Nick Carver Photography Blog

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DIY: Tripod Leg Pads

I've had padding on my tripod legs for at least 7 years now and I am thoroughly hooked. They're great for protecting your hands against the biting cold of the aluminum or carbon fiber and they make throwing your tripod and camera over your shoulder a lot more comfortable.

Now, you could spend around $25 plus shipping for some pre-made tripod leg wraps that may or may not fit your tripod perfectly, but that's way more money than you need to spend and, honestly, it just ain't custom enough. You need to make your tripod YOURS. It's gotta be like an extension of your own body - a piece of equipment that you know better than the back of your own hand. Like an emperor penguin identifying its offspring in a sea of black and white, you should be able to know your tripod just from the squeak of its joints. That's why you need to MAKE your own tripod leg pads.

Okay, maybe that's a bit extreme. But making your own tripod leg wraps is much cheaper and you'll probably really enjoy doing it. This post breaks down how I do it with about $10 worth of materials and an easy half hour in front of my TV. Don't glaze over this post if you want to make your tripod leg wraps right, there are some very important details you won't want to screw up.

First off, get your materials. You'll need some foam pipe insulation (found at most hardware stores) long enough to cover all three legs and wide enough in diameter to nearly make it all the way around. You want the foam padding to be just a little bit narrower than the legs - too wide and they will rotate around too easily and drive you nuts. I purchased a single 6-foot piece of foam insulation made for pipes 3/4" wide for $2.99 at Ace Hardware.

Foam Pipe Insulation

You'll also need a couple rolls of athletic tape - the kind of tape they use to wrap grips for hockey sticks. This stuff can be found at almost every sporting goods store and runs a few bucks a roll. I went ahead and bought the 6-pack for a better price per roll (you'll want to replace these pads after they start to wear out anyway). You'll also need some scissors to cut the tape and a razor to cut the foam insulation. Other than that, you're good to go.

Your materials

First, cut the foam pipe insulation to the desired length. You'll want it to fit perfectly over the top leg section (from the joint to the first leg lock). You can do this by first marking your cut line. Hold a pen against the foam insulation and rotate the foam around (not your pen) so the pen line circles the entire foam cylinder - kind of like a wood worker using a lathe.

Mark your line

Then take your razor blade and insert it into the pen line. Rotate the foam insulation around again, causing the blade to make a full circle clean cut. This method works far better than scissors or trying to cut straight down through the foam. Then slide your razor down the seam going lengthwise on the foam so that it splits open into a "C" shape. Test the pads for fit and cut more if necessary.

Insert razor into mark line and rotate foam to cut


Then cut down the pre-scored seam

With the foam pads OFF the tripod, you're going to wrap athletic tape around the bare tripod legs in three places - towards the bottom near the leg lock, towards the top near the joint and another right in the middle. Only wrap it 1 strip wide and no need to overlap much. This tape isn't meant to protect the legs, it's simply put there to give the foam insulation (that will be on top of it) something to grip to so that it doesn't rotate around a lot. You should have 3 strips of athletic tape around each leg.

Wrap tape around bare tripod legs


Wrap in 3 spots for a good grip

Now, place the foam pipe insulators on the legs right over top of the athletic tape you just applied. Line up the seams towards the insides of the legs.

Line up seams towards inside

Now you're going to take your athletic tape and wrap around the foam insulation in the same 3 spots you applied tape to the bare legs. Only wrap 1-strip wide and make only 2 or 3 overlapping passes. Wrap it real tight. The idea here is these strips will apply tension to the foam pads right over the tape you put under it. This will create enough friction to keep the pads from rotating and will keep the pads in place for the next step.

Wrap strips of tape around foam...

Again, you should have 3 strips of tape going around the padding - towards the bottom near the leg lock, towards the top near the joint and another right in the middle. All three legs should have the padding on with 3 strips of tape around each.


...right over top of the strips underneath

Now it's time to seal off the padding by wrapping it entirely in athletic tape. This will create a good, soft grip around the foam, it will protect the foam from ripping, keep it from rotating and will give it one hell of a professional look.

To do this, you're going to take your roll of tape and just wrap the tape around the legs in somewhat of a spiral shape. It's just like if you were wrapping the grip for a tennis racquet, golf club or hockey stick. The important thing here is to START AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FOAM PADDING AND WORK YOUR WAY UP! This will cause the overlap to point downwards - just like shingles on a roof - which helps with water resistance and overall comfort. DO NOT START AT THE TOP - you will regret it when your tape starts peeling off the foam.

