It’s been said that if you want better pictures you need to put your camera in better places. One better place to put your camera is where there are bridges and railings. These are usually elevated and offer a different perspective than we get from street level. Let’s take a look at some examples.
You’ll often find thick cement railings on bridges. This one is a modern bridge in Chicago, but anywhere the Civil Conservation Corps worked in the 1930’s you’ll also find terrific bridges with wide railings. National parks and other high traffic areas usually put a big railing right next to beautiful vistas. These rails are often wide enough to set a tripod on, but be careful when working with the camera high up because it’s easily tipped, and also be aware of hogging the space and the view if you’re in a high-traffic area like a national park.
If the top of the railing isn’t wide enough for your tripod, try extending two legs, and placing the third leg horizontally and resting it on top of the railing, or point the leg straight downwards and use the railing itself as the third leg. This will let you get closer to the rail so you can photograph without getting the railing in your shot.
Your tripod may have the kind of center column that can extend and then tip sideways so you can extend the camera over the railing which may work, but it has three downsides. First, it takes some time to get the tripod setup, which gives a park ranger or police officer plenty of time to come over and ask you to stop impeding the flow around you. Second, your tripod is less stable in this configuration (use the built-in timer set to ten seconds to allow the tripod to stop shaking). Third, your camera is likely hanging over empty space; I’d recommend using a safety strap so that if the camera somehow detaches from the tripod plate it will not disappear into a river.
The safest and fastest way I’ve found to work on railings is to use a Platypod. Its small footprint will rest easily atop any flat railing, so you can just walk up and start shooting, which means you won’t interrupt the flow of foot traffic around you. It’s low and stable, so it won’t tip over, and you can push it right to the outermost edge of the railing so you won’t have the railing in the shot, which is usually very difficult on a tripod.
Platypod Max even has two slots for running a belt or strap through so you can affix it to the railing and have peace of mind that it won’t tumble off into the river, even if it slides off the railing. In this example, there’s no firm railing, but the vertical post works just as well.
Whether you use a tripod or Platypod, you need to be very familiar with your tripod head. You should be able to make all the adjustments in the dark and even behind your back. Practice it until you can tilt, pan, and mount/unmount the camera while blindfolded. Then when you are working on a precipice, get the Platypod or tripod in position and secured first, and then attach your camera last. Don’t make the mistake of trying to get your tripod situated while the camera is attached to the head because if you drop the tripod or get bumped or the plate detaches from the camera, you’ll be sorry to see it fall over the edge.
If you want a better picture, look for a bridge or a railing and take advantage of the unique perspective. Just be sure to think through what you’re doing so your camera doesn’t fall, and a Platypod will help you make the most of any railing situation.