How to Use a Monopod

While a good, sturdy tripod is often best for stabilizing your gear, there are times when a monopod is more convenient and/or can be a big help in supporting larger camera/lens combinations. In keeping with Nasim’s mention in the Focus and Recompose Technique article that we would be doing some posts on basics and Tips for Beginners and since we have had a couple of monopod reviews, it occurred to us that some people may not know how to use a monopod properly, so we decided to share some pointers. The main differences between the three methods that we will discuss here is where you place the foot of the monopod.

Method 1: Straight Out in Front

Monopod straight in front

Most people will first use this method as it is the logical way to use a monopod. With their own legs standing square and spread to approximate shoulder width, they will put the foot of the monopod roughly centered between their legs and straight out in front of them so that the foot of the monopod forms a triangle with the photographers two feet. This more or less mimics a tripod with two legs supplied by the photographer and the third from the tripod. To increase the stability, the wrist strap should be utilized by using it to firmly seat or push the monopod foot into the ground.

monopod with wrist strap

Try it and you will see that the strap isn’t for carrying the monopod only, it functions to minimize the monopod head from rotating on the foot as a pivot point. As pointed out in our review of the Oben CTM-2500 Monopod – some wrist straps can be too long resulting in your hand hand being off of the padded section of the leg. Therefore, I would suggest checking the length of the wrist strap and seeing where it places your hand before selecting a monopod.

Fall Reflection How to Use a Monopod

When using a large telephoto lens, this is the method that I use most because when using the next two methods the monopod leg is tipped at an angle, resulting in the need for a monopod head to adjust the camera angle to maintain a level plane.

Method 2: Braced Against the Instep of Your Rear Foot

Monopod braced against instep

In this method, you stand with your hips at a slight angle to your shoulder, similar to a boxer, with one foot slightly back and the foot of the monopod is placed or braced up against the instep of the rear foot and the pole angled to the photographer’s other leg for additional bracing. The hand is pushing the monopod into the ground with the hand on the shaft and the wrist strap pushing down as well, just like in the first method.

Method 3: Between the Legs

Monopod behind foot and braced against leg

In this method, you stand similar to method 2 but the leg of the monopod goes between your legs with the foot of the monopod closer to, but behind the leading foot. In this stance the leg of the monopod braces against the leading leg of the photographer to give more stability. As always the monopod is pushed down into the ground.

Wood Duck Wing Flap

Using a Head on the Monopod

While using the monopod without a head is preferred by many sports and wildlife photographers, if one desires, a head can be used but just be certain that the head and the screws can support the weight of the camera and lens. Heads range from a simple tilt to a ball to a gimbal head. Many feel a simple tilt head is all that is needed since the monopod pivots and rotates easily. If you feel you would like to utilize a head on the monopod, a ball head works for landscape shots with a wide angle lens, but a gimbal head works better for larger telephoto lenses.
Big Horn Ram Running

Conclusion

The bottom line is that when possible, using another part of your body to brace the monopod against it will increase stability. Try each method and see which is best suited for your shooting needs and style. As for what type of head to use if any, that is up to you. Finally, since we all learn from each other, we would love for you to share with us how you use your monopod in the comments section below.

sneffels range

Comments

  1. 1
    ) kish
    December 7, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Do you have any review and recommendation and use of camera vest advise.
    thanks,
    kish,

    • December 7, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Kish, I don’t have any first hand experience with a camera vest, the ones that come to my mind first are vastly different – The Cotton Carrier and the X-tra Hand Vest. You may wish to check into these as well as the nice harness and belt modular systems from Think Tank. http://www.thinktankphoto.com/categories/camera-harnesses.aspx

      • December 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm

        Camera Vests are AWESOME!!! It’s like wearing cargo pants on you chest. So many pockets…so many places to put your little knick knacks and do-dads…just find one that fits and buy it.

    • October 13, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Kish –

      Another provider of vests that you may wish to check out is from The Vest Guy found here:
      http://www.thevestguy.com

  2. 3
    ) Barry
    December 7, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    I have a Manfrotto carbon monopod and I attached a Joby BH2-01EN Ballhead X to it. It works great with my Nikon D300 which is not a light weight camera. The Joby can be purchased with the Gorilla Pod, or separately. It works with an L plate or comes with it’s own small adapter plate. It feels silky smooth and I would swear it cost much more than the $44 at Amazon. Sure solved my problem.

