Two Photographic Tools That Have Made My Job Way Easier

Two Photographic Tools That Have Made My Job Way Easier

Over the last few years there have been a few pieces of photographic equipment that have either sped up my workflow or turned awkward, finicky techniques into simple and swift processes. But there are two specific tools that have made my life so much easier, especially when used in conjunction with each other.

The Geared Tripod Head

The Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head has been an absolute game changer for my interior photography. For those that don't know, a geared tripod head lets you make fine adjustments on three axes, so no faffing around with a slippery or jerky cheap tripod head. I've had it for two years now, and I'd be lost without it. Before I bought it, I was trying to level a camera with a ball-head. I swear to god, I lost more hair than usual trying to level that thing.

If you're wondering why I need to level my camera to such a high degree of accuracy, you have to understand that for interior photography, the vertical lines in the final image need to be perfectly straight, and, for certain clients, I really mean perfect. Case in point; I was working with a certain company who must have been either relying on pernickety A.I. or manually going through each of my photos with a fine-tooth comb, because when they sent certain images back to me to be corrected, I couldn't tell where the verticals were off until I dragged out the rulers in Photoshop and zoomed in to 200%. It was overkill on their part, I know, especially considering the fact that they wanted 80 shots per property, but I wasn't going to get paid if I didn't fix it. Needless to say, I don't do work for them anymore. But now that I work for better paying clients, I need to produce higher quality images so it's just as important to get those walls standing straight.

close up of a Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head

Well machined, sturdy, robust, and accurate — but enough about me. This thing is worth every penny.

To get back to the point that I was about to make, the more level the camera is when you take a shot, the easier it is to correct it further in post. In walked the geared head to my life — on the advice of one of Mike Kelley's tutorials — and, even though my hair didn't start to grow back, my life on the job was made invariably easier. I can be standing in a tight corner, not enough room to breath properly, and I can still get the camera level. There is no way I could do that to any degree of accuracy with a ball-head. Faster to set up, and time saved in post — money well spent.

The 6D MKII

The canon 6D MKII was absolutely torn apart when it came out, and in most contexts, rightly so. But, what people seemed to like most about it — apart from Canon's superb dual-pixel auto focus — was the vari-angle LCD monitor. It actually turned out to be a bit of a hit with vloggers for those two reasons, but why did I buy it? I talked about it a bit in this article about my first — and almost disastrous — foray into videography, but to spare you the bother of going through it: I wanted the cheapest way possible to get 1080p at 60fps. I was already invested in Canon glass, so it was a no-brainer. Turns out, to my great surprise, that the vari-angle screen is super handy for interior work. I'm not shooting massive commercial projects yet, so the 26.2 megapixel sensor of the MKII suits my needs for the time being. 

the Canon 6D MKII with vari-angle LCD screen on a Manfrotto Geared Tripod Head

Backed into a corner, but still able to frame a composition and level the camera accurately — a winning combination.

Now I can back my whole camera and tripod into a really tight corner or between furniture, without having to look through the viewfinder. Not ideal, and I wouldn't do it for higher paying jobs, but for my bread and butter stuff, like Airbnb properties and other holiday homes/real-estate, it's perfect. Not only that, but the touch screen means that I don't have to mess around with a remote trigger or waste time with a two second timer. This might not sound like I'm saving much time, but if I've to use a two second timer for six hundred shots a day because I forgot to bring my remote shutter, then that's an extra twenty minutes at work — I could cook a meal in that time!

What about our readers? Have you a piece of equipment, or an unusual combination of tools that has made your work simpler? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.    

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36 Comments

Richard Kralicek's picture

I totally agree with the 6Dii, it's cheap, good enough and fun to use. for my stuff (just amateur nature and architecture).

The screen is fantastic for low level macro shots, and a sturdy gorilla pod helps me taming the Canon 180mm macro lens on the 6Dii. This combination, screen and macro beast lens is hard to beat.

Btw, the level inside the OVF of the 6Dii is also a great tool for architecture and landscape.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Haven't even thought to use it for awkward macro shots. Yes, the digital level is very handy — forgot to mention that one!

Colin Robertson's picture

Do you find the tilt-level to be accurate? In both my 7D and my R, it's off by a few degrees. Not a big deal once you know how far it's off, but frustrating. Didn't know the OVF had a level on the 6D II—that's cool.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Yes, it's quite accurate. Of course, it's not a bubble level, and one's easily off just because of breathing, but for amateurs like me it's one really good feature. I upgraded from the 6D (which is still working, but water gets into too quickly, and after 105000 shots ...). For payed work nothing can replace a bubble level on the hot shoe.

Gilmour Dickson's picture

Agreed. The 6dii is a great tool now that the price is a bit more acceptable. I see it as a bit like a swiss army knife in how flexible it is. It doesn't do one thing really well but it does many things pretty well.

Why not just use your cell phone for a remote shutter? You can focus with it too. I love that feature on the 6Dii

Mike O'Leary's picture

When I'm trying to fly around a house getting lots of angles, I will often need to put my phone on my pocket so I deactivate the screen — this disconnects the camera, and re-connecting takes a while, so I jus don't bother with it.

