Gimbals For Still Photography: Are They Helpful?

by | Stabilization

Gimbals are a popular tool among videographers, filmmakers, and YouTubers — allowing these types of creatives to achieve a higher tier of production value for relatively little cost.

Gimbals achieve this professional look by helping to stabilize footage while filming. This is accomplished by a two or three-axis setup with powerful motors that counteract any movement in an opposite direction. This allows any camera attached to the gimbal to stay perfectly still, even if the videographer is moving.

So, it is obvious how gimbals assist video production. But this might have some photographers curious. Can photo-takers get in on the gimbal action too? Would using a gimbal for still photography be helpful? Or even make sense?

Motorized gimbals are designed to assist with videography and filmmaking by stabilizing footage for smooth, buttery shots. So in most situations, a gimbal would be of little use to a photographer. However, there are some specific scenarios in which a gimbal could be helpful for capturing stills.

With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at some details and potential uses for gimbals in still photography.

Gimbal Heads Vs. Motorized Gimbals

First, we should start by making a clear distinction between gimbal heads designed to be used on tripods for photography and motorized gimbals designed to be used for videography and filmmaking.

Gimbal Heads

A gimbal head is a type of tripod head designed to be used for still photography.

These devices attach to the top of tripods and follow the same basic principles as their motorized counterparts. Using gravity and balance, gimbal heads allow photographers to balance heavy cameras and telephoto lenses on top of their tripods. These camera setups are then able to be swivelled easily and quickly in (almost) any direction.

Gimbal heads are popular among wildlife and sports photographers who use heavy telephoto equipment to capture fast-moving subjects like birds and athletes.

Obviously, this type of gimbal has many uses in the world of still photography. The type of gimbal we are focussing on in this article is the motorized gimbal designed to be used in video making.

Motorized Gimbals

Motorized gimbals are used in videography to keep the footage smooth and buttery while the camera operator moves around with the camera.

While this variety of gimbal is primarily used by videographers, we will examine possible uses for them in still photography later in this article.

Ways To Use A Gimbal In Still Photography

Panorama Shots

Many modern DSLRs and cell phones offer a “panorama option” when taking photos.

A panorama photo is a photo of, well, a panorama. A panorama is defined as “an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer.”

Most cameras and cell phones achieve this effect by requesting the device’s operator to press the shutter button before holding the camera out in front of them and rotating it 180 degrees.

This movement by the operator allows the device to produce a longer, thinner photograph of the photographer’s surroundings.

A panorama photograph

The challenge of taking a panoramic photo can be consistency in the speed of rotation by the photographer, as well as maintaining a level camera or cell phone when rotating.

A motorized gimbal could assist in overcoming these challenges.

Most motorized gimbals include joysticks which allow users to place their gimbal on the ground or on a tripod, before rotating up and down or side to side.

These gimbal movements can be incredibly smooth — and allow photographers the ability to capture stunning, perfect panorama photographs.

Longer Exposure Shots

Shooting successfully with long exposures has presented endless frustration to photographers around the world for years.

Whether shooting with a long exposure for artistic reasons or practical ones, leaving one’s shutter open for longer periods of time can increase your chances of encountering all kinds of technical issues — many of which will render photographs ruined.

A long exposure photograph

This is where a gimbal could come in handy.

But first, note that this section is titled “Longer Exposure Shots” and not simply “Long Exposure Shots.”

When I think long exposure, I think tripod and multi-second shutter speeds.

However, sometimes, and often for a technical reason like shooting at night, a shutter is required to be open just a bit longer than typically ideal.

While a moving subject will inevitably cause motion blur in this situation, a still subject will not — so capturing a useable photograph in this scenario could come down to the photographer’s ability to hold the camera still.

By adding a gimbal to the equation, it is possible that a photographer could keep their camera much more still than if held manually.

Maybe, just, maybe, this combination could help achieve crisper photos at “longer” exposures.

Product Photography Shots

Product photography is all about detail.

This means small adjustments to a shot in order to capture the perfect image.

Product-style photograph

Using a gimbal to shoot product photographs can enable the photographer to make minor adjustments easily to a shot.

While tripods can be cumbersome and difficult to adjust, the joystick or app features that gimbals include allowing for detailed and tiny movements.

Think about it…

Need to move just a hair to the right in order to capture a centimetre more of the product? Or need to pan down half an inch to include more of the product’s shadow?

Just use the pan and tilt functions controlled by the gimbal’s joystick or app!

Awkward Angle Shots

Capturing interesting and original images often requires some creative shooting angles.

Photographers could find themselves hanging over ledges, off balconies, or reaching over fences.

While a tripod or monopod could assist with these shots, neither are nice to lug around. And once you’ve shoved your camera above your head on a tripod or monopod, how will you adjust the angle?

An awkwardly angled photograph

This is where gimbals come in.

Gimbals are comparatively small and portable and act like miniature, hand-held tripods. Because of this, they are great for hoisting above your head or reaching into awkward places.

And once your camera is in place, simply use the pan and tilt functions controlled by the gimbal’s joystick or app to adjust your shot!

Timelapse Photography

Okay, so timelapse could be considered video.

Granted, the final product of a timelapse is usually a video. But a timelapse video is still just a collection of still photographs.

Gimbals can improve time-lapse photography by adding dynamic movement to your shots.

Some gimbals offer programmable movements — meaning you can set your gimbal to slowly pan or tilt during a timelapse.

With these features, photographers can achieve stunning movement in their time-lapse creations that will easily baffle viewers.

A timelapse-inspired photograph

Final Thoughts

It’s certainly true that gimbals were designed to be used for video. And its also undeniable that they offer many features that would only ever be used by videographers.

But as illustrated in this article, there are a number of creative ways that gimbals could be used for still photography.

While I wouldn’t recommend a photographer to run out and purchase a gimbal for exclusive use with still photography, if you already own a gimbal or have access to one, give it a try on your next photo shoot.

It might not always make sense to shoot stills with a gimbal, but you will certainly have fun while experimenting!

New To Gimbals?

With so much to learn, mastering your new gimbal can be hard. Get started with our in-depth beginner guide to gimbal filmmaking.