Camera technology has advanced so much that just about anyone can take good photos. Not necessarily great photos, because that’s more to do with composition, subject matter, the effective use of light and shadow etc. However, if there’s one item that helps in taking better shots, it’s the humble tripod. Many of us believe that a tripod is nothing but an extra item that helps us stop camera shake. With high ISO capabilities in new cameras, with increased shutter speeds particularly in low light conditions, then why do we need a tripod? This article looks at the many different ways a tripod can make us better photographers or at the very least, increase our capabilities in using a camera.
The most obvious use of a tripod is that it affords stability to the camera and avoids camera shake by the operator in those situations where longer exposure times are necessary. Not many of us can hold a camera steady much below 1/60s shutter speed, so we have no chance of avoiding camera shake when the exposure time could be seconds or minutes or sometimes hours in length. Examples of these times are:
- Night shots: star trails, firework displays, moon shots, cityscapes, and vehicle movement where blurring the lights is sought.
- Motion blur: waterfalls, sports action, and ocean wave movement.
- Low light conditions without the use of flash.
We all like to produce photos which are as sharp as we can get. The tripod assists in obtaining clear focus, especially if we use timer delays or remote shutter releases, as even when pressing the shutter button can cause the camera to shake.
Talking about timer delays, the tripod is a boon when making delayed action movies. Several hundred or thousand individual photos of an object are shot at predetermined intervals and run together to give those amazing movies of flowers opening, cloud movement or of decaying objects. The camera not only needs to be steady but to be in the same position for each shot. The tripod is also pretty useful in setting up a group with you in it as the photographer, using the timer delay on the camera.
If you are taking panorama shots or action shots where a steady panning motion is needed, the tripod is a must. A tip I picked up along the way was to use a large elastic band on the arm of the tripod head. Pulling on the elastic band, when panning, reduces any jerkiness of movement which produces a good over all result.
If you are into HDR dynamic shots, and many photographers are today, you will need a tripod for auto bracketing. This allows you to take several identical shots of the subject at different exposures. When you process the shots in your favourite image editing software, they can be combined to produce those wonderful shots where everything is dynamically exposed.
I am an ardent macro photographer and there is nothing more frustrating than trying to get a really small object into focus, such as insects on flowers. All too often, the insect eyes are in focus but other areas on the insect which are marginally further away, are too blurry. To overcome this I use small aperture settings to give a large depth of field which in turn means slower shutter speeds. A tripod comes in handy in these situations. I also use sliding bracket attachments where the camera sits on the bracket and where I can finely adjust the camera movement in two planes. I can produce some really finely focused images this way.
One way that a tripod is useful, and not necessarily in an obvious way, is that it gives us time to compose our shots instead of taking instant hand held snap shots wherever we are. While this has its place in photography, we sometimes need to slow down, stand back and fine tune our composition to be able to produce dramatic landscapes, for example.
Another less obvious use of a tripod is camera placement. Being able to capture low level shots or greater than head level can be achieved with a tripod, without having to lie on the ground or climb a step ladder.
Tripods are also versatile in that they can also double up as light stands, microphone stands, stands for reflectors or flash units. I have even heard of one photographer use a tripod as a weapon to defend himself from a vicious dog!
A final note is that if you find the tripod a bit of an encumbrance to carry around, have you considered a monopod? These can double up as a walking stick and are nearly as good as tripods. There are other tripods on the market which fold down to the size of a ruler and snap open in the fixed leg position when needed.
Tripods are therefore a wonderful accompaniment to our camera equipment and we should all be encouraged to make more use of them.