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I'll Never Make This Photography Mistake Again

I'll Never Make This Photography Mistake Again

Some mistakes you make as a photographer over and over again, learning a little bit each time you make them. But this is one mistake I can't afford to make again.

It was a bleak morning in England, the rain pattering at the car door window. I'd been up all night preparing and getting to my location for a spectacular sunrise landscape shot. The snow had fallen the night before, and the cold wintry air had frozen patches on the ground into glassy, black ice.

The whole area looked like it had been rendered in a Disney film. Intricate, lace-like hoar frost clad the trees all around me en route to the spot. I headed out in the dark blue glow of twilight, the bags under my eyes hanging heavy from the lack of sleep. It took around an hour to get to my spot as I kept stopping along the way to capture the awesome scenes the season was giving me.

Each time, I set up my camera on a tripod so that I could keep the camera steady enough to set a long exposure and low ISO to avoid noise. Between each shooting position and in a bid to forgo the lengthy delays I would inevitably rack up by making multiple stops along my journey, I simply folded the tripod legs up, placed it on my shoulder, and let the camera rest, lens facing down towards my back. I know many photographers that do this, especially wildlife photographers who have long telephoto lenses. It just doesn't make sense to pack it up in the bag or carrying case every time you shift positions. 

Photo kit on floor

My Gitzo tripod footplate fits much more snugly into the tripod head than the Vanguard plate I have, much to my surprise

This was my greatest mistake. Because what I'd neglected to check was the exact size of my tripod footplate. I normally just use my Gitzo tripod, which has an Arca-Swiss plate method, which is affixed to the tripod head using a tension screw. However, on this occasion, I was switching between bodies and lenses, so I just used an old Vanguard Arca-Swiss plate, which looked to be the same when I eyeballed the comparison.

I was clambering over some rocky terrain when I slipped on a patch of undetectable black ice. I threw my hands out to save myself and quickly jarred my arm back to prevent the camera from crashing to the ground. However, the Vanguard plate must have been ever so slightly thinner or perhaps more worn than my standard Gitzo plate. The jarring slid the footplate and camera off the tripod's head, and they fell onto the rocks.

Camera and telephoto lens

I'm just thankful I didn't drop one of my larger telephoto lenses as I'm sure something would've smashed

Fortunately, the metal lens housing bore the brunt of the collision, and although the exterior was covered in scratches, the glass remained intact. I quickly got to my feet and studied my kit to find that the lens still worked fine. But it could've very easily ended up costing me a lot (or an insurance claim) to repair and potentially replace. 

So, what's the moral of the story? Well, I would urge you to pack up your kit when walking between locations, especially if you plan on going over rough terrain or in inclement weather. It might be a pain, but it's much more of a pain to have your kit completely ruined just because you slipped. If you don't want to do that, then at least throw a lens hood on to protect the front element of the lens. You may find the impact breaks the camera or rips the lens from its mount, but at least you'll have tried something if you're not willing to go the whole way and pop it in the bag.

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37 Comments

Rick Rizza's picture

Never ever put your lens on the sofa after you detach it from the body.

It rolls, to the floor.

Dan Jefferies's picture

Or kitchen counter...

imagei _'s picture

Like many people I do walk with camera on the tripod for the reasons you mentioned, would advise to do two things though. First of all, carry the camera with the lens facing up, so that the weight of the lens doesn't stress the mount, particularly if you are walking with a heavy lens. Lens facing up rests on the camera body and this way incurs far less stress on the mount. Second, have the camera on a strap wrapped around your neck or shoulder. Should anything happen it'll swing around your body instead of crashing to the ground. Unclipping the strap takes a second, far quicker than putting the gear in the bag.

Timothy Roper's picture

Just remember to take the strap off your neck once you've reached a new spot and are setting up. While walking as you describe, I've forgotten the strap was around my neck, and didn't remember until it pulled the tripod over after things were set up at a new location, and I backed away to check out compositions. It's happened more than once.

Michael Dougherty's picture

That's why I use a camera strap. Just hang the camera from your neck in front of you. This also allows you to take some grab shots while you're traveling from place to place. A filter will protect from dust or ocean spray and a lens hood will protect your front element from scratches from bushes.

Matt Williams's picture

how does that help when using a tripod

jim hughes's picture

It's amazing how "standards" like Arca Swiss get compromised over time. Eventually there are separate species that can no longer interbreed.

Matt Williams's picture

It really sucks and is why I only purchase quality brand plates or L brackets now. Never had an issue that caused damage, but it could have.

