Three Cheers for Knee Pads!

How crazy that we spend $5,000 and up on a camera setup (hey, the D3X body alone is $7,500!!) and we can get tripped up by not spending another $8.69?  That is exactly what I spend on a pair of kneepads at Home Depot. Since I use them pretty heavily when I’m out shooting landscapes, I go through them or lose them pretty regularly, so I like to keep the cost under $10 a pair.

I have found that kneepads can make the difference between a mediocre shot and a great one. If you are kneeling on a pebbly beach, there is no way you can stay in one position for long. Patience is a photographic virtue, but tolerating pain shouldn’t be. I also found that once I reached 40, my knees just couldn’t take the stress of being on stones, cement, or even sand for very long. And, if you’re a landscape or wildlife photographer, those are the very elements you face every time you are out on a shoot. Kneepads even help when kneeling on wet grass.

I tend to use the simplest kneepads, only because I find they work best. Here’s what mine look like:

The good thing about these pads is that they are very lightweight and flexible. I typically put them on at the beginning of my hike and leave them on all day. If I do take them off, I wrap the Velcro straps around the handle of my backpack and off I go.

I recommend that you do not buy the kneepads with the plastic reinforced outer surface. I find that they slip on wet rocks. They are hard to wear for prolonged hikes. They are significantly more expensive. They also make unnecessary tapping and scraping sounds, a definite distraction in wildlife photography and a barrier to making friends with fellow photographers.

I’ve also found that kneepads with the solid elastic back, the ones you have to put your foot through in order to get them on, are worse than useless for photographers. As you hike, they cause long pants to ride up, especially if you wear a high tech fabric. They also gather in the back of the knee and cut off circulation. If you wear them with shorts, the back of your knee will sweat and become chafed. That’s why I prefer the ones with two Velcro straps.

FYI, the type I use is McGuire-Nicholas Soft Cushion Kneepads (Model # 345), but any inexpensive pair you find should work well enough. An accessory like this is hardly ever mentioned in the photography magazines, but is a real boon to pros or advanced amateurs who are out in the field.

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