When I first started in Photography, a monopod (to me) was something I considered useless. I just didn’t understand it. I knew of, and had used, tripods and those made sense, but monopods?
With their one leg, just seemed like a glorified walking stick to me. Especially within the type of photography I was pursuing – Fashion. I had only ever seen them used in Sports photography at the side of football matches.
However, as soon as I graduated I was lucky enough to start attending London Fashion Week as a photographer where I would be in the press pit shooting all of the models that walked towards me. My first season I was equipped with my camera and a rented 70-200mm lens as I had googled that was the best lens to use for Fashion shows. When I got to the press pit for my first ever show a lot of the photographers had the same lens, but they all had monopods attached to the lenses and I didn’t really understand why.
I now know why.
Let me explain…
The press pit at Fashion Week is almost like a massive fight to the death. Once you have found a space (you need to mark up spaces a day early and I didn’t know this at the time as I was a “newbie” to it all. So this is a little hint for you if you do attend London Fashion Week) you are still constantly moving around. You won’t know how many photographers will be in the press pit until the show effectively starts. A lot of the paparazzi photographers taking pictures of the attending celebrities rush INTO the press pit to then photograph the show, which means climbing around you or over you and effectively you end up reshuffling to the left, to the right, in front of someone a bit more, any way to ensure you all fit with some kind of comfort. You can be sitting or standing, but either way, you are packed in so tight that a movement from one person can cause a bit of a domino effect and can jog your arms/camera.
Image 4 is an image of me in the press pit at Fashion Week, but about 15 minutes before a show is due to start (and the shows always run at least 20 minutes late). You have to get there early with kit in hand to try and preserve your space. This image doesn’t show off the full extent of how packed in you are I’m afraid, but it already looks quite squashed. Just imagine a lot more kit and people into this image. Because of this lack of movement you have, or the knocking you experience from other photographers, you need to use something that can at least keep you a bit steadier, but also keep your camera level. Which is why I now use a monopod! Preferably one with a spirit level built in so I know I don’t have to adjust the image after the show as I know it is pretty much level within camera.
Another reason for a monopod is that even though the shows only last for a few minutes, there are so many happening in one day, that you need something to be able to hold the weight. I used to be so busy that I didn’t really have time to eat, so my energy would start to deplete, and holding a heavy camera body with a 70-200mm lens on all day just wasn’t becoming any easier for me as the day went on. Attaching the lens to a monopod meant that all the weight strain was taken off of my arms and I didn’t feel like I had been doing weights all day.
It isn’t just 70-200mm lenses that get used though. Some people are too far back within the press pit to be able to use this lens so some photographers end up using a fixed 300mm or a fixed 400mm. Something with a bit more reach. This means something with a bit more weight also and definitely something that can’t be hand held with ease.
One season, one “newbie” tried to hand hold a 1DX with a fixed 300mm. He kept whacking the lens into my head and nearly gave me concussion. Needless to say, this is not nice press pit etiquette and we got him kicked out.
Because fashion week happens all around London also, you can be rushing around London by running, walking, taxi, tube, bus etc etc. I know this isn’t the use of a monopod, but sometimes I would use it as a handy walking stick when I was feeling completely knackered (Sorry Manfrotto!)
But also, because I was rushing around London constantly, I wanted my kit to be as manageable as possible, and Manfrotto’s new compact range seems perfect for this. You only need the monopod to be as tall as you, or smaller than you if you want a seated space in the press pit.
It is then all down to the head that you attach to the monopod. I prefer fluid heads or tilt heads so that I can switch easily between portrait and landscape mode. At the end of the show, all of the models do a final walk together
and you want to be able to capture this in all of its glory. Landscape orientation works best for this. But when the models are coming out separately, you obviously want portrait orientation and you want a monopod with a head that will keep your camera steady whilst you zoom in and out to get full length, mid length and close up shots to get a broad range of images for your client, but also to make your portfolio as interesting and diverse as possible.
I haven’t photographed runway for a couple of years now as I am now always backstage photographing and documenting backstage, but I still use a monopod occasionally for backstage. I use a flashgun with a softbox attached to it and depending on how much space there is backstage I will use the flash off camera and I sometimes like to attach the flash and softbox to a monopod so that I can lift it up and down to angle the light where I want it to be. I see some people doing the same thing if they have a really big softbox attached to their flashgun. It is a little bit easier to hold the flash on a monopod if you can’t handle the flash because the softbox gets in the way of gripping it. I have also seen wedding photographers do the same thing (a sneaky unrelated tip and trick for you there).
Or, instead of attaching the flash to the monopod, you can attach the camera and get really interesting birds eye views/high views that may not normally be possible (my wireless flash system also acts as a remote shutter release for my camera). Because I am backstage I am no longer using a 70-200mm lens, just a 24-70 or a fixed 50mm so I don’t need to worry about using a monopod that can handle lots of weight. And a view of all of the madness and the small space backstage can look pretty interesting, but also show the viewer how small it all really is backstage. Backstage is exclusive and not everybody/anybody can get in. You need to be on a list. So to provide as many different angles and views of it is going to make it more interesting to whomever views your work, but also provides the client with more angles to go through and choose from to make their feature more interesting and unique to other clients’ features.
For the videographers of you out there, I have seen videographers backstage use a monopod. There just isn’t enough space for a tripod I’m afraid, and if you don’t have access to a body rig, a monopod is a smaller and cheaper solution. You can hold the monopod and walk around to prevent hand camera shake in your video, but you can also plant the monopod on the ground if you are doing interviews, static shots, filming a particular model getting hair or makeup done. There are many ways you can use a monopod backstage as tripods aren’t possible, and it will be a lot better than hand holding the camera if you don’t want to do that.
I hope this has been helpful to you. I wish I had something like this available to me when I was thinking about getting into photographing Fashion Week as it would have saved me so much shock, horror and embarrassment of being the “newbie” and like a deer in headlights to a brand new experience. I hope to see some of you at Fashion Week with monopods in hand.