Mobile Blinds & Beanbags for Supporting Camera Lenses


Photo taken at Bosque del Apache in NM along dike road from rental vehicle.
Photo taken at Bosque del Apache in NM from rental vehicle

I often photograph animals from vehicles, which serve as mobile photo blinds with a telephoto lens supported on its foot by a beanbag resting on the window sill. In wildlife refuges and places where animals are protected and are used to seeing vehicles, you and your vehicle are not perceived as a threat.  When photographing, if your subject moves, you can move with it and slowly close the distance between you and it.  My bean bags are homemade and are filled with rice.  When I travel by air, the bags can be emptied by opening the Velcro closure and refilled once I reach my new destination. The material used allows the lens position to be easily altered. I have several sizes suitable for different lenses.  They can be stacked to raise the lenses to the height needed or they can brace a lens solidly in place in an awkward situation. I can also use the beanbag to support a long lens when shooting from ground.

10 to 12 pounds of rice.  Len foot placed on the bean bag.
10 to 12 pounds of rice. Len foot place
Shot from beanbag placed on ground to shoot at eye level.
This Eastern Cottontail was photographed from my vehicle on Assateague Island where I conduct photo workshops each year.
This Eastern Cottontail was photographed from my vehicle on Assateague Island where I conduct photo workshops each year.
Shot at entrance to wildlife refuge in NC from vehicle.
Shot at entrance to  Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in NC from vehicle.

 

I was on the wrong side of the car to use the window for shooting.  I slipped out of the passenger set and placed  the bean bag on hood of car and the lens on top;
I was on the wrong side of the car to use the window for shooting. I slipped out of the passenger seat and placed the bean bag on hood of car and the lens on top;

On Tangier Island, I found them useful to secure my tripod in place while photographing from one of the golf carts, which are the main means of transportation on the island.  With my setup, I was able to photograph from the driver’s seat of the vehicle or slip out of the cart and shoot from other angles where I am minimally visible.  Since the animals are used to seeing the carts and they are relatively quiet, they often do flee when I approach. The heron with the turtle in its bill was shot from my golf cart. It took 15 minutes and several drinks of water before the bird finally swallowed it. The night heron was also photographed in a similar fashion.  (Later article will provide tips for using stationary blinds.)

Braced tripod in place in a golf cart to support my 600 mm lens. Animals were more cooperative than if I was on foot
Braced tripod in place in a golf cart to support my 600 mm lens. Animals were more cooperative than if I was on foot
Heron used water to help swallow the turtle.
Night Heron with crab. Walking into a marsh can be dangerous.  Mud can suck off your shoes, you can fall, and may have difficulty finding firm ground.  In many areas tidal guts criss-cross the marsh and make it difficult to navigate. On the coast changing tides can complicate the problem.
Night Heron with crab. Walking into a marsh can be dangerous. Mud can suck off your shoes, you can fall, and may have difficulty finding firm ground. In many areas tidal guts criss-cross the marsh and make it difficult to navigate. On the coast changing tides can complicate the problem.