  3. 5
    ) MartinG
    December 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    I appreciate the tips.
    I have a Gitzo carbon fibre monopod now. I did have an aluminium (Italian brand) which adjusted for length. It turned out to be a poor solution. The Gitzo has a great strap and is not only lighter, it produces better results. Vibration is noticeably less when walking with it. I think the low weight plus the excellent height twist locks make it great value. Height adjustment is quick and easy. I set it so I really only need to adjust the top segment to increase height.
    I am sure you have heard it before, but you get what you pay for, cheaper monopods can be a false economy if you are not careful.

    A good quality monopod is an indispensable tool for photography, but it has other benefits too. If I have a long walk ahead of me to get to something I want to photograph, it can also be used as a travelling stick. It actually makes the walking easier. This means I am much more likely to have it with me should I need extra support for my lenses.

    There are some interesting myths about VR and monopods, with my VRII lenses leave VR turned on when I use the monopod.

    • December 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Martin, thanks for your comments, I agree that the carbon fiber is much nicer than the aluminum on various levels.

  4. 7
    ) Cal
    December 7, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    I use a RRS carbon fiber monopod with their optional monopod head with a lever release clamp. The head allows me to tilt the lens up and down but it will not “flop” over as a ball head might. This improves the stability when balancing a long lens and tracking. To switch from lens foot mounting to a camera L-bracket, the clamp must be loosened with a hex tool and rotated 90 degrees. They also sell a monopod head that has an integral screw knob for this rotation that eliminates the need to remember to carry a tool in the field. However, this rotating head slightly (very slightly) rocks and they are in the process of redesigning this feature. I am very happy with this gear. I recently traveled into the Pacific Northwest of BC with a D800 and a 300mm plus a doubler using this monopod in and out of Zodiacs, through bush, and along river banks. A tripod would have been near to impossible. I found that I held on to the large tilt head knob with my left hand and could readily adjust the tilt and push down. On cold days when standing and waiting for wildlife to present themselves, I lean the lens across my chest and put my hands in my pockets.

    • 8
      ) Tom Redd
      December 7, 2012 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks Cal for your input. RRS makes excellent gear and the monopod helps when carrying bigger gear like you were. I bet you got some great shots in BC!

    • 9
      ) Barry
      December 7, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      While it’s true that the Joby ball head can flop over, I never trust it that far. I always keep the camera’s strap around my neck and don’t keep it on the monopod when I’m walking any distance. What I like is that it works great, it’s light, and it’s cheap. I occasionally use a 80-200 2.8 which I mount using the zoom lens foot without a problem.

  5. 10
    ) Kuba
    December 8, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Can you provide EXIF info for duck photo?

    • December 8, 2012 at 8:48 am

      Kuba – here you go:
      Nikon 300/2.8 lens
      1/1600 sec.
      f/5.6
      ISO 640
      1.0 ev

  6. 11
    ) Pascal
    December 8, 2012 at 1:58 am

    I have a Sirui N-2204 tripod. One of the legs of that tripod can be used as a monopod. I thought that to be an interesting idea when I bought the tripod. But in all honesty, I have never used the monopod leg but instead always used the tripod. Since it is a carbon fibre tripod, the weight is so low that it doesn’t bother me to carry the tripod.
    By the way, Tom (and Nasim), you should have a look at Sirui tripods too. They are very well build and are a bit less expensive than other well known brands. Sirui even made tripods for other brands (oem). http://www.sirui-photo.com/EN/frm_ProductSeries_En.aspx?SeriesID=14

    • December 8, 2012 at 8:49 am

      Thanks Pascal. A few people have mentioned Sirui, I just haven’t used one, yet.

  7. 12
    ) Pradipta Datta
    December 8, 2012 at 3:57 am

    Dear Nasim,

    How are you…Really nice article ..as usual you are very in explaining things simply..now could you please suggest me some best monopod (Cost effective) which can support 300mm f4 lens.

    Regards,
    Pradipta
    New Delhi

    • December 8, 2012 at 8:42 am

      Pradipta, thank you. I would buy a carbon fiber monopod instead of the aluminum. I realize that the weight is not a huge difference but the aluminum is cold in the winter and doesn’t dampen vibrations as well. I bought an aluminum monopod first and then ended up with a carbon fiber – so buy the carbon fiber first and save in the long run. Take a look at the Jobu monopod, it is less expensive than the Gitzo but the leg locks work well/smoothly. The Oben brand are a bit cheaper but I don’t find the leg locks to be as smooth. If you can afford Gitzo, it isn’t cheap but it is good. I hope that helps.

