addition, a monopod is lighter than a tripod, more transportable than a tripod, takes up less room than a tripod, is cheaper than a tripod and quicker to set up than a tripod. It could even be argued that a monopod is better than a tripod in all situations other than times when there are very long exposures where the superior stability of a tripod is required to get sharp shots.