How The Excellent Manfrotto Magic Arm Helps Me With My Construction Photography

I have been photographing a construction site for a number of weeks now. And I was experimenting with auto-bracketing, seeing how a 5 stop bracketed sequence would go. I was up on the scaffold wishing I had something better to hold my camera where I wanted it held. And then I remembered I had a piece of kit at home, the Manfrotto Magic Arm.

So I dug it out and here I am now telling you all about it!

In this post I will tell you exactly how my Manfrotto Magic arm has helped me with my construction photography, and how stupid I have been for forgetting all about it!

The Manfrotto Magic Arm allows me to securely clamp my Canon 6D and Canon 17-40mm lens to building elements including structural steelwork, enabling me to take tack sharp, bracketed sequences of photos of construction sites. The Manfrotto Magic Arm is used in locations where it is not possible to use a tripod, helping me to take photos from unique viewpoints and angles.

The Manfrotto Magic Arm helps me to capture photos that I cannot capture without it.

OK – that is the specific thing that I wanted to say – now let me tell you all about this excellent bit of kit and how I use it to get photos that I would not have been able to get.

OK – who am I?

Well it is rude to presume that you know who I am. I am Rick McEvoy, and I specialise in building photography – architectural, construction and real estate photography – this is what I do, this is what I specialise in.

Oh yes, I am also the creator and all things at the Photography Explained Podcast too.

And for good measure I am professionally qualified in both construction and photography, see I know this stuff – this is what I do.

Me and photography gear

I have a thing about photography gear. You should only buy gear in one of three circumstances

  1. To replace something that you use that has broken.
  2. To help you to take better photos
  3. To help you to take photos that you could not take without it

The Manfrotto Magic Arm falls into 2 and 3 for sure. So it was fine for me to buy it…. And am I glad that I did now?

Am I being paid to say this?

I wish – no I am not. I bought the Manfrotto Magic Arm some time ago, with my own money, and used it for a specific job.

And then forgot about it! I left it forgotten/ languishing in my garage for a number of years before I remembered it and got it out and back into service. Thankfully it was stored safely in a toolbox with a weatherproof seal, so was pristine and good to go when I rediscovered it.

How can I forget about this?

I know, how indeed. I knew it was there  – I had just forgotten how useful this bit of kit was, and how much it could help me take photos on live construction sites. Now it is a fixture in my site gear, a familiar friend that I use all the time. And more than my tripod.

Here are me and my Magic Arm happily reunited and on site together.

Me and my Magic Arm

What did I buy this for?

No idea. I went through a phase of buying gear, I bought anything and everything. I was getting into complicated photography, lighting rigs and all that stuff. Only I never quite made it there. I have light stands that I have never used, and other bits of gear that I need to get rid of. I have already sold all sorts of stuff that I thought that I needed but never used.

But this is not the case with the excellent Magic Arm – I am glad I bought this, and more glad that I stored it safely and that it is as good as new.

What do I use the Magic Arm for?

Simple. Where I can’t use a tripod. I can clamp it to a steel column, scaffolding, anything fixed in a building being built. I then attach the camera to it, and move it until I have the composition that I want. Then I clamp it down and that is that.

Well nearly – I have decided to add a ball head into the mix to give me the fine tuning of composition that I want – let’s see how this goes.

See when you finally lock off the clamp it sometimes moves the camera position slightly, so I am going to try the ball head and see how I get on. Practise may overcome this though.

Here it is attached to a steel column.

How does this help me?

Well I can get my camera in places that I can’t get my tripod, and using the structural steels and scaffolding gives me so many possibilities, high and low, and to either side.

And it saves me time to, as it is quick to set up and clamp. So all in all dead handy.

Why not shoot handheld?

Well I can, and have done, but much prefer taking photos on a tripod, or now with my Magic Arm. See I auto bracket, taking three photos at the same time, to give me better exposures and to capture more of the light and darks.

And doing this with my camera securely fixed to something, and using the camera self-timer, helps me to get sharper photos than I would hand held.

And when you get into a building being constructed there are some dark parts that need capturing, which I couldn’t do handheld. And there are lots of details in the shadows that I need to capture.

The Magic Arm helps me to take the photos that I need, and helps me to take photos that others cannot get. That is what I need to be able to do – take better photos than everyone else. Everyone has a phone right, and everyone can take really good photos these days.

So I need to be better – I need to set myself above everyone else – certainly on construction sites.

And then there is my experiment

5 stop bracketing. I wanted to try this and see what it gave me. The first attempt wasn’t a huge success as the weather turned and I lose the brightness in the sky, but the practise was good, and I will try this again as it gives me more options in difficult situations.

Here are the photos going from 5 stops under to 5 stops over.

And here is the photo that I created. I know, this was just an experiment don’t forget – it is not meant to be a construction site masterpiece!

5 stop auto bracket

And going forwards?

Simple. I have dug out an old camera bag, a Lowe Pro Photo Hatchback 22L, and I have my Canon 6D and Canon 17-40mm lens in the bottom camera bit, and in the top of the bag the Magic Arm, spare batteries and memory cards.

And that is it.

See I need to travel light on construction sites, so that is all I take. Sure I have other stuff in the car, but this is what I take up on scaffolds and on roofs.

And it means that I can take photos from pretty much anywhere and get the unique views that make me erm unique! And also auto bracket without having to push the ISO which will introduce noise into those all-important shadows.

The Manfrotto Magic Arm helps me to get photos of construction sites that I would not be able to get without it, which puts it in my good to have gear category.

Buy one of these and help me

You can buy the Manfrotto Magic Arm on Amazon. Well of course you can. But if you buy one using my Affiliate Link I get a small commission, and Amazon get a little bit less.

Here is my affiliate link.

And you get my appreciation.

Related reading

Well , I have written a few blog posts about my construction photography work – here they are.

51 great examples of my construction photography in Dorset

73 Great examples of My Construction Photography in Hampshire

Construction Photography Gear: 13 Items I Can’t Live Without

Career Guide: How To Become A Construction Photographer

And there is lots more good stuff listed on my construction photographer page

Related viewing

Check out the You Tube video for this blog post, where yes I show you the Magic Arm. Well you would hope so!

Get a weekly email from me to you

Yep, if you want to receive an email from me every week then fill in the form on this page – there will be one somewhere. And in return I will send you a splendid Lightroom thing, and you will receive my thoughts straight to your inbox on a Friday afternoon. Which is nice.

OK – how can I find out more about this stuff?


Get in touch with me – email me –

Check out my website Rick McEvoy Photography

Check out my splendid Photography Explained Podcast

Get in touch, ask me a question that I can answer on my blog or podcast, or just say hi – it would be great to hear from you.

Thanks for visiting my small but perfectly formed website, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Cheers from me Rick

Rick McEvoy
Rick McEvoy Photography
BIPP qualified logo ABIPP

Rick McEvoy

I am Rick McEvoy, an architectural and construction photographer living and working in the South of England. I create high quality architectural photography and construction photography imagery of the built environment for architects and commercial clients. I do not photograph weddings, families, small people or pets - anything that is alive, moves or might not do as I ask!! I am also the creator of the Photography Explained Podcast, available on all major podcast providers. I have a blog on my website where I write about my work and photography stuff. Rick McEvoy ABIPP, MCIOB

Recent Posts