  8. 13
    ) MartinG
    December 8, 2012 at 6:51 am

    The Gitzo GM2541 is practically identical to the one in the images. It probably is the one. It will support a 300 F4 very nicely. It is certainly not cheap, but worth every cent.

    When looking for a monopod, check out things like how high it goes. You want one which places your cameras eyepiece level with your eye but can still go higher, useful when you are on a slope or you want to point it at things above you without stooping. Look at the time it takes to fully extend it and close it up again. What are the locking devices like? They need to be easy to use and lock positively. Finally check the way the foot at the bottom works. Some allow you to change the rubber foot for a spike, others combine both.

    The stap and handgrip area are also surprisingly important. Carbon-fibre is best if you can find one inside your budget. I suggest you will save money in the long term if you buy one you think is way too expensive but obviously higher quality at the start. Avoid cheaper ones which are tricky to set up. In the end you may find you have to go back and buy the more expensive one anyway. I did!

    • December 8, 2012 at 8:45 am

      Martin – good advice, thanks. Just FYI, the fist photo of the wrist and hand grip are of a Jobu carbon fiber monopod – a very nice monopod. The photos of the different stances were taken using the Oben monopod – the leg locks look like the Gitzo – almost identical in appearance, but not as smooth as Gitzo or the Jobu.

  9. 18
    ) Jeff Kennedy
    December 8, 2012 at 10:12 am

    What is your advice regarding the use or non-use of vibration reduction, when using a monopod with a ball head (or a gimbal)? Does your advice change with shorter focal lengths vs. longer?

    • December 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      Jeff, there are lots of opinions on whether to turn on VR or off when on a tripod or monopod. Of course the shutter speed you are using can also influence this decision. Personally, I leave it on when using a monopod since it isn’t as stable as a tripod.

  10. 19
    ) John Gio
    December 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Thank You Tom for sharing this technique. Until today I was using my aluminium Manfrotto 680B, straight out in front of me. I will certainly now try the other two suggestions you have provided us in this great review. I also use from time to time a Vanguard SBH250 head and works fine with my D3100 and 55-300mm lens.

    • December 8, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      John, thanks for the comment and after you have tried other options let us know what you think.

  11. 20
    ) paul witzig
    December 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I have found it really useful to fully retract the telescopic leg, and use the rubber coated top section of the monopod to hold the camera. Because my hand is a lot lower than it normally is when hand holding the camera this dramatically reduces camera movement.A lot easier to carry around too!

    • December 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks Paul

      • 24
        ) Darrell Wood
        December 9, 2012 at 2:21 am

        Any chance you could confirm what camera and lense you used for last picture..Tried to look at Exif info and its not there

        Thanks

        • December 9, 2012 at 7:39 am

          Darrell – a NIkon D4 with a Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED
          85mm
          1/60 of a sec.
          f/11
          ISO 100
          0ev

  12. 26
    ) Mayzee
    December 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Hello
    I got a monopod a few days ago and….. absolutely love it…. but I think I have a problem with my lense and I really need help… I apologize to post here but i couldn’t do it anywhere else…. I have a Nikon D80 and I can’t decide if I should get a 50mm f 1/8 or a 35mm 1/8 for my sport pictures… I am shooting basketball pictures and somebody recommended 50mm 1/8…. but all the reviews lead me to a 35mm 1/8….. I am very very very new at this and at this point am shooting with a 18/135mm with very low light (high school gym) meanly at night and no flash… can you please please help me figure out what to get.
    Thanks…..!!! Mayzee…

    • December 9, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      Mayzee, the 18-135 is probably a f/3.5-5.6 lens, meaning that it is slower, or requires more light. Thus by switching to a 35mm o 50mm f/1.8 lens you will have more light coming into the lens and thus it is a faster lens. Either the 50mm or the 35mm f/1.8 will be faster but you lose the flexibility that the zoom gives.