I do use it when I need to pop flashes throughout a big room. It is a really handy feature, and we don't have to fork out for a CamRanger.

Gerald Bertram's picture

Totally agree with the 410 Junior. No other single piece of kit made my life easier in my real estate shoots.

Mike O'Leary's picture

It's one of those things that you don't realize you need until you buy it.

Colin Robertson's picture

I bought the more expensive 405 because I liked the ergonomics of it better, but given I've already had to have it serviced once, I wish I had just gotten the 410 instead. It's great for RE work, but otherwise way too heavy and cumbersome. Looking at the arca swiss geared stuff when I'm ready to replace it.

Mike O'Leary's picture

It is indeed bulky but I actually like the heft — helps to keep the tripod steady.

Never even considered arca swiss but I did try to get an arca swiss plate for the 410. I think I couldn't get it because they wouldn't deliver to Ireland. Didn't think any further of it but I might look into it again. Not being able to compose a vertical shot without putting the tripod in a precarious position, is a pain in the butt.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

The 410 is not built better, both 410 and 405 suffers from poor QC and they are not that durable or precise compared to the more high-end options.

Having gone thru four 405's and owned two 410's which both developed a play in the gears after some time, I'm not that impressed. Of course, as a first geared head the 410 is a nice head, a lot better than the Xpro which is only for tiny cameras and people who enjoy plastic.

And of course a lot more precise than any ball head for that matter.

The biggest downside of the 405 is space, it's huge especially when you consider it's load capacity.

Manfrotto RC4 plates are not suited for 35mm cameras, big and clunky the Hejnar conversion is a must have IMHO.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Thanks for detailing you experiences, Paul. Maybe I haven't been using mine enough to run into the same problems as you, or maybe I've been lucky.

I've done an arca swiss conversion with my ball head, but I'll have to do something about the geared. Like you say, the plates are not suited to 35mm.

May I ask what system you are using?

Paul Lindqvist's picture

The "play" in the gears comes over time, this is a known problem. You can tighten it up a little by removing the stickers and using a hex key this will fix any play once it's locked, but the play in the gears won't be fixed by this.

I highly recommend the hejnar conversion, well worth it!

I'm using the Arca Swiss Cube GP which is by far the best head I 'v ever used and owned.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Nice one. Thanks for the helpful comments, Paul! Will definitely be purchasing the henjar conversion.

dale clark's picture

Fantastic piece of gear. I adapted mine to work with Arca Swiss and now can use any Lplate (like RRS and Pro media Gear) http://www.hejnarphotostore.com/product-p/m405f63.htm

Gerald Bertram's picture

This is the next item I'll be purchasing. The only thing I didn't like about the 410 is that connection plate. Not to mention every other piece of tripod gear I have is Arca Swiss and my OCD has not been happy about this one outlyer.

dale clark's picture

Arca swiss should be standard for every maker. The Manfrotto plate system is terrible IMO

Colin Robertson's picture

I have the EOS R that I use for interiors and you're totally right—the vari-angle screen is incredibly handy. My tripod get's much lower these days because it's so much easier to frame up by angling the screen.

I've been rocking my Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod and 410 geared head for the past 7 years or so. Never did buy a ballhead as I knew I wanted the precision with no "droop". I have the 6D and T3i. I do miss the articulating screen on the 6D. My next camera will need to have it.

I spent many years using a 055XPROB as well with a Manfrotto 322Rc and it's previous iterant. However I decided to buy a Novoflex Magicball 50 and what beautiful piece of equipment it is. Grips very firmly. I use the Novoflex panorama head on it as well. It hasn't changed my life but I love using it and that is part of it. I've nearly upgraded my 055XPROB a few times, it looks battered and bruised but works perfectly after more than 10 years of service. It has outlasted many cameras!

Michael Jin's picture

L-Bracket. It's just one of those little quality-of-life things.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Another thing I didn't realize how much I needed until I actually bought one for landscaps, early on in my career. Now to convert my gear head!

Andy Day's picture

Next article: Mike's Twenty Minute Meal Recipe Ideas. 🤪

Nice piece, Mike. May venture into interiors in a couple of years so the 410 is a potential nugget of info. Ta.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Interiors can be a nice little earner. Try Airbnb first. They give a clear creative brief, and, while the money isn't good, they pay out as soon as photos pass QC. I've never had any issues with them. A nice way to build a portfolio while you look for better paying interior stuff.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

The 410 is a good starting head, but its precision and durability are not the best sadly.

David Pavlich's picture

I don't have need for either, but I just wanted to make a comment that this is the sort of article that should grace the pages of FS; helpful and to the point. We also get some great suggestions from members in the replies. Good stuff!

Mike O'Leary's picture

Many thanks, David.

Charles Lynn's picture

I'm not sure about if the Geared Tripod Head is really efficient.

I shoot tons of interior photos too. By using a ball head, only one movement, you are in the right position. But by using the Geared Tripod Head, you have to adjust 3 knobs. Surely the Geared Tripod Head gives you more accuracy, but when you import into Lightroom, run a preset with auto alignment, 99% times it will get right for you, no hassle at all.

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