Most photographers today, both amateur and professional, have a Table Top Tripod in their gadget bag for use when photographing small objects on a “table top,” or for bracing on top of a car, wall, or fence when a full size tripod isn’t available or practical.
There are times, however, when you want the support and vibration stopping of a tripod, but the subject is moving around way too quickly – you just can’t get reoriented fast enough to get the shot: just think about shooting photos of an active child on a playground. But you really do want the steadiness that a tripod affords for sharper photos that can be blown up big and still be eye-catchingly sharp.
Enter the classic table top tripod.
By twisting it around into a novel configuration with the tripod against your chest and the camera to your eye, you can brace the camera to get much of the stabilizing power of a tripod on the floor – but the flexibility to move around quickly with fast moving subjects. It also can be braced on a wall, fence, the side of a house – anything that gives you the stability you need for the sharpest photos.
I have two. First, a classic Leitz Table Top Tripod with Large Ball and Socket Head. I think this is no longer made (mine is over 40 years old – Leica makes good stuff!). It has one disadvantage. You cannot set the ball head for limited or smooth drag. It is either loose or locked. And though it folds flat, it doesn’t fold compact (unless you separate the two parts – which makes it more difficult to set up quickly).
I used this setup several times photographing Indy Type race cars going by at over 200 miles per hour! I was standing about 50 – 60 feet from the track and just panned my whole body, with the chest pod supporting the camera, and released the shutter while I was moving through the pan. Great action shots – and sharp! (Bonus tip – with this technique, you can slow the shutter speed down to 1/60 or 1/125 or so, and when you pan with the car going by, releasing the shutter during the pan, you get a picture that just SHOUTS SPEED!)
And, of course, slowing down a bit, you can use it on hikes to increase the stability and sharpness of your photos while lightening the load you carry. And it sets up more quickly than a full size tripod.
My other, newer model is the Slik Mini-Pro. These folks make many, many tripods in all sizes, weights, materials – you can select just the right one for your needs. The tripod folds up very small, and comes with a typical (though small) pan head. The small pan head is great for basic table tops, but it is somewhat awkward for chest pod use.
Far easier and more effective, I recommend a Kaiser Lightweight Ball & Socket Head to replace the pan head that comes with the tripod (don’t throw the pan head away, you will always find times when you still want to use it). When you are actually using the ball & socket head, you may not want to totally lock up the ball head, just use a slight drag. This gives you much more flexibility to move with the subject, while giving you the extra support for extra sharp photos.
Since the Leitz model is no longer available (unless you find one used), the Slik/Kaiser combination will make a valuable addition to your gadget bag, giving you freedom for photographing fast moving subjects while keeping the camera stable enough to encourage large prints you’ll be proud to display. This is especially true if your camera has image stabilization.
By all means try this valuable technique. It will really help you get more great photos to make really big prints.