      The D80 has a crop factor of 1.5x, so if you use a 50mm lens on a D80 it is the equivalent of a 75mm lens. The 35mm on a crop factor lens is more equivalent to a 50mm lens on a full frame camera. In deciding which to use, under the basket and close in, the 35mm might be better because with the 50mm, the subject may appear to close and more than fill the frame. Obviously, the further the action is from you, the more you will desire the extra reach. If shooting from the end and near the basket, I would be inclined to suggest the 35mm on a D80. I hope that helps some.

  13. 28
    ) Art
    December 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Tom,

    Thanks for the neat article. You addressed a problem that I’ve been having trying to use a monopod. I’m off to test it tomorrow. …

    • December 9, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      Art, thank you, I hope it helps. Let us know what you find out after you test it.

      • 35
        ) Art
        December 11, 2012 at 8:13 pm

        Used the technique of bracing the bottom against the rear foot….great difference. Thanks for the terrific tip.

  14. 30
    ) Ian
    December 9, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Tom,

    Nice article; and nice photos to go with it. I bought an Induro CM25 monopod earlier this year and I love it. Even though I don’t have any larger glass to use on it, it’s very light and still helps keep things steady with my D5100. I usually have a Manfrotto 489 RC2 ball head on it – it makes the whole thing heavier but adds a little height, which I find useful.

    Now, if you could just use your Jedi mind powers to magically turn me into a better photographer, I’d be grateful. ;-) Or maybe I’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way, starting with taking lots of pictures, even bad ones.

    • December 9, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Thank you Ian, I hear nice things about the Induro products. As for the Jedi mind powers – lol -keep taking photos – we are all still learning!

  15. 32
    ) Arif
    December 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Tom,
    Thanks for the tip! Your article make me bought a new monopod :-) the last time I used monopod was more than 7 years ago. My last monopod I use was an aluminum manfrotto (I forgot the type). It was quite big and heavy, so I didn’t bother to carry it around.
    This new one I bought is Triopo GL-40. Have you ever heard of it? What do you think of this monopod? It’s a cheap carbon fibre monopod that I found in Ebay

  16. 37
    ) Rafael
    December 18, 2012 at 6:24 am

    Nice tips!

    I own a Feisol carbon fibre monopod. Good stuff and quality.
    I bought it mostly for low light indoor shooting, like on concerts, which is about 75% of what I shoot as a pro.

    But truth to be told, the monopod is barely used as I usually need high speed shutter (1/125s or faster when shooting ballet and rock’n’roll stuff), which diminishes the need for a stabilization device. Of course, I have VR (70-300 VR) and good ISO range (D7000) which helps.

    On the other hand, when shooting operas and such “calm” performances, I can lower the ISO, attain lower speeds (even 1/60s) and then the monopod comes to play. I also use it with my 105 DC – which doesn’t feature VR.
    Also for “artistic” stage shots (ie. panning) the monopod works well.

    • 38
      ) Rafael
      December 18, 2012 at 6:30 am

      I forgot to mention that I use the monopod together with a Manfrotto 496 RC2 ball head and they are good together. :)

  17. 40
    ) Peter Connan
    April 21, 2013 at 7:53 am

    A local photographer here in South Africa introduced me to using a monopod with swivel head, but with the bottom end of the monopod placed in a belt pouch instead of on the ground (think of the rest fishermen use to brace their long fishing rods) for action such as sports and birds in flight.

    I have recently started using this method and it really works well, reducing muscle strain with telephoto lenses (stability is less of an issue here due to the high shutter speeds one uses as a rule to prevent motion blur).

    • 41
      ) Tom Redd
      April 22, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      Peter, thanks for the info and comment. I have seen these holsters and while I haven’t used them personally, they look nice. Thanks for your feedback.

  18. 42
    ) Joseph Costa
    August 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Since I am a stroke survivor I do carry the monopod with me when taking photos and I prefer the Straight Out in Front method as it serves both as a support for the camera … and for me. Then for low light photography and for long exposures I prefer using the tripod. Thanks for your useful tips.

    • August 29, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      Joseph, thanks for the feedback and I am glad you are out shooting after the stroke – good for you! Happy trails.

  19. 44
    ) John Craine
    October 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

    I hike with may DSLR and take bird and wildlife photos. I put a 3/4 inch ball on my camera and a socket on top of my monopod so when I see something I slip the ball into the socket and take the photo. Thus I can point my camera up, down, left, and right with ease.

  20. 47
    ) Srikanth
    March 23, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    Thanks for Tips, it helped me to use my new Monopod.

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