Jeff Nickel's picture

Curious what this thumbnail that insinuates a problem with the Sony A7s has to do with your tripod plate? Just some click-bait?

Fred Teifeld's picture

Agreed. First thing I thought was that it was a negative piece on Sony.

Matt White's picture

Maybe just the wrong image uploaded or something? It's a weird choice.

Alvin Telan's picture

yea, a click bait to draw more attention.

Fred Teifeld's picture

Not a dig on the author of this article by any means, but its just another case of cheaper not necessarily being better or in this case of cheaper being far worse. It didn't take long for me to learn about the variances in quality even on Arca-Swiss compatible plates and clamps. Gotzo's first generation Area "compatible" clamps came configured to only tightly fit Gitzo's own plates which were just off enough that using a proper Area type plate would result in a very loose grip.

Fortunately Gitzo included the necessary parts to insure a proper grip on the truly Arca type plates, problem solved. Then they redesigned their clamps and made them able to clamp all kinds or Arca-Swiss compatible plates.

Vanguard has always been and still is a lower end brand, meaning that various issues will come up at some point more often than not. I remember once buying a Sirui (Spelling? Who cares? Its cheap junk) Arca-Swiss-Type plate and noticed a little bit of flexing on it. After removing it from the camera, I was able to torque it with my hands and break it.

Matt Williams's picture

I try to stick to Arca Swiss, Really Right Stuff, Three Legged Thing, or Kirk plates/brackets. They've always been top notch quality.

Fred Teifeld's picture

Excellent choices, although I have only heard about the brand "Thee Legged Thing" so I have no experience with them. Promediagear and Acratech also make excellent Arca compatible items (I have some from both). RRS and Kirk are also some of the best.

Robert Nurse's picture

Whenever I look at RRS prices, I kind of cringe. But, I've only dealt with them when it comes to plates and clamps and I've never had a problem with them.

Ed Sanford's picture

They are pricey, but the product quality is impeccable. I finally bit the bullet and bought their setup 4 years ago. It’s like an insurance policy on all of your gear.

Elliot Sander's picture

I just opened this article to check whether the mistake the author was referring to was his thinking that his files are stored in RAM when he saves those files in his desktop ;)

Richard Twigg's picture

Guilty as charged.

Juan Isaias Perez's picture

Maybe a valid alternative to some:
My tripod / monopod / camera strap system share an Acratech quick release system. It is based around an Arca Swiss plate and a lever lock. It takes 5 seconds to switch from strap to tripod. Another 5 to switch back. I never carry the camera on the tripod because is so easy to switch back to my sling strap. Yes, there is camera base plate 100% of the time on my camera.

Jeff Nickel's picture

Love the Acratech lever lock!

Dan Ostergren's picture

YIKES! I'm glad the only damage done was cosmetic. Lucky!

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I’ve read the title of your article and you’ll be amazed what I did next.

Patrick Rosenbalm's picture

Well at least it wasn't like another tripod story on here where a gal tripped on her tripod's leg and because it was way undersized to hold a Sony A9, it and the camera ended up in the pond that it was beside. If I remember the story correctly it was at night too.

Peter Stewart's picture

I have a similar story relating to that exact tripod/tripod head combo.

Gitzo went with a rubber ring around the knob that tightens the arca-swiss mount to the tripod head. Unfortunately for me living in tropical climates, the rubber loosens over time and fails to "stick" to the metal part of the knob.

Cue many many occasions, I've slung the tripod over my shoulder with the camera attached to find that it's not locked in tight enough to the mount and slides around, or even worse the camera falls off. It now takes a serious amount of effort to ensure it's tightened.

The rubber rings on that Gitzo Traveller tripod are a serious design flaw in my opinion. Along with the legs which loosen over the years, but when you go to tighten them with an allen wrench, simply destroys the bearings/threads even more till they wear out and get more loose.

Advice, don't buy a Gitzo Traveller tripod if you live in South East Asia!

Peter Stewart's picture

Apologies for gratuitous use of the word "knob" in my post lol.

Phil Wright's picture

Have I just read an article that essentially says "Be careful with your equipment". Scraping the barrel a little bit now.

Leigh Wax's picture

I've used the Manfrotto CR2 Quick release system for more than a decade, with zero problems, but each, & every time I make a connection, I give the Camera/lens a "moderate" shake to assure that it's securely "locked down", and that nothing is 'loose", including the lens's tripod foot attachment.

anthony marsh's picture

Was this necessary???????????????????????????????????????????????//

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