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What are some good strategies/techniques for using a monopod while shooting sports?

I'm doing a lot of shooting of Figure Skating right now, and am finding the camera and 70-200mm lens is heavy enough that my wrist and elbow are sore at the end of each session.

I'm thinking that a monopod would help provide support and stability. However, I've never used one before, and am not sure how to shoot while using it.

I suppose also the monopod would reduce camera shake over hand-holding, but if my shutter speeds are 1/500s, will it make that much of a difference?

I'm guessing I need a ball head (or at least some kind of head) because mounting the camera/lens to the top of the monopod would be restricting for trying to track a moving target (panning and tilting). However, if you use a ball head, do you give up stability for freedom of movement?

Updated

I appreciate Alan's answer below, as it does answer some of my questions, but I was also kind of hoping for suggestions on technique (ie. how to use a tripod for support while tracking moving objects, and still get the benefits of stability and support).

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I do not have any experience with monopod but I would expect it will do huge difference when your lens is not ultra-light and you must use it for quite a while. –  Rafal Ziolkowski Nov 15 '10 at 3:00
    
It will be much more stable images, but i'd suggest a good tripod –  RCProgramming Nov 16 '10 at 0:40
    
for example a nice ambico prosumer –  RCProgramming Nov 16 '10 at 0:41
    
I don't the the tripod setup will be mobile enough for me, and I feel like it would be more difficult to track the skaters on a tripod mount, but I haven't tried either, so I don't know for sure. –  seanmc Nov 16 '10 at 0:59
    
I haven't tried either but logic dictates that it should be much easier to track sports people by using a monopod. –  kitsched Nov 18 '10 at 13:14
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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Yes it will make a difference even at 1/500s. Sports shooters often use a monopod for the increased stability without the extra hassle of a full tripod setup, though they typically do so with longer heavier lenses.

Since your lens is on a single leg, there should be no issue panning. You can achieve some tilt as well, but a head would help with that.

With regards to the ball head; any ball head that does not provide the same stability you would get by connecting directly to the leg(s) is either an inferior ball head or not designed to hold the current weight.

What you give up by using a ball head is actually mobility due to weight. A ball head can easily double the weight of your monopod.

It sounds like you need something to help prevent stress injuries, and help with fast shutter speeds. Do you really need the mobility of a monopod? Do you find yourself moving around a lot to get different vantage points? If so, a monopod makes sense. Otherwise consider alternatives, like a tripod, or a wrist brace, or even strength training.

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Regarding stability, I was worried that if the ball head allows me to move the camera around, does that negate some of the benefits of having a monopod for stability. I guess you adjust the friction so that it doesn't move too easily. –  seanmc Nov 16 '10 at 0:55
    
The camera plus lens weighs about 4+ lbs, and I do already have "tennis elbow" from playing squash, so I am doing exercises to strength the elbow, but it is still sore after an hour or so of shooting. –  seanmc Nov 16 '10 at 0:56
    
In this instance, I think the monopod is best, as I do move around at rink side, and I feel like it would be harder to track the skaters with a tripod mount. –  seanmc Nov 16 '10 at 0:58
    
I don't bother with a ballhead on my monopod when shooting motorsports; it allows me to pan nicely about its sole leg. Have a play with one in a shop, perhaps? –  Edd Nov 16 '10 at 11:07
    
I think I need the extra degree of freedom of movement. I am a lot closer to the ice than you would be at a racetrack, and it isn't just a simple panning motion (the skaters move towards me and away). –  seanmc Nov 19 '10 at 0:49
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I found a description of several different ways to hold the monopod while shooting at the Nikonians website. Here is the direct link to the article on Monopod Technique. I think there are some good ideas/suggestions there. It is not specific for sports, and doesn't talk about panning/tilting, but it offers several different ways to place your feet for stability.

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Really useful link, thank you. BTW: I've been following this question and quite a few others started by you Sean, because it seems that we have the same interest namely sports photography. –  kitsched Nov 22 '10 at 14:12
    
I'm new to SLR photography, but am having a lot of fun learning how to shoot Figure Skating. It's challenging, but when you get good shots, it is very satisfying. –  seanmc Nov 23 '10 at 4:10
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