It’s that time of year again when we often take our photography gear into the landscapes of Winter. Shooting in snow can present unique challenges for the photographer, as well as present potential problems for our equipment. When utilizing a tripod in snow, assuming you are using the standard feet that came with it, it is next to impossible to get the tripod planted effectively unless the snow depth is minimal. What can happen, and end up being a very costly mistake, is that as you are attempting to plant the tripod in the snow, it never hits bottom and actually spreads the legs as it continues to sink in the snow and eventually spreads them beyond their limit to the point of breaking the legs; not a good situation.
So what is the solution? What is needed is to increase the diameter of the foot on the tripod. This is the same principle as adding snow shoes to your feet when you are out hiking in the snow. By increasing the surface area of the foot itself, you are once again able to plant you tripod without sinking the legs. There are commercially available products such as the one I use made by Gitzo called the Big Foot, and I have seen numerous homemade versions as well, some more successful than others.
Since it is tried and tested, I will talk about the Gitzo product. Known as the “Big Foot”, you can purchase these as a set of three, or a large single version is available for monopods. The diameter of the foot is approximately 2 3/8″ with a 3/8″ stainless-steel shaft that screws into the tripod leg. It of course would be prudent to make sure your tripod will accept a 3/8″ stud if it is not a Gitzo. The body of the leg is made of extremely hard plastic. (most likely Delrin) The stud itself swivels in the housing, allowing the tripod legs to adjust their angles accordingly. The bottom of the foot has a dense rubber pad attached. Overall, the construction of these feet is top notch. They are constructed with materials that will not corrode, and the tolerances are extremely tight. The feet also work very well on sand, and in mud. As far as maintenance goes, all you really need to do is give them a good rinse and they should be good to go.
When using a tripod on bases that do not allow a solid surface to plant a tripod, it is very important to utilize a device that provides greater surface area to prevent spreading of the tripod legs upon planting. In addition, it is good practice to stomp out an area in the snow with your snow-shoes for your tripod to sit, this will aid in providing a better base for setting up. Consider the Gitzo Big Feet or equivalent product the next time you find your adventures bringing you into less than optimal conditions.