Start off by making 2 turns around the very base, then bend the tape to start wrapping around the legs at an angle so that it proceeds in a spiral. Overlap each pass by about 25% until you get to the top.

Bend tape to start upward spiral

Keep a tight, even pressure on tape as you make your way up.

Finish it off by straighting out the tape and making 2 turns around the very top. Cut the tape so the end of it stops towards the inside of the legs - not the side or outside. Keep the tape wrapping real tight around the foam the entire time! Repeat this process for the remaining legs and you're done!

There you have it! Now your tripod has some awesome new pads and you're wallet ain't too much worse for the wear!

The tape might fray a bit, but just rip the strings off as they come. These pads will last quite a bit longer than you'd think. I've had mine on for over 3 years and they're showing no signs of breaking down. When they finally do wear out or just get a little too dirty for your liking, switch 'em out for some new ones for only another $10.00!

Thanks for reading!

Photography Tips: What is a Polarizer?

This is the first in a series of photographic quick tips and how-to's I will be posting periodically. They will be categorized by difficulty level (Beginner, Intermediate & Pro) and can be found by using the "Tips & How-To" drop down menu at the top of this blog. You can also perform a search in the search box above to see if there are any posts on what you're looking for. Enjoy!

Skill Level: Beginner

Circular polarizing filters are pretty amazing, but I often find new photographers have purchased a polarizer not really knowing why they would need it or how to use it. Camera store salesmen seem to tack these things on to a sale without fully letting the customer (you) know why you need it. Well, that's where this post comes in.


Here I used a circular polarizer to darken the blue sky & make the clouds "pop"

The first thing to know about polarizers is that there are 2 types: linear and circular polarizers. I won't go into the details of how they are structurally different or how these filters work (for that, check out this great post over at BobAtkin.com), but understand that all modern-day DSLRs require a circular polarizer, not a linear one. Linear polarizers will cause the metering and autofocus to work incorrectly on today's cameras. Also, keep in mind that there is no easy way to tell a linear polarizer from a circular polarizer short of the manufacturer's label - linear polarizers are round just like circular polarizers.

The second thing to know about polarizing filters is their purpose in photography, and that's to reduce/cut out reflections and to darken blue skies. Polarizers seem almost magical when you view this effect through your viewfinder. That blue sky will darken to a beautiful indigo without touching the clouds or the foreground, and that reflection off the water's surface will vanish into thin air. Check out these side-by-side comparisons to see the effect:

_
Without Polarizer _________ With Polarizer

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Without Polarizer ____                                _____ With Polarizer

The last thing you need to know about polarizing filters is how to use them. You'll notice the polarizer has a tint to it (it's impossible to make a crystal clear polarizer). This will cut the light coming through your lens a bit, but don't worry, your camera will take it into account and compensate for it automatically (if you're in any auto-exposure mode). The effectiveness of a polarizer is dictated by its rotation, which is why they typically have a double collar that allows you to rotate the filter without unscrewing it, so just look through your viewfinder and rotate the filter until you get the desired effect. There's no hard rule to this, just rotate it until you get the effect you want.

And there you have it! It's that simple! Now head out and give it a try!

Homemade Plamp

One of the most frustrating things in macro photography is trying to keep flowers still while photographing them. At the high magnifications of close-up photography, even the slightest trembling in the wind will ruin a shot. That's why someone smarter than me invented the Plamp (plant clamp) - an articulating arm with clips on either end that attaches to your tripod and can hold a flower steady for you.

It's a really great product, but I just couldn't justify the price, size and weight for something I'll use so rarely. So, instead, I made a trip to my hardware store, picked up a yard or so of their heaviest-gauge wire, bought a pack of charging clips and decided to throw an imitation plamp together myself.

Total cost of materials: About $3.00.
Total assembly time: About 10 minutes

Basically you just attach a clip to either end of the wire and you're done. You can wrap it around your tripod and position the arm to hold the flower just right. Of course, this isn't as good as the Plamp itself (it isn't as sturdy and is a little "springy"), but it definitely is cheap. Here's a shot I took with and without my homemade plamp (both pictures: 1/25 at f/14):

Without:

With:

See? Much better. Now go out and get your supplies!