This past week I was teaching for Sony and Adobe at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City. One evening I met a few friends (among them, my good buddy and great photographer Serge Ramelli) at a rooftop bar at the Ink 48 Hotel. As you can imagine with rooftop photography in New York, it’s not long before you encounter the infamous (and always-hated-by-photographers), No Tripods Allowed rule.
The Infamous No Tripods Allowed “Rule”
NOTE: This isn’t actually an “official” rule in NYC. It’s just that photographers often come across places where tripods aren’t allowed (for safety and other various reasons). Rooftops happen to be one of them. And if you’ve never come across this “rule”, then consider yourself lucky.
So what do you do when you encounter the No Tripods Allowed rule? You improvise of course! Hopefully, you can find some stable surface to put your camera on. It doesn’t have to be large, but hopefully there’s something you can use.
For example, at the top of Ink 48, the wall protecting you from falling hundreds of feet to the ground is this glass wall that goes up to around my chest height. Luckily, it was thick glass. You can see the wall behind a quick iPhone photo that Serge took of my lovely wife Diana and I. (it’s a little blurry – Serge drinks a lot) 😉 (Actually Serge doesn’t drink at all)
I was shooting my Sony a6300, with the 16-70mm lens on it. When I got the camera I purchased the Really Right Stuff L bracket. It turns out that, because the bracket was perfectly rectangular at the bottom, the camera rested perfectly and firmly on that narrow wall. I still had to hold it just to make sure, but honestly, if I took a second to balance the camera, it would have rested there (albeit not reliably).
It’s hard to explain, but if I was perfectly still, and lighting (but firmly) held the camera, I could get a sharp photo even with a few second exposure. But, at the same time, there were times where it moved because my hands did have to be on the camera the whole time.
I wish I took a photo of this, but I didn’t. The best thing I can do is show a similar example to what I was doing.
So, this all sounds great right? I was getting sharp enough photos. Well, my friend Serge, was shooting his A7R II. He had a smaller plate at the bottom of his camera. Because of that, his didn’t rest as well. There was too much “Play” in it on the wall to get a sharp photo at 5 or even 10 second shutter speeds. Luckily… we had a backup plan.
The Platypod Pro to the Rescue
Toward the end of the summer, I picked up this thing called the Platypod Pro from platypodpro.com. It’s basically a small aluminum base/platform that let’s you mount a ballhead on it. Honestly, I’ve been so darn busy starting my own business with my wife, that I’ve barely had the chance to shoot lately. So I hadn’t even tried it out. But as I was packing for NY, I thought I’d have a few chances, and I know that tripods are always a problem, so I threw it in my bag. And I’m SOO glad I did.
Before you get in to the elevator, they check your larger bags. So I opened the camera bag and the gentleman checking said “just want to let you know, no tripods allowed”. I’m not quite sure why he said it because I didn’t have a tripod with me, but I said “Sure thing”.
Fast forward to Serge and I shooting sunset, and he was having a hard time resting his camera on the wall and getting a sharp photo. So I grabbed the platypod with my Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead on it and gave it to him. It worked great. He mounted his Sony A7Rii right on it. The bottom is perfectly flat, and it rested nicely (as long as you held it for safe keeping) on the wall.
After shooting for a while, I decided to give it a try. One of the downsides of my just resting my camera on the wall and hand-holding, was that I couldn’t tilt up or down, or even shoot to the left or right. I basically had to shoot straight ahead.
But I didn’t want to include as much foreground as that angle made me include. And zooming in and out didn’t help – I needed to tilt the camera up a bit in the way that a ballhead would let me.
So after Serge was done with the Platypod, I tried it out and it worked perfectly. I actually was even more stabile than the way that I was doing it. I really felt like I could set it there (while holding lighting) and do a 15-20 second exposure if I needed. And the best part was that it was on a ballhead that I could move, tilt, and position any way that I wanted. Pretty cool huh?
(Photo Info: Sony A6300 with the Sony 16-70mm f/4 lens – f/8, 3.2 sec, ISO 800)
Here’s a link to the Platypod Pro that I was using. It’s the smaller version, but I only had a small camera with a small lens mounted on it. They also have a larger version for larger cameras/lenses if you need.
So What’s Your Secret?
I figure that many of you out there have had the same thing happen. So what’s your secret? How do you get a steady, sharp photo when tripods aren’t allowed? I’d love to hear your secrets so please leave ‘em here in the comments.
Thanks and have a good one!